As a young adult, being part of The Salvation Army was not in any of Jesse Zapata’s plans. But God’s grand strategy was at work. A lapsed Catholic, his devout mother continued to pray for him through years of the club scene, complete with plenty of alcohol and drugs. Despite this, he was able to get and keep a job. Over forty years ago he became an employee of the Lubbock County (Texas) School System – and never left.
He soon became the Distribution Manager at the warehouse. Already working there was another young man who happened to be a Salvationist, Jerry Dennis. Jerry began to witness to Jesse but found even with the tact he was trying to employ Jesse was in no mood to hear it. “He would call me into his office and say things to me in Spanish and then in English. It wasn’t good. But I tried to behave in a Christlike manner rather than preach to him.” Jesse recalled part of what he said to Jerry: “’Man, don’t invite me anymore. I don’t want to go to your church.’ But he kept praying for me.”
Meanwhile, God was at work on another front. His brother, Mario, began attending the Army and invited him to come. But nothing changed until his wife told him one day that she was going to find a church and then start going, with or without him. He went with her a few times, keeping to himself. Saved at another church but feeling welcomed by the soldiers at the Army, he decided to nurture his Christian life there. Describing his change of life, Jesse remembers, “I can relate to people because I’ve been there. The drugs, the alcohol. Just being poor…When I accepted Christ, I was a totally different person. And everyone could see that.” Though no longer attending the Catholic church he grew up in, his mother gave her blessing. “Son, as long as you’re serving God it doesn’t matter where you attend church.”
The hallmark of his change of life was how he felt about people. “When I accepted Jesus, my love turned around toward people. I love people. I want to pray for them. I want to talk to them. I want to lead them to the Lord. I want family and my friends to go to Heaven because I’m going to Heaven.”
The conversion he experienced resulting in his total involvement in the Lubbock Corps. In time, he became a Sunday school teacher, president of the Men’s Club, and when Major Will Cundiff asked him, he agreed to be the corps sergeant-major. He has since twice been named the Texas Division Man of the Year as well as participating in a wide variety of roles on both the divisional and territorial levels.
Jesse’s salvation experience is not only lived within The Salvation Army but is known throughout the community. “They call me Mr. Salvation Army but I explain to them that it’s a relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, the Army is a helping organization. Yes, we do this and that but we do more. We offer Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.”
His testimony at work is not only from what he the spoken word but his work ethic. His supervisor, Ms. Kelley Lewis, shared, “He is an amazing employee. A real go-getter. He is totally service oriented. He is truly one in a million and is universally loved across the school district. And we all know he has a passion for The Salvation Army. We try to keep him happy by showing up with donuts for him.”
Jesse is also appreciated by his corps officers. Major David Worthy said, “Jesses possesses a heart, first and foremost for the Lord. But also a heart for people, the Army and its mission.” Worthy shared an example. Each year the Lubbock Corps hosts a Thanksgiving Dinner for the whosoever in a tent erected on its parking lot. Rather than helping with cooking, serving or even cleanup, Jesse and his wife stand in uniform at the opening of the tent to personally welcome and talk to each person who has come to be the Army’s guest. Before receiving a meal, everyone has received a warm greeting from the Zapatas.
Asked what he liked best about the Army, Jesse had a quick response: the uniform. “I enjoy wearing my uniform. I always tell our people that it’s my baptism. The uniform is not going to send me to Heaven. I understand that. But it is my testimony and I love it. It allows me to witness and to represent The Salvation Army, my church.”
He summed up his goal in life. “I want to do whatever God wants me to do.”
We thank God for CSM Jesse Zapata, a Soldier of Salvation.