Hi, this is Bernie Dake. Welcome to the Salvation Army's Words of Life. Welcome back to the Salvation Army's Words of Life, and welcome to you, Cheryl.
Thanks, Bernie. It's good to be here today. We are excited to be able to share with our listeners what's coming up on this new episode.
Why don't you tell them about it? Sure. In today's episode, we're now on Chapter 8 of Susie Erickson's Barefoot Cinderella's. I loved this chapter as it's about stepping into your purpose. In each chapter, Susie offers a secret, a piece of advice she's learning along the way. In this chapter, she says, here's a secret.
The life of a barefoot Cinderella doesn't follow a standard fairytale plan. It's a journey with plot twists and turns, drama, and fire-breathing dragons. We'll suffer hardships and trials, dying a thousand deaths, intending to bring life to us and others. Our ability to come through a trial and then God's ability to use that trial to strengthen our journey or to come alongside someone else's journey is an amazing product of grace.
God uses that to shape who we are in Him and to use our story to be able to help others. Well, today, Susie is joined by her friend and our friend Janice Riefer, who used to be known as Mama Riefer to those that were under her ministry. And she shares her story on her journey, stepping into leadership roles and the lessons she learned along the way. As a reminder, you can hear the rest of this series and purchase Susie's book at salvationarmysoundcast.org slash words of life.
Welcome. My name is Susie Erickson, and today I'm in the studio with Major Janice Riefer, and she has quite a story to tell. And as we begin, Janice, could you share a little bit with me about your background? Did you grow up in the Salvation Army?
I did. I was probably five days old when my mother took me to the Salvation Army for the first time. She was a loyal soldier. She came to the Army because somebody found her on the street. She had run away from home and they got her back united with her family. And she always said she would go back to the Salvation Army when she was a grown up and could make her own decisions.
And so as an adult, she chose to take us to the Army from the time we were born. And God called you to ministry in the Salvation Army. Is that correct?
That is correct. And then where did you meet your husband at? Did you meet him in the ministry? Yes, we actually met at Camp Harder Hills. We were 14 years old and his family had just been appointed. His parents were officers.
They'd just been appointed to serve in the Arkansas, Oklahoma division. And we were scoping out the new guy. So I met him at camp and that's pretty much where we dated for the first couple of years of our relationship. How old were you when you both got married? We were 20.
20. So you met him at 14 and then got married at 20. Yeah. And so after you got married, you joined ministry together.
Yes. We actually served as core administrators for a couple of years and then we went to training in 1983 and took our then one-year-old daughter with us to training. Oh, so you went into seminary and had the one-year-old daughter and your husband. And then as you were serving together in ministry, other children came along, right? Right. Yeah.
We had a son while we were at training and then a daughter followed soon after we got to our first appointment and another daughter just a year and a half later. So we had three right in a row. And then life kind of took a turn for you, didn't it? Could you tell us a little bit about that?
Yeah. In 1997, my husband developed a seizure disorder, just suddenly started having seizures for no reason that anybody could determine. In June of 1998, we moved for the first time in seven years to a new appointment. And in October of that year, he had a fatal seizure. So we came home that night and found that he was dead in our living room. But even in that moment, God was so present.
Even in that really scary moment, we knew that God was standing there with us. So here you are, a mom with four kids and you walk in, you know, to find your husband dead. What were the days like following that moment?
Kind of a blur, just trying to figure out how do I do this by myself. My kids were great, you know, but they were hurting and trying to figure out life as well. I remember thinking I never wanted to be a single parent. I grew up in a single parent household and I was determined my kids wouldn't. So just figuring out how to navigate being a core officer with four kids at home and what that looked like. My 16-year-old definitely stepped in and tried to be the second parent.
Not that I asked her to, but that's just how her personality was. So it was just kind of trying to figure out how does everything work and how does it work now with Joe gone. In that moment, it really changed the course of your ministry, didn't it?
It did, definitely. We had been core officers, our whole officership. Which are local pastors within the Salvation Army. And then the following June, he died in October, the following June I was asked if I was willing to take a position in the youth department at our headquarters in Florida to be the Assistant Divisional Youth Secretary, which felt like the perfect opportunity for me and for my children. It meant going to camp for the summer. We moved to Tampa, Florida, and I served in that position for eight years.
And it was just an incredible time for my family. Now, your ministry really took a different turn when you moved from a pastorate position into an administrative position in the youth role. But you really have had to, you've stepped into some big leadership shoes throughout your ministry. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the other places that you've served beyond the youth work? I did eight years as the Assistant Divisional Youth Secretary and then moved to be a Divisional Youth Secretary for two years. And then from that, I moved to be the Divisional Secretary for Program, which put me in charge of things like HR and a lot of business details that I had not gotten the opportunity to handle before. But I found out that I loved it and enjoyed just all of the administrative aspects. And then from there, I went to be the General Secretary, which is the second in command in a division. And again, absolutely loved it, loved working with the divisional leaders and figuring out how to make things work the best way in a division. And I just had incredible opportunities and learned to, if I didn't know how to do something, I learned how to learn really quickly how to do that. And then from there, I came to territorial headquarters as the Assistant Secretary for Personnel. And the job that you do now, you really work with people in crisis moments, don't you?
I do, yes. And how did those moments back in that home when you walked in and found your husband dead, how did that prepare you for the type of ministry that you do today with people in crisis? Well, the first thing is I learned very quickly that I can't do it in my own strength, but God's strength is made perfect in my weakness. And so I rely on that completely, and I just prefer to be weak and let Him be the strength. But you've got to be able to meet people where they are and to understand where they're coming from. So whether they're having a crisis that I've had before or not, I can still relate to the fact that they're in crisis and that they can't help where they are or how they're feeling right then.
And what I need to do is come alongside them. What did you learn about yourself through this journey? I learned that I can do almost anything somebody asks me, if I try hard enough.
I've learned to be very flexible and to always be learning, paying attention so that if I need to do something, I can figure out how to do it. I've learned, again, that it's God's strength made perfect in my weakness. If I pray for wisdom, He gives it. If I look to God for guidance, He gives it. There are times when someone has called me and asked me for how to handle a certain situation or how to do something, and I can hear the words come out of my mouth, and I don't know where they came from, other than they had to come from God because there's no way I knew that answer.
But I had an answer, and it was the right answer. There's nothing worse for feet than walking in the wrong size shoe. The same is true when we try to walk in the footsteps of others, holding our life up to the mirror of comparison when we have no idea what made them who they are. And your life really can't be compared to any other woman, can it?
I hope not. But yet there are women and individuals, there are people that are listening to us that are in similar circumstances as you. They've lost a spouse, and now they're a single parent with stair steps. If you were sitting down at a coffee shop with them, what would you say to them? Hold on.
It might be a bumpy ride, but it's worth it. I honestly believe that if you're sitting down at a coffee shop with them, I honestly believe that God is in control. And He wasn't surprised by what happened. It was a part of the plan.
I didn't like it. I didn't think it was fair, but I would not be where I am today. And I'm happy, and I love my life.
My kids are happy and I have to trust that this was His plan. And the shoe might not have fit. I had to get a new pair of shoes. You had to get a new pair of shoes, and ones that really you've stepped into. You truly have stepped into your purpose.
I believe so. Well, Christine Kane writes, Be who God called you to be. Do what God called you to do. Say what God called you to say. Write what God called you to write.
Go where God told you to go. Don't hold back. Don't second-guess yourself. Don't fear man. Don't procrastinate.
Don't delay. But when you're a widow with four children, you don't have an option, do you? No, you really don't. You just jump in with both feet. Right. You step into those shoes, whether they hurt your feet or not.
Exactly. Well, thank you so much for sharing your story with us today. And may God continue to strengthen you in your journey.
And whatever shoes He has for you to fill in the days to come, we know that they're going to be the right fit for you. Thank you. The Salvation Army's mission, Doing the Most Good, means helping people with material and spiritual needs. You become a part of this mission every time you give to The Salvation Army. Visit salvationarmyusa.org to offer your support.
And we'd love to hear from you. Email us at radioatuss.salvationarmy.org. Call 1-800-229-9965 or write us at P.O.
Box 29972, Atlanta, Georgia, 30359. Tell us how we can help. Share prayer requests or share your testimony. We would love to use your story on the air. You can also subscribe to our show on iTunes or your favorite podcast store, and be sure to give us a rating. Just search for The Salvation Army's Words of Life. Follow us on social media for the latest episodes, extended interviews, and more. And if you don't have a church home, we invite you to visit your local Salvation Army worship center. They'll be glad to see you. This is Bernie Dake inviting you to join us next time for The Salvation Army's Words of Life.
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