The Majors Azuajes’ Surprising Journey with The Salvation Army
This National Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s get to know Majors Enrique and Nancy Azuaje, General Secretary/City Coordinator and Adult Ministries Coordinator/Women’s Ministries Secretary for The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division respectively, and celebrate their service.
Majors Enrique and Nancy Azuaje first became familiar with The Salvation Army because they needed winter coats.
It was 2001 and the couple had moved to Lombard, Illinois, from their native Venezuela so Major Enrique could attend seminary. Even though he had received a full-ride scholarship, times were lean for the family, which also included their three sons, Luis, then 13, Alfonso, 11, and Enrique, 4. And none of them spoke English.
When a friend at the seminary asked Major Nancy if they were prepared for the coming winter, she quickly realized her family didn’t have enough warm clothing. More distressing, they didn’t have enough money to buy any. Thankfully, that friend took Major Nancy to the Oakbrook Terrace Salvation Army Corps Community Center.
During that one visit, she was given backpacks for her sons and vouchers to get warm clothing. When she returned home with a full car, Major Enrique asked what she had spent. When she explained that everything was free, they decided to go back to the Oakbrook Terrace Corps to express their gratitude to the social service assistant, Jackie, for her kindness and all the help.
That day, they asked if somebody there spoke Spanish. When a man in uniform came forward and introduced himself as the pastor, the Azuajes suddenly realized it was a church. The corps officer then invited them to the Sunday service. Majors Enrique and Nancy accepted that invitation, and haven’t left The Salvation Army since.
“God has been so good to us,” Major Enrique said. “We found our best here.” Little did they know how much they would soon need that best.
Soon after the tragic events of September 11 that year, the Azuajes received notice from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that their application for a Temporary Religious Worker visa was denied. They had 48 hours to leave the country. The Salvation Army was there for them once again, giving them a sense of direction and purpose by sending them back to Venezuela to open a corps community center in the city of Barquisimeto.
The Salvation Army didn’t have much of a presence or awareness in Venezuela, and at first people were wary of the term “army.” Armies hadn’t been a safe or good thing there in the last years. Major Enrique was quick to assure them, “Our Army is an army of peace, of restoration, of hope.”
The Azuajes started the corps with 20 senior people who were living in a makeshift nursing home. Drawing on their prior experience in radio, they started a new show. From 9-10:00 p.m. every night they talked about The Salvation Army and shared the Word of God. Within four months, more than 80 people were attending their Sunday services. They also supported a children’s home to care for some of the thousands of children whose parents have left the country to try to make money to support their family, as well as a ministry for people with physical challenges, helping these vulnerable citizens know God’s love.
Also during this time, the Azuajes filled out all their immigration paperwork again. By September 11, 2002, they were back in the U.S. to start classes at the Army’s College for Officer Training in Chicago. In 2003, their first appointment officially as Salvation Army officers was at the Templo Laramie Corps Community Center, where they worked with the mostly Hispanic Cicero neighborhood to help stop the violence in the streets and to overcome the cycle of poverty.
After seven years at Templo Laramie, the Azuajes moved on to become Divisional Youth Secretaries, Territorial Multicultural Secretaries, and Area Commanders in Miami. Earlier this year, they returned to the Metropolitan Division to serve in their current roles, Major Enrique as General Secretary and City Coordinator and Major Nancy as Adult Ministries Coordinator and Women’s Ministries Secretary.
In all these roles, they have remembered the lessons they learned from their early surprises, both by the assistance they received from The Salvation Army and by their sudden move back to Venezuela. “God plants us in a certain place and asks us to be faithful there,” Major Enrique said. “God gives us a calling, and though there are often obstacles and challenges, it’s our task to live worthy of that calling.”
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For tax purposes: The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division EIN is 36-2167910.