“My father led me to the Lord when I was seven years old,” says Major Woody Hale, who was born into a Salvation Army family in Botwood, N.L. His father served as the secretary of league of mercy outreach ministry for 25 years, and his mother was a committed Christian and faithful soldier.
“When I was a kid, I would get up behind the bookcase and preach about David, little did I know about him,” he says.
Woody always knew he would become a Salvation Army officer. When he was 18, he applied to training college in Toronto, and was commissioned by Commissioner Wycliffe Booth at Massey Hall in June 1963 as part of the Servants of Christ Session.
It was at training college that Woody met his wife, Major Sharon, who was a year behind him in the Heroes of the Faith Session—a name that inspired the title of his memoir, When a Servant Marries a Hero. In it, he recounts his life with Sharon and their 60 years of service as Salvation Army officers sharing in God’s calling. But since Sharon was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2017, the Hales have faced a new journey of faith together.
“I could talk for a long time about Sharon,” says Woody. “She was a talented, creative, committed lady. She made me look good, better than I was, so many times.
I was so blessed to have her in my life—still blessed. I see her every day now, but it’s not quite the same when you cannot communicate.”
Together in the Holy Land
Woody and Sharon were married in Alberta and assumed their first appointment in Weyburn, Sask. During their time as active officers, they were appointed to ministries in the Canada and Bermuda Territory and internationally.
“Every appointment was a favourite,” Woody recalls fondly. “Certainly, the opening of Mississauga Temple, Ont., buying the land and cutting down apple trees. Sharon and I were the first officers there.”
Later, the two spent seven years as divisional youth secretaries in Montreal and Ontario Central, and four years as divisional leaders in the Barbados and St. Lucia area of the Caribbean Territory. After retirement, they settled in Courtice, Ont., but returned to the Caribbean many times for various ministries such as retreats. “You fall in love with a place when you have served there with passion,” says Woody.
Among their significant ministries were 14 trips to Israel, where they led Holy Land tours for close to 400 people and taught the story of Jesus Christ. As part of each tour, the Hales would renew their wedding vows in Cana of Galilee where Jesus performed his first miracle, and they invited other couples to do the same.
“On our last tour, we enrolled two senior soldiers of The Salvation Army out on a boat on the Sea of Galilee,” Woody shares. “We concluded the enrolment by singing, By The Peaceful Shores of Galilee. ‘Follow thou me, he calls again, and I will make you fishers of men; As in the days by Galilee, Jesus is calling you and me.’ “
On each of their tours, Sharon brought her creativity, developing brochures, leading programs and singing The Holy City on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. “All these little things that Sharon did endeared her to so many,” says Woody.
Five years ago, Sharon’s family noticed that she was becoming forgetful. Their daughter arranged an appointment with the doctor where they began testing for Alzheimer’s. A second appointment confirmed the diagnosis.
“Immediately, she had her driver’s licence taken away, and it was difficult for her,” says Woody. “But she had a positive attitude. She said, ‘If that’s the way I am, I could do damage to somebody else, I could even do damage to you. The Lord will protect us this way.’ ”
Within two years, Sharon moved into a long-term care facility in Toronto. Now, Sharon cannot communicate the same way she used to—she does not talk or walk. “Sometimes she surprises me. She knows more than we realize,” says Woody. “Once, the chaplain at the centre led a hymn sing. At the end, he asked if there was anyone who would like to sing a favourite tune. Sharon put up her hand and said, ‘Sweet Hour of Prayer.’ The chaplain rushed over to tell me.”
More to Be Thankful For
“At first, the diagnosis impacted me in a negative way,” says Woody. He could not understand why the Lord would permit such a brilliant and creative woman in otherwise good health to have a terrible disease such as Alzheimer’s. “But I saw the way she took it. She thought, If this is what I must do, I will do it with a cheerful heart. I never heard her complain. I’m happy that she sees it that way, and it helped me see it from a more positive perspective.
“I am so fortunate. Sharon was an artist, she painted. She was musically inclined, played the piano and the euphonium. Most of all, she was a strong lover of the Lord,” continues Woody. “It’s sad to see someone so brilliant now unable to sing or clap her hands. But I still love her. She lets me take her hand, and I pray with her each time I visit.”
Now, Woody has moved to the first floor of the long-term care centre where he can be close to Sharon and visit every day. After 58 years of marriage, 60 years of faithful service in The Salvation Army, three children and fond memories, Woody encourages her that there is still plenty to be thankful for. “I can only say that the Lord has still provided. We’re thankful to the Lord. We’re blessed!”