The first time Lieutenant Stephen Molen came across The Salvation Army was looking at his own picture on a missing persons ad. For Steve, life changed after disagreements with his parents when he was 16 and he wanted to leave school.
‘My way of dealing with that was one day after school I just didn’t go home. I nicked my passport [from home] and some money from a bank account and I got on a plane to Australia.’
After a few weeks in Sydney he read the local newspaper that said: ‘Missing Kiwi, have you seen this teenager Stephen Molen? Believed to be living in the King’s Cross, Bondi area.’
‘The Salvation Army had put an ad in the paper,’ explains Steve. ‘It was so embarrassing, because my mum had given them this picture of me doing the vacuuming. Here I was, hard core rebel Steve, on the run and my “wanted” picture was of me doing the vacuuming in my bedroom.’
After 9–10 months, Steve returned home, but that taste of freedom changed him from a kid with a good upbringing to someone determined that whatever he wanted, he’d have. ‘I wanted to experience everything life had to offer—women, alcohol, drugs. I was determined over the next 10 years to emotionally and physically mess myself up as much as possible.’
Although he never got to the point of addiction, Steve says he did a lot of emotional and internal damage. ‘I was open to everything that was around, but that comes with its consequences.’ Eventually, at age 25, tired and breaking he began asking, ‘Is this it? Is there something more to life than this?
‘It was around this time that my boss at work let me read his Bible, and I discovered if I read his Bible he wouldn’t make me do any work,’ says Steve.
So over the next year, he started searching the Bible and asking questions.
‘My friends were confused because they knew “party Steve” and suddenly I was reading the Bible and asking questions about spirituality,’ he says.
One day, a friend introduced him to someone in The Salvation Army, and the pair began discussing the Bible and Steve’s questioning journey. Steve told him he wanted to believe, but he wanted some evidence that God was real. ‘He asked me if I’d ever had any experience of the spiritual. I told him I was pretty black and white, I believe in what I can see, and if I can’t see it, then I don’t believe it.’
The man prayed Steve would have a spiritual experience, and over the next few months Steve says he began to have powerful spiritual experiences that convinced him God was real.
He became a Christian and began going to church, but the pull of his old life became stronger and he began slipping back into old habits. ‘I was praying one day and I came to this place of understanding that how I was living was wrong. I said, “God, I’m sorry for what I have been doing. I want to change, I need you, I want my life to be different”. It was at this point that I had an ovewhelming encounter with God. I could sense his love, hear his voice and feel his presence.
I knew beyond any doubt that he was real and I was loved.’
It was a pivotal moment for Steve: ‘When I finally let go, stopped thinking I was “all that”, and realised I needed God, he was there in a powerful way.’
Steve was passionate about overseas mission and social services, but couldn’t see a way into these areas. Then one day he went to a men’s camp—and while he was there, a speaker prophesied to him that he would have a strong mission with young people. ‘I thought, “That’s unlikely, I don’t even like young people”,’ laughs Steve.
Three weeks later, he was offered a job with The Salvation Army, working with youth in central Wellington. A job that lasted almost 14 years.
He was involved in running life-skills courses, programmes in schools and Rimutaka Prison; setting up homes for homeless teens, organising a community youth meal, and a street ministry in Manners Mall.
When Steve and his wife Faye got married, they planted a youth church that became 614 Corps, a youth corps in central Wellington. It was a special time in their lives, says Steve. ‘Over the years, we saw God impact both young people and youth workers in so many different ways. It was awesome.’
Steve and Faye were invited to attend The Salvation Army’s Delve weekend—a time where people are given the opportunity to explore officership and leadership positions in the Army.
But Steve had no real interest in officership, fearing he’d be sent somewhere he didn’t belong.
‘For me it was a cheap date weekend, to take Faye away for a camp and activities and have a weekend with my mates. I had no intention of going into officership. I was enjoying the weekend. They’d have these sessions and I’d naff around with my friends at the back. I thought I wasn’t called to officership —but I was open to God,’ says Steve.
‘I was messing around at the back and [now Commissioner] Andy Westrupp was about to speak. I have no idea what he said but, as he got up to speak, I heard God say clearly, “Don’t worry about not trusting The Salvation Army, you can trust me”. God’s voice penetrated my inner soul, it was a ‘burning bush’ experience.
‘Then I had this uncontrollable blubbering, it was very uncool, but I couldn’t stop. It was through this encounter that God empowered me to let go of 614 Corps and led me to training college to become a Salvation Army officer.’
After college, Steve and Faye were appointed to Tokoroa Corps —a small corps in a town that he had never heard of. It was a wild, dysfunctional town, with high unemployment and poverty, and a lot of influence from gangs, drugs and domestic violence, Steve says. ‘The corps was a perfect fit for us. God keeps his promises and the Army got it right—the people were awesome and we loved living among them. Our goal was to create an accepting and loving culture, and journey with people amongst their brokenness.’
Over the years, Faye and Steve experimented with different ways of doing ministry, and finding ways to integrate the corps with community ministries. This included a new way to operate the foodbank. ‘We got so tired of people coming in for food parcels, which we knew were needed, but then they were gone again with little room to connect with them relationally and support them long term.’
So they set up a new initiative where the corps supported a person over six weeks with food parcels, while they took part in a Positive Lifestyle Programme (PLP). The programme included a ‘generosity project’, where clients helped out in the foodbank or around the corps. Clients also met with a Christian support worker to talk about where they were at, and pray into issues.
‘The idea was to empower people and support them to grow,’ explains Steve. ‘The food parcels allowed them to set aside money to pay off bills and handle other issues. And the cool thing was that it gave them the opportunity to meet people and make positive connections.’
But Steve says the real key to transformation is giving people the opportunity to have a relationship with God—making space for God to connect with his children: ‘The reason we do what we do is that we believe Jesus, through his Spirit, can bring transformation. We’re drawn to it because we believe Jesus makes a difference. We don’t need another social service agency—the extra dimension we can bring is the transforming power of Jesus.’
The Corps also opened three transitional houses, providing a roof and further support to homeless people in the community. There again, Steve says, the link between church and people in need was a key part of helping people transform their lives.
‘One of the women who came to us was couch surfing; she’d had some of her children taken off her. She moved into our emergency accomodation, did the PLP/food project programme and positive parenting, as well as volunteering in the Family Store. It wasn’t long after being involved in all this that she started coming to church and joined one of our discipleship groups.
‘Jesus started to impact her life and and she began the journey of transformation. That’s the integration we want,’ Steve says. ‘It’s those connected pathways that make a difference in people’s lives.’
After four years in Tokoroa, the Molens moved to Auckland at the beginning of this year to continue the work of planting Clendon Corps Plant.
‘We were loving Tokoroa and the people, it’s a beautiful place, but God and the Army needed us elsewhere. We were sad to go, but excited about being involved in a new plant in Clendon.’
Steve and Faye have taken the principles they learnt in Tokoroa with them into their new appointment. ‘As we focus on the new plant, we want to make sure the corps stays integrated with the community,’ says Steve. ‘Whatever we start, it has to have a pathway for ongoing relationships and spiritual transformation—if it doesnt meet these objectives, then we are not interested in doing it.’ Again, Steve says the Army’s point of difference is Jesus.
‘At present, the corps doesn’t have a Sunday service, but we are taking time out with our planting team to plan and strategize, and put down good, solid foundations. Very soon we will have some new community ministries initiatives up and going, and we’ll start public services. God has some exciting plans for Clendon/Manurewa, so watch this space ...’
Once a missing person, Steve has truly found his place.
A battle cry from the trenches
When our people turn up broken and damaged because of drugs and alcohol,
When our people are homeless because they haven’t paid their bills or their rent,
When our people need support and advocacy with WINZ because they haven’t met their obligations and keep missing their appointments,
When our people have burnt all their bridges with family and friends through domestic violence and assault,
When our people continually return to their abusive situations, in and out in and out,
When we are caught up in our own world, our own stuff, and our people need a friend—someone to talk to, someone to show an interest and we really can’t be bothered,
When our people finally come to that place where they have had enough and they want to change,
We’ll be there.
And we’ll fight, we’ll fight to the very end.
(c) 'War Cry' magazine, 2 June 2018, pp6-9. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.