In their 25 years of ministry, Majors Judy and Vaden Vincent have served in corps and social services in Newfoundland and Labrador, Ontario and Nova Scotia, bringing their family with them on their journey through officership. Major Judy felt she was doing God’s work as she ministered to some of society’s most vulnerable—children, seniors and people experiencing homelessness.
But as Majors Vincent explored their passions in ministry, they were also navigating the burdens of mental health at home. “Mental illness is difficult in our family,” says Major Judy. “We’ve struggled. Our children have both struggled.”
These challenges reached a critical point in 2017 and Major Judy’s life changed forever when their son, Brock, took his own life. Now, six years later, she tearfully recounts her story and the relationship with God that has carried her through.
On Their Journey
Major Judy was raised in Valley Pond, N.L.—a small community with a big Salvation Army influence. As a teenager, she felt God calling her to officership, but she was anxious. “I was nervous and concerned,” says Major Judy. “I felt like I couldn’t do it myself.”
It wasn’t until she was married with two young children, Brada and Brock, that Major Judy and her husband, Major Vaden, made the decision to answer God’s call. “I was still worried, but I began thinking, It might be possible now,” she says.
In 1995, the Vincents moved their family to St. John’s, N.L., to attend training college. “As Salvation Army officers, I’ve heard many say that their kids struggle because of the moving. I think my kids struggled with the adjustment, too,” explains MajorJudy, who spent many years as a stay-at-home mom before entering training college.
Two years later, Majors Vincent were commissioned in the Messengers of God’s Love Session. They were relieved to move from St. John’s back to a small community for their first appointment in Hant’s Harbour, N.L., now Lower Trinity Corps. After five years in corps appointments, they became divisional youth leaders in the then Newfoundland and Labrador East Division, where they ministered to children and youth at Camp Starrigan. “We enjoyed that immensely. I loved working in the kitchen with the ladies and working with the kids. We loved the camping,” says Major Judy.
A drastic change from their time at camp, Majors Vincent were later appointed to the Booth Centre in Hamilton, Ont., where they served the people experiencing homelessness downtown, followed by appointments in Ottawa—Major Vaden as area commander and MajorJudy as director of spiritual care at Grace Manor, a long-term care facility.
During her time ministering to children, seniors and men experiencing homelessness, chaplaincy became Major Judy’s greatest passion. “I think it brings a little bit of hope where most of them have none—just to be able to talk to someone who is not going to criticize them or tell them what they are doing wrong, but just listen. Let them cry,” she says. “A lot of times you can’t fix what is wrong, but I think the best thing you can offer is your presence and a listening ear.”
The Hardest Year
In 2017, as they approached 20 years in ministry together, Majors Vincent faced the most difficult year of their lives.
“We knew Brock struggled with mental illness,” says Major Judy. After a few failed relationships, he moved back home with his parents, now stationed in Halifax at the Centre of Hope. “He wanted a family, to get married and have children, but he didn’t feel like it was in the cards for him.”
On January 4, 2017, Major Judy took Brock to a doctor’s appointment. When they came home, she told him she would go and get his prescription from the pharmacy, less than five minutes away. “When I returned, he’d taken his life,” she says. “He struggled more than we ever realized, and he didn’t want to talk about it. I think he felt there was no way out.
“That day was the hardest day of my life. I found him. It was hard on me physically, mentally, spiritually—to face something like that as a minister when we’re trying to minister to other people who are struggling. We thought, Where did we go wrong? What did we do?” says Major Judy.
“I know that a lot of people see suicide differently than I do, but I see God just taking Brock in his arms and carrying him home. That’s my belief and that’s what keeps me going,” she says. “If I didn’t believe that, I don’t know what I’d do.”
In the same year, Major Judy suffered an accident where she was hit by a garage door. She sustained a severe concussion and was in the hospital for many days. “When I came out of the hospital, I had to use a walker because I was so dizzy I couldn’t walk,” says Major Judy. “It was a difficult year.”
Majors Vincent found ways to cope together. They took long drives, put Brock’s baby photos in a special album and displayed his pictures on a bookshelf. “We went to see a counsellor, a beautiful Christian woman, and she helped. She would pray with us,” she says. Major Judy also participated in music therapy, a clinical form of music intervention for a variety of mental and physical disorders such as post-traumatic stress, depression, Alzheimer’s, substance abuse and anxiety.
“I don’t blame God. It was hard even going to church, but I think it was one of the only things that got me through. God is carrying us through,” says Major Judy, whose favourite Scripture has always been 2 Corinthians 12:9: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
“There are many times that I have felt very weak,” she shares. “God is continually bringing us through. He is our constant every day.”
In the corps and at work, Majors Vincent found good friends who helped support them through the tough year, including Majors Wade and Linda Budgell, then divisional leaders in the Maritime Division, who spent time with them, took them out to meals and helped them move into a new house. “We couldn’t have asked for any more compassion.”
Peace and Healing
Major Judy retired from active service in June 2022, and following her husband’s retirement later this year, they plan to return to Newfoundland and Labrador and become involved in a corps there. She reads, quilts and embroiders, and she is excited for the next stage of her journey—peace and healing.
Majors Vincent cherish their family and two teenage grandsons, Braden and Avery, who remind them of Brock in many ways. Their daughter, Brada, and son-in-law, Christopher, continue to be a strong, loving support system.
“If you’ve got kids, make sure that as parents, you spend time with them, talk to them and listen to your kids. Make sure they are healthy, physically and mentally,” says Major Judy. “Mental illness is a big thing. We don’t cover it up. We talk about it.”
For help, visit:
The Salvation Army Crisis / Hope Line
905-522-1477 or 1-855-294-4673
I’m so sad and so sorry to read this story, I also have two teenagers that struggle mental illness. Keeping you in my prayers and you can also keep me and my family in yours, we all need prayer.