Jun28FriFrom clients to corps officers. June 28, 2019 by John Longhurst
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(Above) Lts Derek and Angela Kerr were commissioned as Salvation Army officers this past weekend. In July, they will take up an appointment as corps officers in Goderich, Ont. (Photo: John Longhurst, Winnipeg Free Press)
Derek and Angela Kerr once needed a food bank to get by. Come July, they will be in charge of one, as ordained clergy in The Salvation Army.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Derek, 46, said.
“God has carried us through,” Angela, 44, added.
In 2012, the Kerrs, parents of six children and living in Dundas, Ont., found themselves in need of assistance after a two-year period when Derek was off work.
“The bills were piling up,” he said. “We made sure all were paid, but that left no money for food.”
There was a food bank nearby, which was operated by a Salvation Army church, but the couple was too embarrassed to ask for help. “We knew we needed food, but I couldn’t go in,” Derek said. “I was afraid of the stigma. What if someone saw me?”
Instead, they mailed a letter to the church, explaining their situation.
The church called to say food was on its way. And since it was near to Christmas, it provided gifts for the family, too.
“We got love and support from them,” Angela said. “It helped us get back on our feet.”
During the next 18 months, they used the money that they saved on food to pay off debts. They also started attending the Salvation Army church and volunteering for its food drives.
In 2014, Angela was hired to work at its food bank. In 2016, Derek joined her.
“It was surreal to be working at the same place we once got food,” Derek said, noting their own experience helped them empathize with clients. “We could tell people who came for food that we understood, that we’d been there.”
In 2016, the Kerrs felt a call to ministry. After consulting with leaders of their church, they were accepted into The Salvation Army’s College for Officer Training in Winnipeg. With their five younger children, they moved to the city in 2017. This past weekend, they graduated as Salvation Army officers; in July, they begin their new assignment at a church in Goderich, Ont.
“It’s been a great experience,” Derek said of their time at the college.
“We really got to know people well,” Angela added.
In addition to practical classes in ministry at the downtown school, they took academic courses at Booth University College, located nearby.
They also did a summer internship at a church in Saskatoon, travelled across Canada to learn more about the work of The Salvation Army and spent Sunday evenings on a soup truck serving food to homeless Winnipeggers.
Working with people in the city’s core area “was a privilege,” Angela said, noting many “became our friends.”
As they prepare to leave, they say they will miss Winnipeg.
“We found the city to be warm and welcoming,” Angela said. “I will leave a piece of my heart here.”
In Goderich, they will serve as co-pastors at a Salvation Army church and provide various services to the community. This includes being in charge of the church’s food bank, which provides more than 130 hampers a month.
“As officers, we will be able to show the same love and compassion toward others that was shown to us,” Derek said. “It feels amazing to share what resources the Army has.”
For Major Andrew Morgan, principal of the college, the Kerrs are “Salvation Army success stories ... now giving back, giving of themselves in service.”
As for the couple, they are glad to serve a church that once served them.
“It feels like the right fit for us, a way to live out the gospel,” Derek said. “God has used the situation we once found ourselves in to open doors so we can relate to the people we serve on a very personal level.”John Longhurst is a faith reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, where this story first appeared. Reprinted with permission.