Salvation Army soldiers are waging a peaceful war of salvation in the U.S. Virgin Islands. "Soldiers," as Regional Coordinator Capt. Valerie Hazeldine, calls the followers, perform evangelical, social and charitable work, bringing their spiritual message to the poor, destitute and hungry by meeting physical needs.
“The Salvation Army is committed to serving the whole person, body, mind and spirit,” Hazeldine says.
The Salvation Army is an international evangelical organization with a Bible-based message to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination, Hazeldine says.
On St. Thomas the Salvation Army has one employee, 15 regular and occasional volunteers, four S.A. officers plus members of the Dutch Reformed Church serving at the soup kitchen. Monday through Friday they serve as many as 150 meals and on Thanksgiving the Corps serves about 400 meals.
“The human needs here are overwhelming and depressing,” Hazeldine says. “You just give what you can and do what you can, one person at a time.”
“We’re spreading the Gospel through feeding the hungry as Jesus did,” Hazeldine says. “This gives us the chance to reach out to people to see if they have a need for spiritual guidance.”
On St Thomas, the soldiers have been spreading the gospel since 1917, the same year the U.S. bought the islands from Denmark.
On St. Croix the army isn’t nearly as big as it is on St. Thomas, nor does it have the history.
Lt. David Rojas, corps officer on St Croix since last June, says he believes the St. Croix mission was started in the 1980s.
According to Rojas, they have a pantry stocked with such staples as canned salmon and chicken, rice, beans, and pasta to give out periodically to families on a list compiled over the years. Three volunteers sort, sell and distribute free clothes at the thrift shop on the grounds. They refer people to other agencies for more assistance. He added he would like to see growth and expansion on the grounds of the center, which is big enough to house a large temporary shelter for the homeless. He also would love to have an after-school program for neighborhood children, since they have the space for it.
But he adds the Salvation Army really needs more volunteers to do more outreach – feeding the physically and spiritually needy in the Whim area.
When one thinks of the Salvation Army, many think of the bell ringers in the annual Christmas Red Kettle Drive. It is the method the Salvation Army uses to raise funds to improve the physical environment, provide for material needs and lead people to a personal relationship with Christ.
Last December the drive raised almost $12,000 on St. Croix and $29,000 on St. Thomas. Nerither total was as much as half the goal. Hazeldine says the church really could use more in the way of corporate or private donations and volunteers.
“We really need to find a larger space to expand the thrift shop that brings in a steady income,” Hazeldine says. “We would also like to have a safe and secure place for children to go for a faith-focused afterschool program.”
The non-denominational church on St. Croix has about 15 members and on St. Thomas about 35. Services on St. Croix are at 11 a.m. Sundays at 82 Estate Whim off Queen Mary Highway, right next to Villa Morales.
On St. Thomas service is also at 11 a.m. at the chapel on Main Street at Market Square where it has been since 1941. It was built entirely by the S.A. corps. The adjoining structures house the thrift shop, dining room, kitchen, office and upstairs quarters.
Also working on St Thomas are Capt. Daniel Hazeldine, a regional coordinator and husband of Valerie Hazeldine. Corps officers, Capts. Shawn and Rene Hovatter are ordained ministers in the accredited seminary in the Salvation Army School Officer Training.
In 1865 William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army penned the words that are the basis of the group: “While women weep as they do now, I’ll fight; While little children go hungry as they do now, I’ll fight; While men go to prison, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight; While there is a drunkard left, While there is a poor girl lost upon the streets, While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!”
Booth started out with an army of volunteers that later became a “Salvation Army.” He modeled it after the military, but focused on salvation. The Salvation Army, founded 145 years ago, is at work in 111 countries and has more than 1.1 million members worldwide.