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Motorcycle accident, jailtime changed young man's destiny.

To look at Captain Tony Perez today, you'd never know that his life before accepting Jesus Christ was the opposite of a role model for youth. But as youth secretary for the Texas Division, Perez now sees his conversion experience as a way to connect to teens and adults heading down a dangerous road.

Perez's blood-alcohol level was way above the legal limit on March 23, 1993, the night he was riding his motorcycle near his home in Hattiesburg, Miss. At a high rate of speed, he lost control of the bike and crashed into a bridge guardrail.

"The motorcycle was totaled when it was smashed between the guardrail and the ground," Perez said. "I was thrown just above the guardrail, and received only two torn ligaments and a few scrapes."

The arresting officer, Sheriff Billy McGee, took the teenage Perez into custody upon release from the hospital. A judge sentenced him to 14 months in the Forrest County detention center, with a work-assignment at The Salvation Army in Hattiesburg.

"Being assigned to The Salvation Army was the best thing that could have happened to me," Perez said. "For the first time in my life, I was around Christians. My role models were Lieutenant Jonathan McBride and (corps administrative assistant) Danny Dickinson."

Young Perez found in McBride and Dickinson the mentors he desperately needed. Perez soon gave his heart to Christ and began considering the ministry.

"The only problem was that I kept thinking that God was crazy to be calling someone like me!"

His jail sentence expired in October, but by then he developed what he calls a strong desire to stay and work around the Army corps. By February 1995, he was enrolled as a soldier.

A few months later, Perez fell in love with Cadet Vicki Keith, serving in Hattiesburg on her summer assignment. The couple later married and Perez began his cadet-training to become a Salvation Army officer.

Some years into his career, Captain Perez was invited as the featured speaker for the Army's annual meeting in Hattiesburg. As Perez told his story, one listener in the audience was particularly impressed at the change in this young man's life. Sheriff McGee, the arresting officer nearly 10 years earlier, was very pleased to see Perez again and to hear firsthand all the good that came after that fateful night. McGee was so taken with Perez's story that the sheriff is working to have the arrest expunged from Tony's record - as though it never happened.

"Praise God, my conversion experience will be with me always," Perez said.

Captains Tony and Vicki Perez are dedicated to reaching youth for Christ. Their work exclusively with young people began in the Maryland-West Virginia Division and now continues in Texas.

"I see youth all the time who are hurting the same way as I was," he said.

Perez points to his DUI arrest as the turning point in his life."The enemy tried to destroy my life, but God used that accident to bless my life, get my attention and turn me around!"

New officers reflect on first 30 days in the field.

Captains Michael and Laura Cox were commissioned June 4, 2006, as members of the Visionaries session. They reported to their first appointment, as corps officers at Houston Aldine-Westfield. Major Frank Duracher of the Southern Spirit staff recently met them to record their observations of their first 30 days as Salvation Army officers.

SS: You've already had an interesting start to your career. Tell me about your first month as corps officers.

MC: It's been both great and challenging. We didn't really know what to expect going in, and some of what we've had to do is based just on common sense. The Evangeline Booth College staff prepared us as much as possible, but you really don't know until you get out there and experience it.

It's a little spooky at times, just knowing that you are the one that has to make the decisions that will affect the ministry of your appointment for possibly a very long time. If you make a wrong decision, you have to live with it.

LC: When we first arrived, we dealt with a break-in and theft of equipment from the corps building. We also had a fire.

MC: Yes, one of the thermostats caught fire, and the only reason it wasn't a big fire was because our staff turned the power off. When they went to the power breaker panel, they saw the thermostat smoking just a few feet away. Part of the wall did catch fire, but we put it out - it could have been a lot worse!

SS: Have the people here embraced you?

MC: Both the staff and the corps people really loved our predecessors. We know we are the "new kids on the block" and I know we'll make our own place here.

LC: We feel accepted, though, and we are anxious to build on what has already been done here.

SS:Is there something that your training college experience could have prepared you for a bit more?

MC: I think the training college did a marvelous job. The staff always said that they can only teach us so much - the rest has to be "hands-on."

SS: Did you learn anything during this first month on the field that you didn't learn at the college?

MC: I've learned that if you don't get your reports in on time, headquarters will give you a headache over that! (Laughs.)

LC: We've already put into practice some of the pastoral counseling methods we learned about. A young lady came in the other day who was struggling with a relationship at home. Talking with her face-to-face made me realize that this is for real.

SS: Your appointment is among a low-income, urban area of Houston. The Boys & Girls Club program there is very strong. Did that intimidate you in any way?

MC: Not at all. I've worked on the staff of Boys Clubs before, and among families that have very little means. If anything, it prepared me for this in a very good way.

SS: When you were given your appointments and the announcement was made - "Houston Aldine-Westfield corps officers" - what went through your mind?

MC: I felt very shaky, and I thought, Wow, way over there! But then again, I've heard great things about the Texas Division, and the wonderful ministries under the umbrella of the Houston Area Command, so I got excited right away.

LC: I wanted to go back to the Carolinas, because that's where we're from. Coming to Houston is a little overwhelming, because it is such a large city. I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know where to start. But God is so good, and He is already giving us the strength and wisdom to know what and how to do things.

SS: What do you hope to accomplish at the Houston Aldine-Westfield Corps?

MC: Mainly, we want to emphasize spiritual growth and leadership development. This ministry has great potential, and we are very excited and anxious to do what we can to build God's Kingdom here.



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