We recently sat down with with our new Majors Rob and Janine Vincent to get to know them. The conversation roamed wide between their efforts in the Hurricane Katrina cleanup to abandoning the priesthood. We hope this little Q&A helps you get to know them too!
Q: Welcome to the Northeast Florida Area Command! Tell us a little bit about where you served before coming here.
Major Rob: We came from the Georgia Divisional headquarters where I was the Divisional Secretary and Janine was the Divisional Secretary for Women’s Ministries. That encompassed all the women’s ministries in Georgia as well as well as a variety of HR, property, and that type of thing. I handled all of the corps property HR matters for the Georgia Division.
Jacksonville is our third Area Command. We were Area Commanders in the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and in Nashville Tennessee.
Major Janine: As Rob said, I was the Divisional Secretary for Women's Ministries in the Georgia Division, as well as the Social and Ethical Issues Secretary. I planned the annual DIY (Do it yourself) weekend as well as the Women's Retreat.
Q: The two of you were quite involved with the clean-up efforts from Hurricane Katrina. What was something about that process that affected you?
Major Rob: The sheer magnitude of the devastation along those three coastal counties in Mississippi - really all of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi Gulf Coast was impacted. But the sheer devastation, it looked like a war zone, a third-world country. There were no basic services being provided by the city or county or state in the early days following the storm simply because of the magnitude of the impact. I was impressed with The Salvation Army’s early response even though Salvation Army personnel on the ground had lost their homes – they were either demolished or heavily impacted. Some of the soldiers, member of the church, who lived in the Pass Christian area lost loved ones, employees lost loved ones. Pass Christian was actually where the storm came into Mississippi. It’s right there on the border with Louisiana. The eye came over Pass Christian and the community around it. It had a good 30-foot wall of water that just swept in and swept everything out to sea.
Q: How soon after the storm hit were you there?
Major Rob: I was sent from Greensboro, North Carolina, the day after the storm. I arrived in Jackson, Mississippi, where I took up responsibilities for operations and logistics in the beginning. So I was there at first about maybe 14-18 days…
Major Janine: You were there for about three weeks before they…while he was there they developed a long-term plan because they knew it was going to take a lot longer than a normal disaster. And then, of course, he came home and the next day they called and said…I still can’t talk about it without crying…they called and said “Would you go? We need somebody that we know we can count on to do this”. That’s the only time they ever asked us to go anywhere, because we could have said no. Normally they’ll just say, “I need you to go,” but that was the only time they ever asked us. The reason is because we had all our children at home and they had just started a new school year. So we had to ask them first, “How would you feel about this?”
Major Rob: Well, we asked God first, then we asked the kids.
Major Janine: That’s right, we did. They had to leave their schools and move down with us, so it really affected the whole family.
Major Rob: after we agreed to do that I flew back down and went to the coast and began to take in what was happening. We had literally hundreds of Salvation Army personnel already deployed and canteens and crews already working in the area. That was on Wednesday, on Sunday I went looking for a house for our family to move into, and we found a house in Ocean Springs that had minor damage and was missing only a few shingles. It was as if God put His hand over it and said, “I’m going to need that”.
Major Janine: and on the very same street about halfway down all the houses were devastated - just completely flooded out.
Major Rob: So we were very fortunate to find a house that fast, move-in ready. We were on the same grid as the hospital there in Ocean Spring so our power was already up and running. Then 30 days later we moved our family there.
Major Janine: It wasn’t even 30 days.
Q: How long did you stay there?
Major Rob: We stayed there two years. That was the commitment we made. In our peak we were running four major distribution centers for victims from Pass Christian to Pascagoula, Mississippi. We were supporting The Salvation Army’s Mobile, Alabama, operation in Dolphin Island which is right there on the Alabama/Mississippi line. So we were providing assistance there, and we managed and established the long-term recovery for the region. And then our second year there was when they reestablished it as an Area Command.
Major Janine: Everyone we met there was affected in some way by Hurricane Katrina and everyone had a story. Sometimes they just needed someone to listen to their story. The thing that stuck out to me the most was that so many people still had hope for the future. They weren't waiting for someone to come in and save them. When we left after two years, I felt a little guilty for leaving when there was so much still to be done.
Q: Tell us something about yourself that people might be surprised to hear.
Major Janine: He was going to be a Catholic priest. (Laughs)
Major Rob: Yeah, that’s probably the one thing that most people who don’t know me would be surprised to hear. I was raised Catholic and received my calling while I was in the Catholic Church. So, I was pursuing the priesthood when I came to work with The Salvation Army and met my wife. I knew very little about The Salvation Army - I got involved in the Boy Scout program at a local Salvation Army in Louisville, Kentucky, and then in their men’s fellowship club. So I would play basketball, softball, all those things, and that’s how I was introduced to the Army. That’s what got my interest. Then about a year and a half later I met Janine, and things got complicated. (Laughs).
Q: That priesthood idea wasn’t sounding so good anymore was it?
Major Rob: No, it wasn’t.
Q: What was it about The Salvation Army that drew you in?
Major Rob: What drew me in to recognize that this was the direction that God was calling me was feeding people on the streets of Nashville, Tennessee, in the mid-1980’s. I went out and fed people one time and saw the hundreds of people who were living in the streets. We fed in two different locations, and all my job for that evening was to drive the truck and pull the canteen behind it. When I saw the hundreds of people - men women and children – they had come to Nashville because there was a building boom going on in downtown Nashville at the time. They would uproot their entire family to come to Nashville. Once they got there they either didn’t find work or couldn’t find housing, and they found themselves stranded on the streets.
I knew that night that this was where God was calling me. I went home and talked to the man who is now my father- in-law and said, “This is what God is calling me to do”. Then my relationship with Janine continued to develop. We met in July, got engaged in December, and were married the following May. We’ve been married for 29 years.
Major Janine: You were going to say long years!
Major Rob: (Laughs)
Major Janine: I was born into The Salvation Army. Both sets of my grandparents were soldiers at the corps in Owensboro, KY, and had been for a long, long time. And both of my parents grew up in the same corps together, and they became Salvation Army officers, and it’s just all I’ve ever known.
Major Rob: Yeah, when we were dating she said that she was called to be an officer and she would leave me and go be an officer. Of course, my ego was bruised…you’d leave this? (Laughs) But I mean, I knew where her priorities were.
Major Janine: Something people would be surprised to learn about me is I have always been a very shy person, and it's difficult for me to meet new people. For a long time I didn't feel like God could use me because I'm so shy, but as a friend was quick to remind me, God doesn't call the equipped, he equips those He calls. It's still hard to walk into a new place with so many people I don't know, but I know God goes with me every time.
Q: I know you just rolled into town, but what have you discovered about Jacksonville so far?
Major Janine: That it's traffic is not nearly as bad as the traffic in Atlanta! Hallelujah! (Laughs) There are a lot of wonderful people here that work for The Salvation Army, both as staff and as volunteers. They are very dedicated to the mission and purpose in this area.
I have also noticed that a lot of the different organizations here do work well together and support each other, which isn’t always the case in all communities.
Major Rob: I’ve noticed is that it is a very generous community. Not just as it relates to The Salvation Army, but as it relates to the community as a whole. Whether it’s to charities, the arts, or sports, all those things that attract individuals are here and are well supported. It’s a vibrant downtown. And The Salvation Army itself has been in Jacksonville for 125 years in 2016. So that’s one thing that stands out in my mind.
Of course, it is a very diverse community. There are multiple faiths here in the city - I mean, we’re in arms reach of a handful of churches right next to our building. So we know that for the people here in Jacksonville, faith and family are very near and dear. I met some folks today that have lived here their whole lives. Some have lived here for 30 plus years, some they can’t imagine living anywhere else. That says a lot for the community. We’re also still in the Bible Belt, so the strong faith connection here in the Jacksonville area doesn’t surprise me.
Q: Major Janine, I hear that a member of your family started the Angel Tree program. Tell us more about that!
Major Janine: In 1979, my parents, then Captains Charles and Shirley White were the corps officers in Lynchburg, VA. As they were meeting with the mall representative, preparing for the Christmas Kettle Season, they were brainstorming on ways that the community could become involved in a more personal way than just donating money or a toy to an anonymous child. They came up with the idea of the Angel Tree so that the individual would know that they were purchasing gifts for that specific child. This program has since spread all around the world. Last Christmas my parents, now retired Lt. Colonels, celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Angel Tree.
Q: What are your hopes for the Jacksonville Area Command for the next few years?
Major Rob: Where I’d like to see the Army go is really twofold. Our primary mission is to preach the gospel. The part about the Army that’s most recognized is the shield, and there is a spiritual emphasis on protecting the souls that are at risk in our community behind that shield. Jesus is our shield, and so we want to provide hope for those who have no hope. And there’s a number of ways we can do that though our ministry programs.
But then there’s also a greater army - the army of volunteers. There’s an army behind this Army, behind this shield, that takes up the mantle every day not to be recognized, not to be seen, but to reach out in faith to people who are hurting, who are in crisis, who are homeless. To let them know that there is someone who loves them, and is here to help them through their crisis.
We’d love to see consolidation in the location of our various programs, which would alleviate some of our financial burdens and help our programs to work together in a more cohesive way. I think we can consolidate a lot of our programs to the Towers Center of Hope campus. Now is the time to plan into the decade in front of us. To do that we have to have our partners in faith, we have to have our partners who are donors, and strength in the collaboration between The Salvation Army and the other entities in our community that are trying to help break the cycle of poverty and homelessness. And the only way we’re going to accomplish that is to come together and provide the means and the long-term case management to move people from homelessness to a more stable life.
Major Janine: My biggest hope is that we can advance the story of what The Salvation Army does in our community, as well as spread the gospel of Jesus.