Cadet Testimony: Shanell Allen Debela

"We must remember that we are all ultimately called for one purpose and one purpose only: to bring God honor and glory in all we do!" by Lieutenant Shanell Allen Debela

I developed a relationship with Christ in my childhood. My first encounter happened during my walks home from the bus stop. I remember meeting missionaries who would tell me stories about Jesus and His Resurrection. I acknowledged that I was a sinner and verbally accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. At age 12, I fully understood what that meant and gave my life to Christ during a youth revival and experienced a water baptism. 

Over the years, my relationship with Christ grew stronger. In high school, I belonged to a Christian group, and chapel life was a big part of my experience at Carthage College. It was also during this time that I thought I knew God’s plan for my entire life. I had this burning desire to talk to people, learn their stories and tell it through broadcast media.

As a young adult, I worked as a television news reporter. It was a dream job for me to tell stories of the community. I moved all around chasing that dream. I had short stints in Washington D.C., Rockford and Champaign, IL, and Chicago. At first, I would get this huge rush after getting the lead story—like “yeah, if it bleeds it leads.” After a while, though, my heart would break for those families, and I would lose sleep because of the death and destruction I was seeing regularly. I felt so empty. I became self-absorbed and extremely driven to become very successful in broadcast journalism. I was enamored with the lifestyle. Feeling like a star, I envisioned my next stop to be New York City and working on a national news program like Good Morning America. It was all about me and my desires.

During this time, God was actively giving me signs to move to a different career. My husband lived two hours away, so we would only see each other on weekends. I developed a very unhealthy lifestyle of partying and hanging out so I could “get the story.” I was all about pursuing the next story, which caused tension in our marriage. 

I lost my identity and used any means necessary to get ahead. I was broken and hurting, so God got my attention like only He can. After five years of marriage, God blessed me with my first pregnancy, so I decided to move back to Chicago to ease the tension at home.  

Eventually, God led me to a different career altogether. I started working at The Salvation Army as a case manager for survivors of Hurricane Katrina. I interacted with other Army programs to refer clients for social services. I felt like this is what God was calling me to. It was fulfilling and selfless. It also lined up with my mother’s early teachings on service. I felt God’s presence in the local Army corps, and wanted to be there volunteering as God’s hands and feet. I invited my husband and three kids into the ministry to volunteer as well. Over time, we became soldiers in the corps. We worked in ministries to seniors and with the homeless population by providing shelter, a hot meal. Most importantly, we led devotions and participated in fellowship to provide God’s love and His Word. 

The experience at the corps blessed my family tremendously. Therefore, we began to pray for more opportunities to serve. The Salvation Army Metropolitan Division launched “Hope Strong,” a new initiative to combine all of its services in Greater Chicago, Northern Illinois and Northwest Indiana in a holistic approach to meeting the needs of its clients. I knew then that God was calling me to be a part of this ministry, full-time. My husband and I decided at that moment to become Salvation Army officers.

God calls us to many things at different times. I believe He called me to all the positions I held. I know now that every position I held prepared me for what was to come next. Therefore, I’ve learned that there isn’t just one call, but a journey. We experience different seasons with different lessons.

Early on as a young adult, I pursued a life in the spotlight, where all the attention was focused on me. And I loved it! When my live recordings to show my broadcasting abilities did not go well, I would wind up rushed and feeling horrible–because it was all about me. I ignored many promptings of the Holy Spirit to change course. 

We must remember that we are all ultimately called for one purpose and one purpose only: to bring God honor and glory in all we do! As the Apostle Paul writes, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31, NIV). When I started to glorify God in all things, He restored me and blessed my marriage. I am now living out His will for my life. 

Shanell Debela and husband Kenesa completed training and were commissioned as Salvation Army officers in June. The new lieutenants now serve as the corps officers for the Army in Decatur, IL.