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Aug16ThuDespair drove Lts Lance and Monika Gillard to leave officership. God’s love brought them back. August 16, 2018 by Kristin Ostensen
Called. Equipped for sacred service.
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Where there was certainty two years earlier, when those words were spoken over Lieutenants Lance and Monika Gillard as they were commissioned in 2012, there was now doubt. They had left everything to become Salvation Army officers, believing they were called by God. But as challenges in their first appointment overwhelmed them, the Gillards couldn’t help but wonder: Are we actually called, or did we get it wrong?
“When I think of that time in our lives, I always go back to the story of when Peter walked on water,” says Lance. “He sees Jesus walking toward him and says, ‘I can do that.’ He steps out of the boat and starts walking. But then he sees the wind and the waves. He loses his focus on Jesus and he starts to sink.
“That’s what was happening to Monika and me. The storm was all around us, and we couldn’t see anything else. We were sinking.”
Action and Service
For Lance and Monika, who are now corps officers at Sussex Community Church, N.B., the storm has long passed. Though they left officership during that time of despair, they returned with a firm conviction that this was God’s will for their lives.
“We are loved by a relentless God,” Lance says with a smile. “When he has a calling, when he has a purpose for your life, he doesn’t let you go.”
Before they were Salvation Army officers, Monika and Lance were members of the Canadian Armed Forces, serving in the Navy. They met in 2000 while stationed in Victoria on the HCMS Algonquin. Both grew up in Christian homes, but were not connected to any church when they met. After they married in 2002, Lance wanted to bring his young son to church, so they decided to try The Salvation Army.
“I was dedicated at the Army in Englee, N.L., and I went to youth group and other events they had there,” Lance says. “I remembered The Salvation Army being lively, fun and upbeat.”
From the beginning, Victoria Citadel was the right church for them.
“Being in the military, I liked structure, routine, orders and regulations, the uniform—so I had a natural connection to the Army,” Lance says. “I grew up seeing Christianity talked about and modelled at home, but we rarely did anything beyond that and I always thought that there had to be something more. In the Army, there was a call to action and service.”
“It made sense to us,” Monika agrees.
“The mission of The Salvation Army and the covenant we signed—it just fit.”
The Gillards were enrolled as senior soldiers in 2004, and soon after, Lance began to feel the pull to officership.
“I was growing in my relationship with God and I wanted to do more for him,” he says. “I felt that officership was the next logical step.”
At the time, Monika was at home with two young children, so the couple decided to hold off on entering full-time ministry and instead took up new positions with the Air Force in Greenwood, N.S.
“It wasn’t the right time, but the calling was still there,” Monika says.
By 2009, they were ready. They applied for officership and entered training college in 2010. “God opened the doors and everything fell into place,” says Lance. “We sold our house, we had my release date, we were ready to go!”
After 22 months of training, the new lieutenants were sent out to Dartmouth, N.S., for their first appointment. Along with the corps, the Gillards would oversee community and family services and a food bank.
“We left training college very idealistic,” Lance admits. “We knew there would be challenges, but we believed we’d be able to overcome them. When you go out with an idealistic mindset, sometimes the reality of what you get takes the wind out of your sails.”
The Gillards hired a new community and family services worker who helped expand the corps’ programming, they created budgeting and cooking classes, and ran a successful mom-and-tots program.
But the corps was plagued by property issues. Both the corps building and their quarters were in a state of serious disrepair, rendering them unfit for occupation. Within four months of their arrival, the Gillards had to move house, creating stress for the family as their children changed schools again.
Meanwhile, they struggled to find a new home for the church, meeting at a fire hall before settling into a chapel attached to their store-front community and family services location. “That was challenging as some people had a strong connection to the building and felt that we were closing down their church,” says Lance.
“At that point, we were overwhelmed and we weren’t relying on God’s strength,” says Monika. “We were asking ourselves, ‘How are we going to fix this?’ rather than, ‘How’s God going to use us to fix it?’ ”
“I remember going to our second-year institute feeling exhausted and defeated, and having very little to give our congregation at the time,” says Lance. “We felt lost and alone. We were burnt out.”
Heartbroken, Lance and Monika decided to leave the Army and rejoin the Navy in Victoria. “Like Peter, who went back to fishing, I went back to what I knew,” says Lance.
“But we were only there for a couple of months before we started to wonder that maybe this was not what we were supposed to be doing,” adds Monika.
“God’s got a sense of humour,” Lance smiles. “I got on the HCMS Vancouver, and the combat chief said to me, ‘Hey, Gillard! I hear you used to be a padre.’ I said yes, and he said, “Well, the chaplain’s not able to make this trip, so you’re doing all the church services for the next six weeks!’ ”
The combat chief wasn’t the only one who sought out Lance for spiritual leadership.
“I’d be up on lookout and the next thing I know, I’d have somebody beside me, saying, ‘Hey Lance, I hear you used to be a pastor,’ ” he shares. “I’d have people coming up to me all the time, asking questions about God.
“So I’d be praying with people, right there in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!” Lance laughs. “I remember thinking, Why don’t you leave me alone, God? It wasn’t subtle.”
Meanwhile, Monika had taken an office job with a helicopter squadron.
“One day, Lance and I went out for a drive and he said, ‘I have this podcast I’ve been meaning to listen to,’ ” she recalls. “So he put it on, and it was talking about following God’s call. It really convicted us. We had to pull over because I was in tears. For me, that was the affirmation that God wanted us back in officership.”
With that renewed conviction, Lance and Monika went back to where they started: Victoria Citadel.
“The corps family surrounded us with love and support,” Monika says. “They told us they had been praying for us ever since we’d left.”
“It was amazing,” Lance adds. “Here was the family that saw us come to the altar and make our first-time commitments as Christians, and dedicate our lives to Christ, and they were still helping us on our journey.”
In the fall of 2016, Lance and Monika started the process of returning to officership, supported by their corps officers, Majors Brian and Deborah Coles. After they were reaccepted, they spent a few months assisting at Victoria’s Westsong Community Church before taking up their current appointment in Sussex in June 2017.
“We had a seamless transition, coming to Sussex,” says Lance. “We have a wonderful, supportive community, where we feel like we fit, and I believe that’s all God’s doing.
“Coming back to ministry has been absolutely amazing,” he continues. “I feel like there’s nothing that I can’t do, with God going before me, because I have that reaffirmation. We learned so much through our first experience as officers, so we know the red flags and we are much better at taking care of ourselves.”
“We have all these wonderful things that God’s placing on our hearts to do,” Monika adds, “but we know we need to step back and allow God to work through us, with the support of the congregation around us, because we can’t do it on our own. As Christ’s body, we’re all in this together.”
For others who may be facing their own storms, Lance and Monika have a message of hope: “You’re not alone,” he says. “No matter what you’re going through, there’s always somebody out there who has walked the path before you or is willing to walk beside you.”
“If you’re struggling, it’s OK to ask for help,” Monika adds.
Looking back now, Lance says he can see how God was still with them, even when they were sinking. “He never gives up on us. And that’s wonderful.”