Choosing to partner with God
After 29 years serving with The Salvation Army, Major Sandra Stokes was last month named the new divisional leader for Bermuda.
It's a role the Newfoundland native has been preparing herself for since she was a girl. She got the call to enter full-time ministry at the age of 5 and has been involved in various aspects of service and missions ever since. She spoke with The Royal Gazette about her upbringing in the church and what this new opportunity means to her personally and professionally.
Q: What led you to get involved with The Salvation Army?
A: I was born and raised in Newfoundland, Canada and The Salvation Army was my home church. My family attended and participated in services on a regular basis; in fact, I was just 5 years old when I sensed a call in my spirit to enter full-time ministry. One day I just thought to myself, ‘I think this is what God wants me to do with my life'. So the idea of service, giving, worship and connecting with Him, it just seemed like that was His plan for my life all along. I never strayed from that thought, even though I wasn't officially ordained as a minister of the Gospel until the age of 24.
Q: Since then, how has your career progressed?
A: After graduating from high school I realised I was too young for full-time ministry but decided I needed to do something. I pursued post secondary education and graduated from a two-year medical secretarial science course, which basically allowed me to work at a hospital as a secretary to the director of nursing for three years.
It just so happened I found work at the Salvation Army Grace Hospital in St John's, Newfoundland. I looked at that as further confirmation from God this was the right path for me in ministry. Since my ordination in 1989, I've been an officer/pastor in The Salvation Army for 29 years. In that time, I've spent 20 years in pastoral/congregational ministry and nine years in administration.
Q: Is there anything you are most proud that you've been able to take part in?
A: I would have to say my preaching and teaching responsibilities and opportunities to attend to the pastoral needs of my “flock” have been most rewarding and fulfilling. In recent years, I have also thoroughly enjoyed coaching, mentoring and sharing resources with other leaders within The Salvation Army.
There are a couple of experiences that have also enriched my faith and ministry over the years, one being a tour of the Holy Land in 2016 and another being a two-month international training and spiritual enlightenment in London, England in 2003.
These incredible times taught me much about myself and my need to completely rely and trust in the immeasurably more God. With the visit to Israel, it was profound for me being in a different land and in a place where Jesus walked. I was able to see the temples he visited and walk through the Garden of Gethsemane. It was this holy, awesome experience where Jesus became even more real to me and so many scriptural and Biblical truths that I had read about were there right in front of me. It was no longer a story that you read in the Gospels. It was a real place.
One day, we were in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and I was able to do a devotional time with the group and it was incredible, just beyond words.
Q: Looking back over your career in ministry, are there any other joys that have come with being involved with Salvation Army?
A: Being able to serve in a congregation where they were blessed with a daycare as part of their ministry was another great reward. It was a delight to daily see the children, engage with them, but mostly learn from them. To realise the impact and influence you can have on them and their families is quite amazing. Also, seeing people of all ages come to faith in Jesus Christ has been a blessing, but equally as rewarding is to see them grow and mature in their faith relationship. I strongly believe in discipleship.
Q: Have there been any challenges? If so, how have you navigated those?
A: Yes, there are always challenges. Sometimes they come because of limited resources, insufficient leadership or just a lack of understanding and enlightenment. At these times, communication goes a long way. I believe I have navigated through them by realising a couple of things: 1, It's not my work, but His; 2, It's not in my strength, but His; 3, It's not my battle, but His. And so I choose to partner with God. He faithfully leads and I endeavour to faithfully follow.
Q: What has been the biggest lesson God has taught you over the years?
A: The biggest lesson, or I should say reminder, is that His mercies are new every morning. With each new day comes new strength for the task ahead. It is critically important to stay close to Him in prayer, devotional life and daily worship.
Q: How does it feel and what does it mean to you to be appointed as divisional leader?
A: There are days it feels exciting and adventurous and there are days it feels heavy and overwhelming. To be appointed as a divisional leader is first and foremost to acknowledge my role as the spiritual leader for the division. By the Holy Spirit's help and power, I live and lead like Jesus — encouraging, inspiring and motivating others. I am both leader and pastor to the people I serve.
Q: What does the role entail and what will be your priorities moving forward?
A: The divisional commander is the chief administrative officer for a division, a specific geographical area within a territory. Dependent on the Holy Spirit, the divisional commander is leader and pastor for the officers and soldiers of the division, providing spiritual direction and encouragement.
The Salvation Army has recently called us to action and has put forth strategic priorities for all officers and Salvationists to support. They are spiritual, health, leadership development, social justice, integrated mission, children and youth, gospel and transformation and discipleship.
Locally, we will endeavour to make these our focus all the while fulfilling our mission, which is to share the love of Jesus and to be a transforming influence in our communities. In time, it will become clear regarding the specific path these will take on the beautiful island of Bermuda.
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