New Salvation Army leaders focus on community involvement

Capts. Jeff and Joyce Curran hope to focus on community involvement in their new roles as leaders of the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army. They relocated from Garden City, Kansas. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

There are two new officers in town.

Capts. Jeff and Joyce Curran are about a month into their new roles as commanding officers of the Brainerd Lakes Salvation Army.

“We’re still learning a lot here in Brainerd,” Jeff Curran said. “It’s a nice community, great community. We’ve met a lot of great people. We’re just kind of looking forward to what God’s doing here, how he’s going to use us.”

The couple is hoping to use their positions to engage the public, getting as many people as possible involved in helping those in their community.

“I think the more people get involved in their communities and in their churches and in things that are going on, I think the more they feel a part of it,” Jeff Curran said. “And I think that’s important, so I would always encourage people to volunteer, come around and help us do something or help somebody do something.”


So far, community members have helped the officers get settled in their new Midwest home after moving to Brainerd from Garden City, Kansas, where they lived their whole lives up until this point, and where they first got involved with the Salvation Army 12 years ago.

“The Salvation Army gave us a chance to actually live our faith rather than just sit in a room and talk about our faith,” Jeff Curran said about their journey to the Salvation Army, before which they were searching for the right church for their family.

“We believe that faith is an action word,” he added. “It’s not a passive thing. And we believe if we don’t have an avenue to share our faith, not just in word but through actions, then we stagnate.”

They ended up settling on the Salvation Army as their new place of faith, partially because of its missions programs.

“Most churches that we were involved with thought the mission field was taking your money and sending somebody overseas, or sending it overseas,” Joyce Curran said. “Don’t get me wrong, we don’t believe that it’s not important to help overseas, but our first mission field is in our backyard.”

It was a Salvation Army and affiliated homeless shelter in Kansas that first brought the couple to realize how many people in their own community needed help.

A men’s group Jeff Curran was part of used to drive down the Kansas River delivering ready-to-eat meals to homeless people along the riverbanks.

“It just opened my eyes to what was really going on right here in our own city,” he said.


Then an encounter with a teenage boy and his mother at the Salvation Army homeless shelter after dropping off leftover food opened his eyes even more.

“He walked up and he said, ‘Mom, I’m hungry,’” he said of the boy. “And he didn’t say this like he was a teenager taking a break from Xbox and needed something to munch on. He said this like a kid who was really hungry and who had not eaten for several days.”

The look of hopelessness on the mother’s face, Jeff Curran said, stirred up strong emotions within him.

On his way to work the next morning, Jeff Curran said he noticed the homeless shelter, as if for the first time, even though he had driven past it twice a day for so long.

“The first time that I finally notice it there was a school bus parked there,” he said. “There were kids growing up in a homeless shelter. And I thought, we live in the wealthiest nation on Earth, and we allow our children to grow up in homeless shelters? Shame on us.”

Somebody, he felt, should do something.
That somebody ended up being him and his wife.

“We couldn’t do anything financially at the time, but we were more than willing to dedicate our lives to helping those less fortunate,” he said.

This wasn’t the first time the couple opened their hearts to those who needed help. When Joyce Curran said God called her away from her career as a dental technician to be a stay-at-home mom, she didn’t just watch over her own three children but opened her door to many others in the neighborhood, which she said was plagued with gangs, absentee parents and latchkey kids.


“Our neighborhood needed somebody to be there,” she said, noting up to 10 kids might have been in their house at any given time.

And then a larger community needed them, so the Currans stepped up to become soldiers, and eventually officers, in the Salvation Army.

“The one thing that a person shouldn’t have to do is go hungry,” Jeff Curran said. “And one thing I will always do is make sure people have food. If they have nothing else, at least they won’t be hungry.”

Hunger is just one small portion of the Salvation Army’s mission, but it’s one the captains noted needs to be addressed first before moving onto other needs.

A quote from Salvation Army founder and Methodist preacher William Booth sums up the idea: “Soup, soap and salvation.”

“If a man is hungry, nothing you can say is going to dull the growling of the belly,” Joyce Curran said. “If they are dirty, unable to take care of themselves … they don’t feel worthy, right? And then salvation. So if we give soup, soap, then we get the opportunity to speak about that homelessness that we all have without Jesus Christ.”

Along with fighting hunger and homelessness, the Currans noted the Salvation Army also helps pay for lifesaving medication, runs facilities for those battling addictions, educates people on things like how to make a dollar stretch a little bit further and strives to help struggling individuals find their self-worth.

“Knowing that you have somebody in your corner fighting with you can give you that feeling, ‘Just maybe I can step up, I can stand up one more time,’” Joyce Curran said.


The Currans hope to bring that mentality to Brainerd, where they replace former leaders Lts. Scott and Jennifer Ruse, who were relocated to Nebraska.

Minnesota may be a brand new place for the couple, but that doesn’t change the Salvation Army’s overall mission.

“Basic human needs are pretty much the same everywhere,” Joyce Curran said. “The culture changes, but people still have the same basic needs.”

And the weather may be colder, but the officers have been warned about the harsh winters and are ready for a new challenge, despite coming from a climate where a total of 32 inches of snow all of last winter made it into the record books in Garden City.

“Maybe that was just God’s way of getting us ready to come to Minnesota,” Jeff Curran joked, noting he’s looking forward to his first Minnesota winter, if only so he can get it behind him.

For now, the Currans are still learning the ropes in Brainerd and getting the hang of their new community. Though the last four weeks have been a bit overwhelming, they said the abundance of helpful staff and volunteers at the Salvation Army have helped with the transition.

“I’ve really been, I guess, impressed just with the way people are willing to help us get settled in, help us figure out the things we don’t know,” Jeff Curran said. “We may have ways that we do things, but we don't want to make everyone else conform to our ways.”

Ultimately, they just want to be an active part of Brainerd and help cultivate a positive community full of stewards who help one another.


“We’re not pew-sitters. We are active. We are engaged,” Joyce Curran said. “We want to become a part of the community, and however that looks, that’s what we’re looking for.”

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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