Many choose a career, but for an officer in The Salvation Army, their job is a lifetime commitment. Officers serve as business administrators in the locations to which they are appointed, many serving in a community for three to five years. Additionally, officers are ordained ministers who pastor their congregation throughout the week. It’s a busy job and one who knows the weight it carries is Major Jerry Lyles. Currently serving in his 11th and final appointment in Concord, Lyles will retire on September 1 after 36 years of service.
Lyles was diagnosed with cancer in 2006 and late last year, doctors confirmed that it had returned. Even in unimaginable circumstances, Lyles continues to have great faith. “I know God still has a plan for me. I may be retiring as an officer but I’m not retiring from The Salvation Army.”
Lyles was introduced to The Salvation Army in 1972, in his childhood home of Greenville, Miss. He joined the basketball team. He attended youth programs and summer camps. During one week away at camp, Lyles felt the calling to join the ministry as a Salvation Army officer. He graduated high school in 1975 and promptly enrolled in the organization’s two-year training college. He met his wife, Betty and married that next summer. After taking a year off of college to work and support his new family, he returned to school and graduated in 1978 as an officer.
Salvation Army officers serve with their spouses. The Lyles spent five years in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi before coming to North and South Carolina for the last 31 years. Lyles reminisces about the vast differences from serving forty years ago and what it’s like today.
“We had more time 30 years ago to do one-on-one ministry which was good because I’ve always been a people person. The first ten years as an officer, I spent 75% of my time in personal ministry: taking the teenagers to the park to play basketball, meeting and praying with people. There’s a lot more record keeping now. “
The stories are numerous. Jerry has been shot at three times and taken suicide calls by those in distress. Many more are positive however, deepening his faith for the Lord.
“I hadn’t been in Florence, S.C. but a week before a man walked into my office,” Lyles recalls. “He was a professor at a local college and was recovering from a very bad accident. His wife was killed and his daughter was still in the hospital. He came to The Salvation Army because he needed $4,800 to keep his house from being foreclosed. We didn’t even have that amount of money in the bank but the Lord told me to tell him to come back that afternoon. Before I could even pick up the phone after he left, when another man walked into the office with a $48,000 check. When the professor came back, I was happy to share that The Salvation Army was going to give him the amount he needed in full. A few years later, his daughter ended up finishing at the top of her high school class. The professor invited me to her graduation. There are stories like that in each community I served.”
Jerry and Betty have four sons: William, 37, Christopher, 34, Alex, 21 and Michael, 20. All children live in either Georgia or North Carolina. The couple has chosen to retire nearby in Gastonia, spending personal time with their family and focusing on Jerry’s health.
The Lyles will remember their time of service fondly. “There are always those people you meet that you feel you had a big impact on. It’s made all the hard work worthwhile.”