As the curtain closes on their active officership, Commissioners Andy and Yvonne Westrupp sat down with War Cry to reflect on the past 40 years of ministry in The Salvation Army.
A lot has changed in the 40 years since Andy and Yvonne Westrupp entered training college in 1978 from Dunedin South Corps with their (then only) child Micaela (3 months).
In those days, the training college was located at Aro Street in Wellington, uniforms were high-neck and bonnets and caps compulsory attire.
They were commissioned in January 1980 as part of the Joyful Evangelists session and appointed to Papakura Corps, where they stayed for three years before heading south to Tokoroa Corps for four years.
Before Recovery Church was officially ‘a thing’, Andy and Yvonne were the corps officers at Spreydon Corps and the chaplains to the Bridge centre in Christchurch. ‘ … It changed our world … It gave us an understanding of what it’s like for people who have no concept of Christianity or church to interact with The Salvation Army faith community,’ reflects Yvonne. It made them realise that if the Army was to be the ‘bridge’, connecting people to Jesus, ‘we needed to make every effort to make ourselves relevant and understandable to people’, she says.
In those days every corps had an evening service—the salvation meeting—and Andy believes that the key to the corps’ success was the corps council’s willingness to ‘give up’ ownership of the Sunday night meeting, in particular. ‘I think quite bravely they said, “Let’s orientate the whole evening meeting so that it makes sense for the Bridge clients”—who were coming along voluntarily with Majors Rex and Glenis Cross, the managers of the Bridge at that time,’ says Andy.
It made for interesting days, says Yvonne. ‘It challenged some of the soldiers because of the people going through the programme being so honest and upfront—they would confront people in the corps when they felt they weren’t being straight with them.’
‘The clients were upfront and honest about things that weren’t normally talked about in church,’ adds Andy.
‘When we were appointed there, we were told it was going to close,’ says Andy. ‘This was the last chance for it to go ahead. I think the key was that the younger people—who had parents or relatives in the corps—we engaged with them, they became the leaders.’
The eight years spent at Spreydon helped prepare them for their next appointment as corps planting officers in Johnsonville, reflects Yvonne—despite them thinking they didn’t fit the criteria for corps planting. The Salvation Army had asked officers to apply if they could fulfil certain requirements, and it was a persistent Secretary for Programme—Major Barry Pobjie—who convinced them to apply.
‘Johnsonville was a highlight for me, because it was great to be given the opportunity to operate in a space outside of the structure, but still with the security of the structure and the system providing support,’ says Yvonne. ‘To see what new things could grow, and because there was already a group there with a vision, who had been meeting and talking and researching, there was a base to start with.
‘It was amazing to see what God did in terms of a new style of worshipping congregation that was relevant to unchurched people; and to go through the different stages from this initial little group, to growing it to be a large congregation. We learnt we had to change our style of leadership; we had to adjust along the way, so it wasn’t like one appointment, it was like many, because we were changing all the time,’ she says. There were a number of professional people in the corps, and this challenged Andy and Yvonne to grow in themselves and their leadership.
Yvonne’s face lights up as she recalls an atheist who started coming along. ‘She came for many months before she finally said, “You know, I really have changed my view and I think that God is real”, and she started to respond.’ The couple discovered that it was less about a moment of crisis for people when they make a decision and more about a journey of discovery and becoming aware of God.
‘We changed our theology on that,’ says Andy. ‘Instead of thinking people have two crises—one of salvation and one of holiness—we talked in terms of steps. People make tiny steps and they might struggle to actually know which one was the crucial step,’ he explains. ‘We saw that, and we would say: “Are you ready to make another step? Maybe big, maybe small”.’
Being based back in Wellington has given them the opportunity to soldier at Johnsonville Corps, and the corps has evolved since their days at the helm, maturing and changing as the world around it has moved on. ‘It’s fulfilling to feel that we’ve had a part in that journey, to see that it’s still growing, still healthy, still missional, still focussed on people encountering God,’ reflects Yvonne.
After 10 years at Johnsonville and 25 years as corps officers, a new season dawned with their appointment to Northern Division as Divisional Secretary for Programme (Andy) and Divisional Secretary for Personnel (Yvonne). This would be the beginning of their appointments in headquarters roles. Part way through their second year in these appointments, they received an additional appointment as facilitators for the Territorial Strategic Mission.
After four years in the Northern Division, they were appointed as the divisional leaders of Midland Division, based in Hamilton. This was their shortest appointment, only having two years in the role, then being moved to Territorial Headquarters and the Personnel Department.
They received a phone call in 2014 that would rock their world, but prove to be an incredible opportunity. Their appointment as Territorial Leaders of Papua New Guinea Territory meant leaving elderly parents, children, grandchildren and the familiarity of New Zealand behind and stepping into a completely foreign country and culture.
‘It gave us a greater understanding of other cultures. Living in a different culture we found some transferable concepts of Pacific and Māori culture—living in the less individualistic culture, more community-based and extended family culture,’ says Yvonne. ‘It showed us the richness that there is in that.’
Their final appointment as territorial leaders in their home territory commenced in January 2017. ‘It sounds cliché, but it’s a great privilege to lead in your own territory,’ says Andy. The minority of officers will become territorial leaders somewhere in the world and even less of their own territory. ‘With the privilege comes huge responsibility,’ he added.
For Yvonne it wasn’t a natural fit. ‘When I first came into this role, I felt that I was sitting in the wrong chair—that someone was going to put their head in the door and say, “you’re in the wrong office”. I prefer to be hands-on with mission, and so in this role I had to learn a different way of leading and influencing,’ she explains.
A big challenge for the couple was the governance restructure. ‘After 30-plus years of one model, to be looking at “What does the new model look like?” is challenging,’ Yvonne says.
Reflecting on the transition from corps ministry to headquarters, the couple recognise the challenges they faced. ‘Both of us are more hands on, we’re probably more suited to the operational side of the Army,’ Andy explains. ‘The challenge is you have to operate remotely.’
He explains it’s a bit like backing an articulated truck with a trailer. ‘The way you turn the wheel may not necessarily put the trailer where you actually want it. So, you have another go, and some of that has been frustrating, to have to circle back and have another go at getting whatever you’re looking at in the right position.
‘As a corps officer or centre manager, it’s way more direct. You only really have your leadership team that you can influence and work out together what you’re going to do and then actually do it. Whereas in these [headquarters] roles it takes time and it takes nuancing.’
Yvonne adds: ‘Another challenge is being people who don’t easily fit into a command structure, who like to question things—and both of us like to know why—to look for different ways to do things that might be more effective and efficient.’
Before they became officers, they were told—like many others—that if they wanted to change the system, they needed to be in it. ‘We have been able to contribute to change, but I think it’s been challenging for us to figure out how to do that—and for other people to deal with us, because we’re just not the natural fit,’ says Yvonne.
Their own experiences of being misunderstood at times, developed in them a desire to see others in similar positions brought back into the fold, so-to-speak. ‘Because we’ve been there, we have the same sense of justice that you can’t put people there [the side-lines],’ explains Yvonne. ‘It’s been challenging, but it’s also been a real privilege to be able to advocate—we’ve been able to make a space for people.’
Family has always been extremely important to Andy and Yvonne, and their long stint as corps officers helped their four children to have a really positive outlook on being officers’ kids. ‘It was really flexible, and we could take time to spend time with the kids, going to their school camps and things like that,’ says Yvonne. ‘They learned things that other kids don’t always have the opportunity to learn, like how to speak in public and how to relate to all kinds of people, from every level,’ she adds.
The children were included in corps life and as they got older the family would brainstorm some of the bigger, generic challenges, offering some great ideas. ‘It helped us to stay relevant because they would challenge us and let us know when things were out of date,’ Yvonne says.
Their son Jonathan remembers all the fun opportunities that officership provided them. ‘Having an army of church kids as friends close by, events and meetings with food and parents who were never far away. We grew up close because officership isn’t a standard job, it’s something our whole family was involved in,’ he says. The sense of strong family bond is something that Jonathan attributes in part to the unique experiences of life as an officer family.
Being more available to family is one of the things Andy and Yvonne are looking forward to as they enter retirement. With a home in New Plymouth awaiting their arrival, they have plans to enjoy some of their interests outside of the Army. For Andy the list includes woodworking, photography, and spending time on his motorbike and in the caravan.
Yvonne is looking forward to mountain biking, gardening and exploring the Taranaki region, an area of New Zealand they haven’t spent much time in.
Yvonne speaks of God’s faithfulness as an enduring lesson she’s learned. ‘At the beginning of my ministry, I wasn’t a very confident person and the unknown was quite scary for me. To learn that God is faithful and that what he puts in front of me—or what he asks of me—is possible because of his strength and presence with me, is invaluable.’
Andy has learnt that he doesn’t have to do everything on behalf of God. ‘I don’t need to do all his work for him, because he’s quite big enough to do it himself. So, I don’t have to correct everything I think is wrong. If he wants to use me, he can; he can use someone else, or not do anything about it himself,’ Andy explains.
For Andy and Yvonne, the timing of their retirement is bittersweet, with the territory on the cusp of a new level of biculturalism and what happens with Māori ministry going forward. ‘We’re talking way more than waiata and haka, we’re talking in terms of how we share leadership going forward, how we share the resource that is the Army, in order to make a greater impact in Te Ao Māori,’ says Andy.
‘It’s one of the things we regret not being able to be a part of in terms of leadership, as it’s something we’ve strongly advocated,’ add Yvonne.
The curtain may be closing on their active officership, but there will be an encore as they look to take up an appointment in retirement, worked around the less pressured pace that retirement in New Plymouth will offer them.