Imagine you are a mother of 4 small children ranging in ages from 12-5 in the small village of Champion WI, 1930. It’s the middle of winter, snow is on the ground and the air is so cold that it feels like razor blades across your face as your family shuffles down the street in search of shelter for the night. Your husband has been arrested, your home and everything in it was taken from you and you now face the challenge of providing for your family in a town where you are an immigrant from Belgium and don’t even speak the language.
You find your way to a nearby dump and after making your way thru the winding pathway; piles of discarded food and rubbish on either side of you, a small poorly constructed shanty catches your eye. You huddle inside with your children and pray for the hours to pass and the good Lord to provide. After some time you hear the ringing of a bell and a myriad of voices gathering not to far from your new home. You instruct your children to stay put and you make your way to the fencing that separates you from the building next door where aromatic scents of cooked beef and vegetables are present. You peek through the jagged slats and notice men and women in uniform serving ladles full of fresh stew into bowls held by grateful hands. Everyone is standing in a single file line waiting for their turn at the glorious meal that awaits them. You study the process and realize there is no transaction of money, no questions asked, no extra steps to be taken, you just smile and say thank you while they say “God Bless You.”
You quickly scurry off to your beloved angels waiting for you amidst the dark and cold. You gather them together and as they each hold hands, you guide them through the broken fencing over to the end of the line. You look behind you at your little entourage and can’t believe for a second you would ever be in this place. The faces of your children smile back at you, one by one; each possessing faith that they will be taken care; they will be provided for. The line moves and finally they are next. The warmth of the stew hitting the bowls is a welcome sensation against their cold hands as each one takes their bowl and smiles. A drink is handed to them next along with some bread and as formally as they filed out of the town dump, they file back in and that evening as the sun sets and with stomachs full, they wrap themselves up with what little blankets they had and dream the night away.
This visual occurred for only a couple of days, then a Salvation Army officer took notice of this family and immediately brought them in, provided them with shelter and medical care for the 5 year old daughter, Ruby who had polio and a bad case of rickets and also for the 10 year old son, Milt who also suffered from polio and would drag his left leg as he walked. Thru proper medical care and nutrition, the rickets were soon gone and the polio reversed. The father who had once been a thief among other things and had served time in prison was released and upon learning what The Salvation Army did for his family decided to pay them a visit. He asked them how he could pay them back for what they had done. He said he’d done a lot of thinking as he sat in his cell, and was ready for a change. The Salvation Army put a uniform on him and from that day forward he preached the gospel till the day he died.
The little boy, Milt grew up and spent his entire life working for The Salvation Army, with his main focus remaining on youth and the elderly. He spent time in St. Louis then made his way to Nashville where he managed the community center. He was a father to so many youth growing up in the Northeast area of Nashville. He was an example of love to many who lived their lives believing there was no hope for them. He instilled life into each one and allowed them to see their potential; that they were truly a masterpiece in God’s eyes. Milt founded the Golden Agers Club designed to bring senior citizens together so they wouldn’t feel forgotten. He lived by his saying, “Be the reason someone is having a great day” every day and cherished the visual of igniting light back into the eyes of those who were aging and felt they had nothing left to give.
Now Milt and his bride Audrey had a son, their only child, Michael. Michael grew up in The Salvation Army and felt privileged to watch his father work within the community. He loved watching the reactions of those his father came in contact with and how everyone walked away feeling special, feeling loved. Michael grew up, completed school, served his country during Vietnam and soon enough found himself working for The Salvation Army. He too had a love for the youth of the community and managed the same center his father had overseen. Mike mentored many children in the area and celebrated their achievements as many graduated high school and even college despite their circumstances that would have dictated otherwise. Mike eventually moved on to the Resource Development side so he could play a greater role in sharing what The Salvation Army does here in Nashville and why folks should support the many programs it offers that impacts lives. Mike married the lovely Jo Knight in 1966, who happened to be the daughter of Salvation Army officers and they had two beautiful children, Buffy and Jay.
The love of Others and the mission of making a difference continues to this day. Mike Servais still works every day spreading the word and seeking support for this Salvation Army! Jo is a member of The Salvation Army’s Women’s Auxiliary and helps to coordinate various events that lift up this organization including the planning of the Golden Agers Annual picnic. Jay went on to serve his country in Afghanistan and the Battle of Mogadishu. He is currently a Metro Captain with the Nashville Fire department and became a Master Sergeant with the Air National Guard and works as a Aeromedic. Buffy is with JobWise, a community based organization that works with businesses in the greater Nashville area to successfully hire, train, and support individuals with disabilities.
Everything you see here resulted from that first bowl of soup and the love of The Salvation Army on a family who felt there was no way out of their situation. Think of the lives that have been impacted over the years because of this one event. This story is just one of many; one event changing the course of history for so many people. When we hand out food to the homeless, when we provide housing to families displaced, when we offer free GED and other life skills classes, when we offer after school care, homework tutoring, sports, creative arts, when we assist in times of disaster, there is more to it than the initial act. It’s the planting of a seed; the seed of love that will bloom for eternity.
“Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.” ~ Mark 4:20