Lt. Stephanie Christopher, the new head of the Pine Bluff Salvation Army, said she is embracing her new opportunity full-on.
Think about if there’s something that you were passionate about, and that you just could not imagine not doing it. That’s the gift that you bring to the table, because we’re not limited to just one or two things… . Salvation Army Lieutenant Stephanie Christopher
Monday revealed the beginning of a new chapter for Salvation Army’s Lieutenant Stephanie Christopher, who entered her first week as Pine Bluff’s newest officer. As such, she will be in charge of the local Salvation Army, and she said she has a lot of plans for the ministry.
Christopher replaces Lts. Sarah and Kyle Madison who were reassigned by the Army.
Created in 1865 with the intent to attract those who would not normally attend or be accepted in traditional church settings, the Salvation Army was set into motion by husband and wife duo William Booth and Catherine Booth. Together and with the help of about 1,500 volunteers, the couple went on to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ to many poor, destitute, and vulnerable individuals across London which helped to lay the foundation for the organization’s current operations.
With over 1.5 million officers, soldiers and volunteers currently spread across 130 countries around the world, the Salvation Army has managed to provide support and assistant to 25 million people through monetary donations, programs and ministry.
The Salvation Army is dedicated to meeting the greatest needs of each community and Christopher, former lieutenant for a Fort Wort Salvation Army, is ready to tackle the everyday needs of Pine Bluff’s community, including providing fans and a cooling station for residents suffering from the summer’s sweltering heat.
Christopher is no stranger when it comes to helping others. She has years of social services experience and a license in alcohol and drug counseling.
“I’ve been in the Lord all my life,” Christopher said. “I came to the Army and I started working with the Salvation Army, and was called into this ministry to serve, so I’ve been preaching and teaching since 1995. I fell in love with the many facets of the ministry that we have.”
When people think of the Salvation Army, often times it is associated with the thought of thrift stores and bell ringing, said Christopher, but they are unaware of the core part of its ministries.
“We are an evangelical part of the Christian church, and our mission is to preach the gospel,” Christopher explained. “And we meet human need without discrimination as well.”
According to the Salvation Army website, they support members of the LGBTQ community by providing assistance for individuals with substance abuse, conducting suicide prevention counseling, job training and keeping them fed through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.
Christopher said she fell in love with the idea of helping those who may be considered “throwaways” of society like the homeless, prostitutes, drug addicts, or people who are hurting inside with nowhere else to turn.
“You know, being the hands and feet of God in a practical way,” Christopher said. “Everybody doesn’t need a sermon, everybody doesn’t need to hear about you going to hell. I mean when life is happening, it’s happening … and sometimes just a little word of hope and encouragement can be the very thing to help a person get to the next place.”
Christopher believes that simply speaking with, sitting with, or walking with someone in need can be all it takes to help them reach a place of health, healing and deliverance. There is a solution to every problem, which is important to find, because “hurt people hurt other people,” she said.
“And we know that there is a spiritual healing that has to take place in connection with the physical, so we look at it as a more holistic approach,” Christopher said. “We don’t want to just preach a sermon and send you home. If you need pampers for your baby, if you need a hot meal, everything has to kind of work together so the person doesn’t feel like ‘well now they prayed for me but I’m still hungry.’”
The Salvation Army offers an array of services to support residents of Pine Bluff through their 12th Avenue ministry, including feeding senior citizens with food boxes and a women’s ministry that allows women to share in fellowship and the gospel while learning to be more virtuous, Christopher said.
When soldiers of the Army aren’t spreading the word of God through their various ministries, they welcome local children into their facility to just hang around and play a few games in a place where they may not think to frequent. Christopher spoke of a group of young men who recently took to the location to partake in a game of basketball, at no charge, because the Army is a safe place for youths to visit.
When discussing advice she would give to people interested in helping others or joining the Salvation Army, Christopher said:
“Think about if there’s something that you were passionate about, and that you just could not imagine not doing it. That’s the gift that you bring to the table, because we’re not limited to just one or two things… . Coming alongside and loving what you do makes all the difference, and so there is a place in the Salvation Army for everybody to operate. There’s always somebody who can use what you have to offer.”
Although Christopher is only in her first week as Pine Bluff’s newest lieutenant, she plans to spend her time at the location spreading the word in many ways, and with new plans constantly coming to mind.
“It’s so much going on in my head. It’s so much ministry opportunity, but I want to make sure it’s not what I want but what’s best for the community, for this body, at this time,” Christopher said. “But yes, a lot of ideas and a lot of connecting with other churches and ministries, and seeing how can we walk alongside in order to not duplicate what’s already happening, but to support and kind of hold up the things that are going on.”
Christopher is a mother of two and grandmother of six who are all in Texas.
“They are a joy,” Christopher said. “And I know that if we don’t invest in our children today, we’ll pay later in more ways than one. … Sunday services aren’t enough if there are six other days outside of that. And so having a place for the kids to come and enjoy good, clean fun, and be safe from all of the outside influences that could try and deter them into different directions is one of the things that way heavy on me.”