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Oct22ThuThat one word defines Captain Joyce Downer’s role as an officer in The Salvation Army. October 22, 2020 By Ken Ramstead
(Above) Cpts Josh and Joyce Downer, who met at the College for Officer Training in Winnipeg, with their children, from left, Trinity, Joel, Theo and Zoe
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Joyce Downer was certain that she wanted to be a Salvation Army officer, but to do that she would have to move from the town she loved and give up a career that she enjoyed.
Matters came to a head one night as she cried out to God, “What do you want from me?”
His one-word answer changed her life.
Making a Better Community
Downer’s home for most of her life was Goderich, Ont., on Lake Huron. “I was passionate about the place where I lived, and that was one of the reasons why I became a land-use planner,” she says.
When Downer was in her mid-20s, her parents moved to the United Kingdom to care for her grandmother. Their temporary absence made her realize, “I was living out my faith through that of my parents.”
Adrift, Downer wanted to attend church but wasn’t sure where to go. Her brother suggested The Salvation Army.
As it happens, Downer had worked on an affordable housing project, and the Army was one of the partners.
“At these meetings,” she says, “I was impressed with the Salvation Army representatives, Captains Tim and Krista Andrews.”
This interaction was a spur to her attending Suncoast Citadel in Goderich.
“The people I saw on Sundays were also the people actively living out their faith throughout the week, like Captains Tim and Krista,” Downer says. “I was impressed with how the Army was making the community I cared about better.”
Vision in the Pew
Downer had been attending Suncoast Citadel for a number of weeks when she had a fateful encounter.
Downer knew Helen Daniels slightly, as the mother of a friend of her brother.
“I was sitting behind Joyce, her head bowed in prayer,” Daniels recalls. “Suddenly, I had a very clear vision of her in uniform. Should I tell her about my vision? I thought. Maybe she’ll think I’m crazy! Then, just as suddenly, I felt compelled to share it with her.”
“At the end of the service,” explains Downer, “Helen turned to me and said, ‘Joyce, I know it’s going to sound a little weird, but as Captain Tim was praying, I had this picture of you standing at the pulpit in an officer’s uniform.’ ”
“Joyce smiled and looked at me strangely,” Daniels laughs now. “But God sees the beginning from the end.”
Journey to Soldiership
“At that point, I had no idea what an officer’s uniform was,” says Downer.
But after a few more weeks of attending, she realized that officership didn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.
“I was passionate about helping communities and this just felt like another way to do that,” she says, “but with the faith component added.”
By Christmas 2008, Downer had become a soldier.
Even though Downer was in uniform, she was conflicted. She was working toward her master’s degree and had a job she loved in a town she adored.
An anxious Downer yelled out to God, “What do you want from me?”
“Everything,” was the response she thought she heard.
The Scripture that confirmed her calling was Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”
In January 2009, Downer started the application process to enter the College for Officer Training and was commissioned as an officer in June 2011.
Seeing faith lived out was what brought Captain Downer back to the church and created a willingness to serve God fully.
“For me, that looked like officership because I can’t do it halfway,” Captain Downer says. “Others can live out the work that God calls them to do where they are, but for me it needed to be an all-in.”
This past summer, Captain Downer, her husband, Captain Joshua, and their four children moved to Burnaby, B.C., where they are now the divisional youth secretaries for the British Columbia Division. “Here, we will have the opportunity to engage with new people and minister in new places,” she concludes.