Christine and Karl are in their final days of training at Booth College of Mission (BCM) in Upper Hutt. On Saturday 7 December, they will be ordained and commissioned as Salvation Army officers, before taking over leadership of The Salvation Army in Upper Hutt in mid-January.
Such a life is a long way from where the couple was after marrying in Napier 20 years ago, aged 22. Fast forward a few years and Karl was working in forestry. Although he’d been raised in a Christian home, drugs and alcohol had become a big part of his life and God now seemed a long way away.
Christine, who also grew up in a Christian home (her parents are officers), says she can’t ever remember not having a relationship with God. And while there was a time when she considered joining Karl in his drinkinglifestyle, ‘that was very short-lived’. Mostly, she simply tried to keep things on the straight and narrow at home.
Seven years into their marriage, life changed in a big way for the Foremans. Christine was expecting their third child when a series of occurrences saw Karl come under the influence of The Salvation Army church that his wife and children were attending. He heard the message of God’s love—an invitation to a personal relationship with Jesus. He also received a direct personal challenge that God wanted him to step up as a champion of others. Both messages hit home.
Despite his initial enthusiasm, the first few months after Karl’s conversion were far from easy. Rather than alleviating the strain his marriage was under, things got tougher at home.
Hope was fading for his and Christine’s relationship, and life at work was getting more dangerous, with several close calls on the job. In a desperate state, Karl put in a phone call to Major Ivan Bezzant, the corps officer (pastor) at Napier Salvation Army. For some reason, their conversation crystallised Karl’s thinking as he faced up to the fact that he’d been holding back on God and his marriage. He promised God, ‘I don’t care what it costs, I’ll give you everything. I’ll go to work tomorrow and tell the guys that I’m going back to church and getting off the drugs and alcohol.’
Karl followed through on his prayer and was amazed when the bushmen he worked with responded by championing God’s cause. ‘They all came around and were hugging me, patting me on the back and saying, “Good on ya, mate!” ’
Karl saw that these guys were in the same boat he’d been in—not knowing how to fix their marriages or get on top of their addictions. ‘I had found the truth, so I wanted to learn more and share more,’ he recalls. And so, over the next few years, Karl studied at Bible college and then moved on to work for The Salvation Army in Napier. ‘Very early on as a Christian, I felt I had found this treasure, and I wanted others to find it too,’ he says.
After a while, he and Christine started to investigate how they might serve God full time as leaders—but without becoming Salvation Army officers. Every path led to either closed doors or roadblocks.
‘Then our new officer at Napier, Captain Paul Gardner, challenged us about officership,’ says Karl. He and Christine talked to some mentors who advised them to apply and see what God would do next.
‘It was Christine who had really planted the seed earlier that year,’ says Karl. ‘I thought, “I don’t want to be stuck in an office all day.” Because that was how I saw it. I was already connected in the corps and community and I didn’t see how officership could offer anything more.’
But after speaking with Paul and other leaders at his church for confirmation, Karl started to reconsider. ‘The word that kept coming to me during this time was “influence”,’ he says. ‘I wanted to influence and empower others for God’s kingdom. Now I see that officership is about that sort of leadership—it’s about influence. I love it when people find salvation and hope, but also when a believer finds their identity in Christ and steps into their destiny. And I can influence that as an officer.’
The news that they had been accepted for training was greeted with real peace. And that the ministries they’d been so passionate about in Napier are still going today is another sign of God’s blessing on the path they’ve taken.
After 10 years of working for The Salvation Army, Karl says coming to training college has been a bit of a sabbatical. Even though he’d originally hoped to find a way to bypass the college experience, he’s come to see value in stepping aside from his previous role to focus on study and family life, without the interruptions of phone calls and other work demands.
But the prospect of wearing Salvation Army uniform was another thing altogether. ‘I saw [wearing uniform] as conforming, which I didn’t want to do,’ Karl explains. ‘I’d always worn “witness wear” like Salvation Army t-shirts, but the thought of wearing full uniform … and a tie!’ It’s still something that doesn’t come naturally—he tends to regard it as an example of ‘carrying his cross’.
For Christine, the first year of her training took real adjustment. Although Karl had studied at Bible college for three years, Christine hadn’t hit the books since high school—and she hadn’t been a strong student even then. Balancing her study workload with family responsibilities was hard, she says. ‘The first year was a real struggle. This year, I set myself the goal of doing all my study in the daytime so the evening is free for the kids. That’s worked much better.’
As well as her fear of study, Christine’s fear of public speaking was another hurdle to overcome. ‘But through being stretched and challenged at BCM, I’m learning to overcome my fears,’ she says.
Although Karl and Christine are very different, they clearly complement each other. Christine is a strong introvert, whereas Karl has extraversion written all over him. ‘Yeah, we’re opposites,’ he laughs. ‘About the only thing that we have in common is food—and not even that, really.’
Karl is quick to point out that Christine’s quietness shouldn’t be interpreted as weakness. ‘She’s more prophetic than me,’ he explains. ‘She’s a truth teller, which is a good thing.’ He’s appreciated bouncing ideas off Christine over the two years of their training and is looking forward to more of the same as they move into full-time ministry together.
Christine admits one of the things she was worried about when she and Karl relocated to Booth College was what it would mean for their relationship and family life to have to see so much of each other. ‘We hadn’t spent that much time together during the day before, with Karl at work and me mostly at home,’ she says. ‘But it’s been really positive. And it’s been good that we’re both here after school for the kids.’
The Foremans freely confess they haven’t enjoyed everything about training college life, but Karl says sometimes it’s a case of ‘not seeing the wood for the trees’, because ‘there are blessings all around’. He says, ‘Being in the Word of God, the staff and all the guest speakers (and scones!)—you take it for granted, but there have been some real divine moments.’
‘Getting more knowledge of the Bible was cool,’ adds Christine. ‘And we’ve been part of a really good community. Our session is great and we’re really close. But we’re both ready to get out there now!’
Karl says the day they heard that their first officer appointment would be at the Upper Hutt Salvation Army was a nervous one. The couple had no idea where they would be sent and knew it could be just about anywhere in New Zealand. It was quite a surprise that they were going to be just a few minutes away from the college.
Verse one of Psalm 108—My heart is confident in you, O God—was especially significant as Karl waited for news. ‘I realised that no matter what we were going to face, and no matter how inadequate and weak I felt, my heart was confident in the Lord,’ he remembers.
The couple is adamant that officership is about empowering others; it’s not about being the central focus or calling all the shots. In fact, they’re uncomfortable with the officer-centric approach that can exist in Army circles. ‘For instance,’ says Christine, ‘some corps would expect their officers to preach every Sunday, but we’ll be looking out for other people to preach too.’
Karl says, ‘There’s so much emphasis put on “the officer”, but I really believe in the priesthood of all believers. We see officership as putting us in a position to encourage and resource others—it’s about servant leadership.’
They’re excited about the Army’s future. ‘I think we as an Army are on the edge of something great, a fresh move of God,’ says Karl. ‘I’m not happy with all of how the Army is at the moment—I want to see the wind of the Holy Spirit blowing. Then we’ll see souls won for the kingdom and more leaders walking in their destiny.
‘I remember when I came back to the Lord,’ he continues. ‘The first time I told my testimony, I cried and swore and carried on. And someone came up to me after and said, “Welcome back!’ and I thought, “Where were you [when I wasn’t here]?” I was still quite negative in lots of ways about the Army and, at that time, I suppose Christine and I could have gone to any church.
‘But in that moment, God said very clearly to me, “These are the people I want you to love and serve.” God is raising up the weak and the humble and the broken—and he is going to use The Salvation Army powerfully! I want to be a part of that’.
War Cry posed a few questions to Jake (18), Jesse (16), Sam (12), Teama (10) and Caleb (7) Foreman on life at Booth College of Mission (BCM).
What’s been the most fun about living at the college?
Teana: Playing with my friends Paris, Caleb and Sam. Playing with all the other kids and scooting around the tear drop.
Jesse: Hanging with the Disciples of the Cross and being part of all the funny things that they did, like flying a giant pink bra on the flag pole to support breast cancer awareness.
Jake: Living in community.
What’s been the hardest thing?
Jake: Leaving my friends in Napier.
Teana: Leaving my friends at the Napier Salvation Army.
What new thing/s have you learnt?
Jesse: To trust God because he knows what he’s doing.
Sam: Cadet Nathan Bezzant has taught me to play the drums.
Caleb: To ride my bike and to swim.
Why do you think Mum and Dad decided to become officers?
Jesse: They heard from God and were obedient to that.
What does a Salvation Army officer do?
Sam: Help people come to know Jesus.
Caleb: Help people … like Jesus helped people.
Any advice for other kids who might be moving to BCM in the future?
Jesse: To any teenagers coming to college, my advice would be to come join with the Upper Hutt youth, because we are the best! And although it’s really difficult to move, just give it some time, because it definitely does get better.
Teana: Make friends quickly with all the other kids at BCM … and have heaps of fun!
By Christina Tyson