In response to the Lord’s call to go wherever they are needed, the Canada and Bermuda Territory’s Lt-Colonels Morris and Wanda Vincent have been serving internationally with The Salvation Army since January 2017, when they were appointed as chief secretary and territorial secretary for women’s ministries, respectively, in the Kenya West Territory. In August 2020, they were transferred to the Caribbean Territory, where he is the chief secretary and she serves as the territorial secretary for women’s ministries and territorial secretary for program. Features editor Giselle Randall connected with Lt-Colonels Vincent to learn about their international ministry experiences.
What were some of the adjustments you made or cultural barriers you encountered while serving in Kenya?
Lt-Colonel Morris Vincent: The biggest adjustment was living far from family, our support systems and everything that had shaped us for most of our lives. There were differences in food, language and leadership styles, and even in worship. In Kenya, we learned to dance in worship but didn’t quite have the African rhythm!
MV: While English is the working language in Kenya, the nationals often naturally default to speaking Swahili with each other, during coffee breaks or when driving in a vehicle together. We often wished we were more gifted in speaking their language so we could understand their conversations and not feel so much like the outsiders.
WV: We never felt that the colour of our skin was a barrier, but we were sometimes amused when children wanted to touch us. While at a supermarket one day, a little girl kept reaching for Morris’ hand. He initially thought she was just being friendly, but soon realized she wanted to touch his light-coloured skin to see if it felt different!
What are some of the challenges faced by the Army in Kenya West?
MV: One of the biggest challenges in Kenya is ensuring people on the front lines are resourced and empowered for sustainability. So many officers are surviving on very little or no salary and many of them are living with the adverse effects of poverty. Beyond just the officers, sharing resources and empowering people is important in the broader community. One of the areas most affected is in the northern part of the country, in Turkana. The extreme heat and desert-like conditions result in very difficult living conditions. It was startling to visit this region and to find the resources necessary to assist on an ongoing basis. Another big challenge in Kenya West is supporting more than 400 schools sponsored by The Salvation Army. So many of the schools have structural and personnel deficits with an overflow of students. Sanitation and clean water accessibility are among the many needs that the territory tries to support.
What social issues is the Army engaged with in the Kenya West Territory?
WV: The greatest overarching social issue is poverty because it is so vast in scope and in its effects on people’s social and economic livelihood. Thankfully, the Army is working hard with locals and partners around the world to help reduce poverty. There are projects that establish microcredit systems, empowering women in financial management with the goal of increased confidence and independence. Many agricultural and community projects help locals make better use of their natural resources. A health-based project called the “Mother-Child” program, which is supported by the Canada and Bermuda Territory, is providing critical health care for pregnant moms and newborn babies. Women’s ministries created vast opportunities to teach and train women in life skills, personal and household hygiene, and vocational aptitudes.
How does the Army in the Kenya West and Caribbean territories live out integrated mission?
MV: The Salvation Army is present in the community, not just in the church. In Kenya, Christian faith is lived out in the markets and schools through practical everyday life and caring for one another. It is a natural community-based culture where they work together with resourcefulness and resilience.
WV: In the Caribbean, there is a balanced cross-section of ministry for how the Army meets human needs and shares the gospel of Christ. Community-based programs for children, the elderly and people suffering addictions, health clinics, feeding and education programs, outreach to the homeless, and more, provide opportunity to fulfil an integrated approach to mission. Some of these are incorporated with the corps and many of the corps programs engage in outreach to the community.
What do you find most challenging about cross-cultural ministry?
MV: The need to understand and be understood while working side-by-side with the locals is critical and requires a concentrated effort. Our common Salvation Army international creed unites us, yet there are differences in what is “normal” in every culture. We know we are the visitors in the land and have learned to listen carefully, remain curious and ask lots of questions. We must find the balance between respecting the local culture and remaining true to our biblically based kingdom culture.
What shapes your approach to leadership?
WV: We are guided by the servant-style leadership of Jesus, which is seen most profoundly just before his Crucifixion in John 13. When Jesus stoops to wash the disciples’ feet, he not only models how to lead as he does, he also eradicates the lines of hierarchy in leadership and manifests a “servant of all” pattern. This is the model we strive for. We want to minister and lead in any context where the Army gives us opportunity as servants of others above all else.
How has international service changed you?
MV: The richness that comes when you serve outside your homeland is the expansion of your heart, mind and soul. In our hearts, we hold images of children and other vulnerable people whose basic human needs are not guaranteed. We are inspired by the resilience of women who walk miles to carry firewood, work tirelessly to care for their families and who are eager to participate in empowerment programs to create a better life. We understand more clearly the complexities, injustices and inequalities of global wealth distribution. We are more cognizant of how the Army operates in developing countries and what it means to be partners together. Being stretched beyond our comfort zone, we lean more into our faith and remain open to how God daily shapes our souls.
How can people support and encourage you?
WV: We are firm believers in the power of prayer, for ourselves and the people we serve. People can check out the Caribbean territorial Facebook page to see what’s happening in the territory or connect with us personally through our social media platforms. I am also writing a blog which people can access at mwvincent.blogspot.com.
What gives you hope as you participate in God’s mission?
MV: What gives us hope is the promised presence of God to sustain us, the evidence that he is at work around the world, and the truth that he is in control. Our faith is unshaken.
WV: We are encouraged by the commitment of those who remain engaged in the mission, sharing Jesus in word and deed. Lives are being transformed, even in the toughest of circumstances, and God is not finished yet.