2015-01-15 / Front Page

Feeding Body and Soul at the Salvation Army

By Pat Blakeley


James and Jina Bang, the new leaders at the Newport Salvation Army, restock supplies at the facility's food pantry. (Photo by Pat Blakeley) James and Jina Bang, the new leaders at the Newport Salvation Army, restock supplies at the facility's food pantry. (Photo by Pat Blakeley) As the Salvation Army celebrates its 150th year, Newport has its own reason to rejoice. Two new officers, with a perspective different than most, arrived last summer and are helping the international organization expand its local outreach.

Lieutenants James and Jina Bang came straight from the Salvation Army College for Officer Training following a two-year program designed to teach those called to literally save both bodies and souls, but their trip to Newport and the ministry was a circuitous one.

The couple came from South Korea 11 years ago to attend Indiana University. James was studying philanthropy and nonprofit management, and Jina’s focus was social work. Their plan was to take their knowledge back to their native country. He hoped to one day teach at the college level.

The pair’s direction changed, however, when James felt driven to say “thank you” to American Korean War veterans and began seeking them out in the Indianapolis area. “I wanted to express my appreciation for what they had done in South Korea.” The college student didn’t just say thank you to a few; within five years he had visited more than 1,000 veterans in 10 states – and it was life changing.

“We decided we wanted to serve a community in the United States, to give back,” said James. They journeyed to Kentucky, she to pursue a master’s degree in social work at Asbury University, he to Asbury Theological Seminary for the Master of Divinity program.

The Salvation Army seemed like the perfect way to combine their passions for social service and the ministry. Trained and ordained together, the duo works seamlessly, complementing each other in areas of interest, expertise, enthusiasm – and parenting. They have three children and are adept at juggling family and work responsibilities.

Both lead religious services, with James delivering the Sunday sermon. Jina runs youth education for the church and also hosts a community-wide Kids Club every Thursday from 5-7 p.m., with crafts, sports, music, and Bible lessons, all geared toward character development. Church attendance has picked up since their arrival, and the children’s programs are expanding.

The Salvation Army is well known for disaster relief, bell ringing at Christmas and brass bands, as well as reaching out to the underserved, but its mission for 150 years has been twofold: to meet the basic physical needs of people and to fill their spiritual needs.

This team is well equipped to incorporate social and spiritual services. “We are doing a little bit of everything, with hunger and homelessness such a problem.” The umbrella approach, James says, is to give people what they require, whether it be food, heating assistance or clothing, whatever it takes, and to offer guidance.

A major part of their job involves food distribution, operating a food pantry, twice-weekly soup kitchens, and a daily bread table. In the past, James notes, hunger services were targeted to Newport residents, but he wants to reach out to cover all of Newport County. His intention is to eventually bring food to specific locations across the county to support those without transportation.

Their dreams are big, he admits, but notes, “I feel limited in what I can do. My personal goal is to sustain the Salvation Army programs, to best use the resources available to meet the great need.” His background in fundraising and nonprofit management has been invaluable to that end.

That being said, he is quick to point out the generosity of the community, both in financial and volunteer support. The Bangs were stunned by the generosity of residents during the holiday season and expressed gratitude for the community’s largess. No children in the program had to go without this year, Jina said, thanks to the uptick in toy, food, and Red Kettle donations. “The demand was met by the supply. It was a perfect match.”

The Salvation Army has programs with Salve Regina University and St. George’s School and enjoys a solid cadre of volunteers from them, as well as others seeking meaningful community service opportunities. Volunteers help in all aspects of programming.

Until he came to the island, James went by his given name, Byunghoon. He took the name James when he arrived because he didn’t want the people he serves to struggle with his name. “’James’ was a natural choice,” he says, “because in the Bible James worked hard; I want to work hard for the people of Newport.”

Although they are still reeling after their busy first Christmas season, the Bangs are more than impressed by the friendliness of the community. The average assignment for Salvation Army officers is five years, but Jina notes, “At this point, we hope to stay as long as we can.”

Weekly Programming

Food Pantry–
Mon., Wed., & Fri., 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

Bread Table–
Mon.- Thurs., 11 a.m.- 2 p.m.

Soup Kitchen–
Fri., 5 p.m. and Sun., 4 p.m.

To participate or volunteer, call 401-846-3234

A Look Back

The Salvation Army has had a presence in Newport since 1889, just a few years after coming to America. Originally housed on Broadway, the church has been at its current site on Memorial Boulevard since 1975. Like many houses of worship and service organizations, the local chapter has had its share of ups and downs, but seems to be enjoying an increase in community interest as it seeks to further serve neighbors in need.

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