Robert Lloyd met Rhonda more than 30 years ago, when they were college students in Seattle. On their first date, he said, "Don't get serious. I'm going to be a Salvation Army officer."
Rhonda ignored his advice, and they were married within a year. The Salvation Army wasn't in their immediate future, though: Rhonda pursued a career in business, and Robert became a Seattle City Transit supervisor.
"But I was growing increasingly frustrated with where I was working and not being able to express my Christian faith as I would have liked," said Robert, who recalled reading a book on spiritual warfare. "I had a sense of so many terrible things happening and so many people in the world that were hurting. I offered myself to the Lord for service, and I needed to be more active in that warfare."
At their busiest time of the year, the Lloyds—who were appointed Treasure Valley coordinators and Boise corps officers of the Salvation Army in 2014—took a few minutes to talk about their spiritual battle; the Salvation Army's unique relationship with the Boise School District to operate the Marian Pritchett School for pregnant and parenting teens; and, of course, Christmas.
I'm particularly interested in having you talk a bit more about spiritual warfare.
Robert: It's the struggle to maintain healthy lives. Mental health issues, addiction, so many things.
Rhonda: Our way of dealing with matters is to minister or pray but, quite frankly, when Robert worked for Seattle City Transit, he was warned that he could get in trouble if he did that. Now, it's incredibly freeing to part of a spiritual ministry where people aren't offended if they're asked to pray. That was more than 20 years ago.
Do you see that spiritual battle any differently all these years later?
Robert: It's still a struggle. Take Cooper Court [Boise's recently disbanded tent city of homeless people]. Many people were relocated temporarily, but a month from now a good number of them may be living in a tent somewhere else.
Rhonda: Yes, it can be overwhelming. We've been doing the best we can for 22 years in the
Salvation Army and the need is so great and resources are quite limited.
Government entities may be limited in what they should or could do to assist the homeless, and time and again we turn to faith-based organizations to do the heavy lifting when it comes to helping the homeless.
Robert: We've been part of the ongoing dialogue on homelessness in Boise. The city can call us anytime and ask for anything.
What were you told about this community when you took this assignment?
Rhonda: Here, there is a significant need of stabilization for the area's working poor. Plus, we have the operation of the Marian Pritchett School.
Let's talk about that. It's not every public high school that has a life-sized nativity crèche on its front lawn. This is a rather extraordinary relationship that you have with the Boise School District.
Robert: The reality is that once you define your borders, you can remove any obstacles.
Rhonda: Although we are a Protestant denomination, we have girls—pregnant and new moms—at the high school representing many faiths, including Muslims. And it's necessary to accommodate all of them. We are here as the hands and feet of Christ but not the mouthpiece of Christ. We do our best to demonstrate his love and care.
Which brings us to Christmas.
Robert: Christmas can be a time when a lot of families have to make some difficult decisions.
Rhonda: We gave out backpacks and school supplies to 700 children this fall. We handed out 3,000 coats in November and there will be 7,000 individuals that we'll do our best to help this Christmas.
I know that you help Santa quite a bit this time of year. You might get requests for toys for children...
Rhonda: Right up until Christmas Eve. We'll do our best.
Tell me about Salvation Army bell-ringing. The rules for where and when you ring have changed over the years, yes?
Robert: They have. Most of the stores have guidelines. But we have amazing friends at Albertsons; Fred Meyer stores; and outside of Cabela's, Macy's and J.C. Penney.
Rhonda: When I told my mother I was joining the Salvation Army, she thought I was going to spend the rest of my life just ringing bells across the nation.
How much of your revenue comes from kettle donations due to that bell-ringing?
Robert: 30 percent. It's significant.
Let's talk about the season. How is Jesus Christ relevant for Christmas 2015?
Robert: I fear that the focus on giving and getting opposes the reality of the teachings of Christ. I wonder what charity would even look like in America without faith-based organizations.
Rhonda: Christ was the ultimate caregiver and still is today, not just in communions or baptisms, but in every issue.
Where are tangible examples of that?
Rhonda: It's why we're in the business of running a school for pregnant teens. Babies don't ask to be born to an unwed mother. We need to show the mothers and children that they're important and there are solutions for their difficulties.
Robert: There is a sense of joy in helping people, in bringing moments of happiness to people who are struggling. That's why we do this. We can express Christ's love in many ways: acknowledging someone's presence, even making eye contact and smiling can make a difference for someone who has been ignored.
Rhonda: Christ allows us to live our lives with or without him, depending on what we desire, but he's there waiting and willing.