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Invading the impossible

Ivan and Glenda Bezzant
Posted December 5, 2014

We would say you can’t walk with everybody, but you can touch everybody. Christ touched everybody, but he walked with the disciples. We carry a heart that wants to serve. Every day we want to touch everybody we meet ...’ Ivan says. ‘...

But you can’t do it all yourself. You have to have others,’ Glenda finishes his sentence. ‘That’s how we’ve done our officership. A lot of people have been prepared to sit through the warts and all with us, and we’ve sat through the warts and all with them.’

The two comments are two themes that come up often in an hour of chatting with the Bezzants—they talk about their commitment to being encouragers and about the privilege of being an officer. But they also talk bluntly about the toll the job can take. The reward is in the relationships with people, they say, but investing so deeply in people comes with a cost.

From when they started till today, the Bezzants have worked hard on ‘making family a value’, Glenda says. Everywhere they go, they see the congregation as their family. Some family members you don’t get on with, but seeing them as ‘family’ helps build strong relationships. They also see their biggest reward as officers in building strong spiritual sons and daughters, she adds. ‘We’re passionate about seeing people transformed and living in the potential God has given them—and not discriminating against where they have been.’

Seeing those lives changed was what kept them going in ministry, and it was humbling when people said thank you for the impact they had made, Ivan says.

The people they’ve worked with range from wealthy to poor, gang members and people coming out of prison, he says. Ivan remembers one man he encountered who had significant psychological problems. ‘Every week we would meet for spiritual life sessions, and to see the change in this man was amazing and a privilege. He eventually got a job and was able to regain custody of his kids.’

It was in taking on the challenges that seemed the hardest that the pair most saw God at work, he says. ‘I believe we were created to invade the impossible. If somebody walks in and says, “This is an impossible situation”, whether it’s my temperament or what, I think, “This is where we get involved!” I see officers when they hit the bad times their first impulse is to run, but the people that coached us taught us to face it, embrace the impossible and say, “I’m looking to you, Lord.” ’

Ministry made sense

Glenda is a fourth generation member of The Salvation Army, whose family have been heavily involved at Wellington South Corps. Ivan, who grew up in Christchurch, says his parents spent time at a Baptist church, before moving back to the Army, where they became full-time officers. Ivan felt called to go into ministry after a personal crisis at 17, he says.

‘I came to a point of just wanting to surrender my life to God. I had started a career with the Inland Revenue Department, of all places. I just thought that I wanted to do something significant with my life.’

He and Glenda were already going out when Ivan started his training at the Officer Training College in Aro Street in central Wellington, when he was 20. Glenda took a year to think about whether she felt called to ministry and started at college a year later.

They were advised against attending college and to focus on their relationship first as people said they were too young to become officers, Ivan recalls. But ministry was the only thing that made sense in his life at the time, he says.

Ivan was sent to Woodville Corps as his first appointment, while Glenda was in her final year of training. They had to get permission to get married, which was nerve wracking, he says. They got married a week after Glenda’s commissioning and she moved straight to Woodville. ‘

The first year out of training college was pretty hard. We were first year married, first year officers—one of the jokes was that when we’d had an argument everyone knew because we’d walk down the road on different sides,’ Glenda laughs.

A year later, they moved to Hawera, where they spent three years and where their daughter Rebekah was born. Their son Nathan was born during their next appointment, a four-year stint at Massey Corps in Auckland (now Westgate Corps). After that, they spent four years at Upper Hutt Corps and then four years at Sydenham Corps in Christchurch, three years at Midland Divisional Headquarters in Hamilton and 10 years at Napier Corps. A year at Territorial Headquarters in Wellington followed before the couple were moved to Christchurch in 2012 as Southern Division leaders.

Life learnings

Although the Bezzants have shared every appointment they have had as officers, working together could still be hard. ‘We’ve learnt that we can’t share an office!’ Ivan laughs. ‘There is the pressure of being continually together; that’s been a mission and we’ve worked really hard on that.’

They do share the work though, giving each one the lead in the areas they are strong in. Typically, in church ministry, Glenda says she leads services and Ivan preaches. Finding their own identity in mission was important, but they also consciously worked hard on their marriage and being parents, reading books and taking time to have a break and discuss how well they were doing in different areas of life.

Officership can take its toll, dealing with the stresses of working with people and the feeling of needing to be always available and always working. When they started, a regular officer allowance was not guaranteed; they drew their allowance once all the other bills for the corps were paid. But seeing God get them over the line each time things got tight was hugely encouraging, Ivan says.

Even after 33 years, Ivan says he’s still tempted to overwork and needs to monitor this, particularly as their present roles, Southern Divisional Commander and Divisional Director of Women’s Ministries, require a large amount of travelling.

Being open about their struggles is part of the honesty that is at the heart of what they do in ministry, journeying with people ‘warts and all’—even when that has got them into trouble. They also make a point of celebrating the small things as well as the big, Ivan says.

Being open is important

September 21, 1989, is a date etched into the couple’s memory. That was the day Glenda rolled their family van in the drive of their home and was trapped underneath.

‘That was traumatic,’ Glenda recalls. ‘I was under there for 20 minutes before police, firemen and anyone that was around managed to get the pressure off. The ambulance guy told me I would never walk again, but Ivan and I watched my leg go from really skinny to healthy again, so that was a real miracle.’

Glenda, who says she always feels the need to give 110 per cent, was already feeling the pressure. Her doctor had even warned her she was heading for what was then a new concept in medical circles: burnout.

She began suffering from anxiety. ‘I got to a point where I couldn’t go out of the house to get the groceries or anything.’

Glenda says she spent a lot of time listening to sermons, particularly those by Joyce Meyer, and with support from Ivan and others eventually came through this time. Ivan was particularly good in helping look after the children, and they were open with their congregation about the struggle that Glenda was going through.

Although it could be hard being open, this was key to developing meaningful relationships and changing lives, Ivan explains. ‘We sometimes have a culture in the Army that gives an impression that officers have it all together, but in our experience that doesn’t help. When people can look at you and say, “They’re going through what we’re going through”, that doesn’t turn people off; it helps us all move into relationship together.’

Tips for ministry

Moving on from each appointment was hard and during their time at Sydenham Corps, Ivan had a breakdown. The cause, his psychologist said, was not dealing with his grief after each move. It was an important lesson in learning to accept the feelings of loss and sadness that comes from moving and that it was okay to feel sad, Ivan says.

‘We’d been in ministry 13 years. Having studied leadership now, they tell me that around year 12 to 15 you will go through a crisis point and you have to find another rhythm. I’d love to find out how many officers we’ve lost around the eight to 15-year mark.’

Taking a regular day off was also important, Ivan adds. Glenda recommends the book Boundaries, by Dr Henry Cloud and Dr John Townsend, which she says helped her identify and establish some healthy boundaries for herself.

Taking time to get to know the people in a congregation and remembering that you are moving into their space was also important, Glenda adds. In each appointment, she and Ivan have discovered that God has a role for them to fill with the new family they find there.

For the Bezzants, some of the hardest times came when people within the Army misunderstood what they were trying to do, did not listen or weren’t always encouraging, Glenda says. In their role as divisional leaders, that is what they try to do: listen, understand and encourage.

Another challenge was feeling that people coming into new appointments had not honoured the hard work that had been done before, Ivan says. Although he admits that they’ve been guilty of the same as over eager new officers. ‘We’ve been there. When we were young we got an appointment and thought, “They must need us.” ’

And yes, they’ve thought about resigning at times. A retired officer once told Ivan, ‘There will be days when all you can put on a piece of paper as a reason to stay is that you were called,’ and that was true for him and Glenda, he says. But each time it did not feel right, they did not feel God was telling them to leave—and today the passion is still there.

‘We’re still really enjoying life. It’s still an adventure. I’m just as fired up as when I went out as a 22-year-old, if not more,’ says Ivan.

Throughout their life, the couple also say they have hung on to Matthew 6:33, ‘But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’

And if they could go back and decide whether or not to do it again? ‘We’d probably just go a little slower,’ Ivan says.

By Robin Raymond(c) 'War Cry' magazine, 29 November 2014, pp5-7
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.