Before arriving at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina this summer, Wilber Hernandez was quite busy. The young man previously enrolled in the Marine Corps Musician Enlistment Option Program and, from there, Hernandez spent 13 weeks in boot camp and an additional month in combat training. Then, Hernandez attended the Naval School of Music, Marine Detachment, all prior to touching down at Camp Lejeune. Along the way, however, Hernandez never lost touch with The Salvation Army.
“I’m very busy, but every chance I get, I definitely want to stay involved,” Hernandez said. “If I’m going to go to a church, it’s going to be The Salvation Army wherever I am.”
Hernandez, from the Montgomery County, Maryland, Corps, recently returned from a mini-deployment in California. He is looking forward to planting deeper roots where he now resides just a stone’s throw from the Jacksonville, North Carolina, Corps. Well before he entered the military, though, it was clear that Hernandez was a strong Christian and a dedicated Salvationist, ready to share his faith with others.
“Wilber was a delegate at the NCV Divisional Music Conservatory when I first met him, and I remember Wilber as quiet and competitive,” said Bernie Dake, assistant territorial music secretary. “I witnessed an authenticity and a sensitivity that set him apart from other young people his age.”
“I’m incredibly proud of him as a Christian young man and Salvationist,” Dake said. “When I saw him recently, I asked him how he was doing and if he still loved the Lord. His response, without hesitation, was ‘most definitely. I love him now more than ever.’ You could sense his excitement and zeal.”
Upon arrival in his current post as a lance corporal in the Second Marine Division, it was clear to Hernandez that there was an opportunity for ministry. His military duties extend well beyond his position as a trumpet instrumentalist but, in service to others, he has invited more than a handful of his military co-workers to Salvation Army activities. One such gathering was a trip to the National Capital and Virginia Divisional Music Councils, honoring an invite from a person he describes as a “mentor” in NCV divisional music director David Delaney.
“My friends have really liked it,” Hernandez said. “I open it up to everybody, knowing that the military isn’t religious as an organization, but telling everyone what to expect. I have several friends who have loved the experience, both musically and even with spiritual elements. One of my friends, who identifies as an atheist, was curious enough to search out information on The Salvation Army, and another has been open with me in discussing his faith.”
In addition to the inherent ministry of bringing others to church-related gatherings, Hernandez intends to bring that passion to the local corps. He is already attending in Jacksonville – after saying he “found the corps on Google” when he came to the area – but, when January rolls around and travel commitments slow, he has big plans.
“Right now, one of the things I want to do is incorporate live worship in the corps,” said Hernandez. “That can have a great impact, especially in a smaller community. I’m also interested in, and have been talking to the local officer, kind of starting a beginner band program in Jacksonville. I’m already communicating with them about playing at a few kettles this season as well, with a few of my friends from the military. I think that’s a great ministry, too, and it’ll be interesting to see how much we can really help with that.”
For a young adult with a lot on his plate, Hernandez defies the odds in committing so much to ministry. Still, he seems to find passion in his own background, looking to pay that forward to others.
“I can tell my friends that I’ve been involved with the Army for 10 years and that this particular thing saved me,” Hernandez said. “The Salvation Army saved my life. I wouldn’t be where I am without it and I’m the first to say that to anyone.”