During their three years as Salvo rural chaplains, Majors Maree and Trevor Strong travelled more than 45,000 km each year, but Maree says God still has plenty of work for them to do.
What did rural chaplaincy involve?
The role involved a lot of travel, as we provided support to those in isolated towns and communities, often simply by being there face-to-face.
Serving as rural chaplains certainly meant a great deal of rolling up our sleeves to help out in practical ways, but we often had situations where people would say, “Oh, you were just so helpful”, and I’d think to myself, “But we really didn’t do anything”—all we had done was simply turn up and listen.
However, over the years we have learned that, even if you don’t have any answers or solutions—as long as you have genuine love—‘presence evangelism’ is a very powerful thing.
What are you doing now you’ve finished in that role?
As we approached retirement, Trevor and I prayed about where to settle and we now find ourselves living in a fairly densely populated outer suburb of Canberra.
It’s been just as much a ‘mission field’. I’m kept busy with serving as a Salvation Army rural liaison officer and volunteering in ministry at our local corps (church).
And you have a sense that God is using you in the new location?
One day in mid-February, on my daily walk I heard sirens on the way home and thought for a minute that maybe I’d left something on the stove. Tragically, there’d been a house fire in the next street and a young mother and her two children had perished. No-one could get in and out of that street and it was quite chaotic.
The next day I went for a walk just after reading the Bible story of the Good Samaritan. In response to this message, I wrote out a prayer asking God to make me a good neighbour. On my walk I suddenly felt convicted to go home, change into my Salvation Army uniform—and do something.
I rang our nearby retired Salvos fire chaplains—who came out and spoke to emergency personnel—and we knocked on all the doors in the street. There were many people at home because they were in shock and deeply distressed. We visited for a couple of days and I continued to visit the most critically affected families in the following weeks.
With the corps’ help, I arranged a community meeting and barbecue on the hill for the following Sunday afternoon, so neighbours could connect. We also distributed helpful information from Lifeline.
Another example of ‘presence evangelism’?
While Trevor and I were also able to help some of the most affected neighbours with cleaning, just having someone who cared and listened seemed to be what was appreciated the most. I continued visiting in the weeks following the fire and have made many lovely connections with the families, including the children in this street.
I was so challenged in my own spiritual life—as a Salvation Army officer (minister) and as a Christian—about staying authentic and being available. I truly believe God plants people in specific places for a reason.