Originally published in New Frontier Chronicle on June 14, 2014
by Erica Andrews
When most people graduate from college, their attention turns to one thing: getting a job. At The Salvation Army Crestmont College for Officer Training in the USA Western Territory, cadets enroll knowing a ministry appointment is waiting for them at the end of the two-year trek.
“It’s spiritual, so it goes a lot deeper—I think we all go through battles once we get here because it’s so significant and it is our life,” said Elizabeth Gross, first-year cadet. “It is a lifelong calling of officership.”
A typical schedule includes biblical studies, business management, English and communications, social sciences, worship arts, ministry, theological studies and required lectures. Academic sessions are divided into four quarters per year, running each weekday from 8:15 a.m. to 4 p.m. On Sundays cadets work at local Salvation Army corps and centers as part of their curriculum.
Upon completion, cadets attain an associate’s degree, are ordained as ministers in The Salvation Army and are appointed to serve in the territory.
Gross’s path to Crestmont began with a chance encounter. She grew up belonging to the Assemblies of God church and said she was always interested in mission. She attended Simpson University, focusing on cross-cultural studies with a minor in psychology. Following college, her job search brought her to the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center in Hawaii, where Gross was first introduced to The Salvation Army. She would later make the decision to be an officer.
Gross said she quickly learned that Crestmont would be different than her traditional college experience. She said the holistic refinement was new to her and difficult.
“It’s a lot of introspection and a lot of being very honest with yourself and where you’re at and where you need to be,” Gross said. “For me it’s been a lot of trust, it’s been a lot of surrender to his plan and learning to surrender to the Army and the Army’s way of doing church and ministry.
“We eat in the cafeteria; most of us don’t have cars, so sometimes you can feel a little landlocked,” Gross said. “So different things like that and getting used to the schedule and the uniform and what you bring to what, there’s a lot of that you go through your first year. But once you hit that groove and you understand more, this place becomes a little bit more home and then once you get the details out of the way that can be stressful, then you can start dealing with your heart.”
First-year cadet John Acosta echoed those sentiments, and added the importance of handling your time well.
“It’s always managing your time here,” he said. “If you’re tired you manage your time of a nap. Give yourself an hour because if you don’t give yourself time to rest a little bit it will reflect on your performance of the way you write, the way you talk, the way you perform—everything.”
Acosta grew up in the church, but it wasn’t until he was 12 that he was introduced to The Salvation Army. His uncle started going to a local corps and wanted the family to join, and so Acosta was introduced to the Army’s music lessons. He began learning piano and other instruments, eventually joining a worship team. He said he felt the calling to be an officer at 16.
“God just really spoke to me that day and said, ‘This is something I really want you to do. You choose to take it or not,’ Acosta said. “Now I’m 21 and giving it my all. I left everything behind…and said ‘God, I’m here, use me.’”
Before becoming a cadet, Acosta said he had a terrible fear of public speaking yet as a student here he has become more comfortable.
“You can see God working through things that we think we can’t do,” he said. “I was scared of talking in public, I’ve never done stuff like this before so God’s really pushing me and my limits. So you can see the spiritual growth as well.”
Major Ivan Wild, director of personnel and a professor at Crestmont, helps the cadets to develop a Ministry Development Plan (MDP) at the outset to help each person determine goals and areas to improve upon while in the program. He meets with the cadets every six months to discuss progression and to refine as needed. Wild explained that if a student isn’t meeting their objectives or is falling behind in class a number of safety nets are in place to help them.
“What we do as instructors is periodically checking to see where they are and if it looks like someone is falling behind, then we try to meet with them,” Wild said. “They have an advisor that will meet with them and they are encouraged to go to the academic resource center. We do all that we can to make sure they don’t fall.”
A Salvation Army officer for 22 years, Wild has been teaching for three. He explained that the curriculum is intense and that the cadets move as a cohort.
“Teaching a class, you have to move from point a to point b to point c and get through the material within the 10 or 12-week period and then assess them,” Wild said. “I love teaching, it’s my favorite part of the job. I don’t know how gifted I am, I’m not gifted at many things, but the thing I’m halfway decent at is teaching and preaching and those are two of my passions.”
He teaches pastoral care, evangelism, public ministries, ethics and a class on the book of Luke. Wild said he has discovered that the students have an easier time as their first year passes by.
“Once they’re here for several weeks they get into a rhythm and routine,” Wild said. “Most will say the first year is the toughest because of the adjustment. Most people think it’s more work, but if you actually look at it, it’s really the same amount of classes, same amount of homework. It’s just the adjustment of it.”
Gross agreed that it has become easier, but believes these two years are a period of personal refinement.
I think that I’ve moved into a season of—the details are set, now I can work on my heart and refining where God wants to refine me inside. I think Crestmont is a refiner’s fire for each of us.
“This is an intentional time of being in seminary and being on holy ground with a lot of support through pastors and peers and when you go out, it will be different,” she said. “I think that I’ve moved into a season of—the details are set, now I can work on my heart and refining where God wants to refine me inside. I think Crestmont is a refiner’s fire for each of us.”
“I’ve heard another cadet say, ‘Whatever you need, God will find you at Crestmont.’”