Rattling the tambourine on Cameron Road

The Army Corps’ new front line in Tauranga – Francis and Corryn Vemoa with sons Malachi and Solomon. Photo: Bruce Barnard.

They’re a dynamic young double act, and their weekly gigs are pulling increasing numbers of punters to the citadel on Cameron Road.

The citadel is the Salvation Army fortress of faith, and the double act is the bi-cultural Vemoas – Salvation Army Captain Corryn Vemoa, the new corps officer in Tauranga, and husband Francis, the new director of community ministries, social services - the work end of the army here.

They’ve been in town for a few weeks and probably won’t believe stories about Tauranga’s growth pangs. She’s from Hamilton, him from deepest West Auckland and they come here via Kilbirnie in suburban Wellington.

“We can now drive 10 kilometres to work in 10-to-15 minutes,” says Corryn. “That’s a blessing.” But they don’t travel along Hewletts Road at 8am. “It’s nowhere near the stresses of living in West Auckland,” says Francis. “And still easier than Kilbirnie.”

At the Army church services on a Sunday morning, they share the spotlight and the pulpit – the Palagi one week and the Kiwi born Niuean the next. “We have different styles,” says Francis. “She’s academic and I speak from experience.” That’s not quite how Corryn sees it though. “I bring an empathy. I do feel for people. Francis, in his role, is probably more strategic.”

They don’t critique or assess each other’s performance. ”But we listen and we notice things because we are both skilled in that area,” she adds. “And we listen because we want each other to be better, to grow those skills.

“I love that he is quite honest when he shares his stories and things he has learned, especially when he is passionate about it.”

However, they do employ some techniques, like a little sign, a subtle - or not so subtle - cough, to remind each other if they blather on or have strayed from the point. “Francis is a walker, and wanders away from the microphone.” A cough brings him back to the lectern.

The Vamoas arrived in town with their two pre-schoolers, Solomon (a king of Israel), Malachi (a prophet of the Old Testament) and baggage … more than an airport carousel.

“From the very beginning the Salvation Army has been involved in the messiness of life,” explains Corryn. Messy being The Weekend Sun’s word, not theirs. That’s when Corryn gives Francis a nudge, because it’s his story. And he has no trouble sharing his ‘messy’ story.

“I have two other children,” he says. “I was very interested in girls at a young age and I had my first child, my daughter, when I had just turned 16.” Now, this neat as a pin, gleaming advertisement for the Army is 37. His daughter, 21, and son, 15, are living in Australia with their Mum.

“I traded gold for silver. I put work before family.” The relationship did endure. “Fortunately, God has given me more gold. I look after this gold. I learned an important lesson ten years ago. Messy? Yes very messy.”

But as Corryn explains, the Army deals consummately with mess. It’s their business. “The best Salvationists, or people that work for or serve in the Army, are usually the ones with the background and have learned the lessons the hard way. They are a little more empathetic because they have been in those situations.”

And Corryn, a generational Salvationist, hasn’t had a life of roses either. “But they have been different types of challenges, such as illness and death. A pretty stable family, but I have epilepsy and my brother got quite sick.”

They are their own special stories, and experiences they share with others. “Nothing goes to waste in God’s kingdom,” says Corryn. “He is always using what he has.”

So don’t be fooled by the uniforms. “Because we are just like you.” And they still make mistakes, they say. They haven’t learned all the lessons yet.

“I think because of his background, and his relationship with his older kids, his ex and our boys now, we see all the benefits and blessings that come with raising kids, being a healthy family unit and teaching our kids a good way to live,” says Corryn.

She is fifth generation Salvation Army. Francis, on the other hand, had his first taste on the rough, tough streets of West Auckland’s Glen Eden.

“The Salvation Army Sunday school bus was parked up on a street and we were invited aboard,” he explains. “A few of us Pacifica boys thought ‘how hard would that be?’”

Girls got in Francis’ way, but 10 years ago, a Salvation Army girl got in his way and life changed for the New Zealand Niuean and the Palagi girl. Francis did his training and, after his graduation and commissioning, the couple set about William Booth’s work.

“We are opposites that were attracted” says Corryn. “It benefits our ministry because we complement each other.” They like to think we are part of the holistic healing of people. “A big part of that is the spiritual side. We’re really passionate about introducing people to a relationship with Jesus.”

Then there’s the physical side. William Booth, the Methodist preacher who founded the Army, talked about soup, soap and salvation. “You can’t worry the spiritual if the physical isn’t taken care of.”

And the 30 something-year-olds were taking care of the physical as they spoke to The Weekend Sun this week. They had bought some peace for the interview by bribing Solomon and Malachi with a McDonald’s cheeseburger. Some secular things work well alongside faith.


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