When Andrew and Beckie Murray were stationed in South Africa in the late 1980s, they did their best to ensure that people who attended Sunday service got a little something extra for their Sunday meal. .
There was a day, Andrew Murray recalls, when there was simply no food on offer for those attending service at the Salvation Army’s 80-bed goodwill centre.
While trying to calm himself down as he began to panic about the situation, Murray said an older woman approached him and told him to calm down. She encouraged Murray to join in a prayer for the help needed to feed people.
After the service, Murray said he spotted a man he didn’t recognize sitting in the back of the dugout.
This man, he said, was a representative from the local mayor’s office who, because a planned government event ended up being postponed, had a truckload of food he wanted to share.
Inside the truck were more than the ordinary moldy bread and soup bones that the South African government usually offered.
It was, as Murray recalled, high-end food, worthy of mayors and other government officials.
“It was the best meal we had ever had while we were there,” Murray said. “We couldn’t afford to pay for this food, but God provided what we needed at that time.”
There have been many moments of faith in action in the 38 years since the Murrays dedicated their lives to service in the Salvation Army.
They had two separate assignments in South Africa, one from 1988 to 1991 and another from 2014 to 2017. They were also called upon to work in other parts of the United States, including Connecticut, Pennsylvania and Ohio. Most recently, the Murrays held administrative positions at the Salvation Army’s New York headquarters in Nyack.
Three months ago, the Murrays got their current assignment: leading the Salvation Army in Niagara Falls. They replaced Majors Delia and Steve Carroll who, per Salvation Army policy, were assigned to new assignments in Elmira.
For Andrew Murray, Niagara Falls is not as exotic a transfer as South Africa.
Born in New York, Murray attended a local military academy before spending his senior year of high school at Kenmore-West.
The chapel inside the Salvation Army on Buffalo Avenue where he now shares Sunday service duties with his wife is where he took some of his first music lessons.
“For me, it’s like coming home,” he said.
“I was here for the 1977 Blizzard, so I know what blizzards are,” he added.
For the Murrays, the nearly four-decade career in the Salvation Army feels more like an adventure.
On his mobile phone, Andrew Murray has close-up photos of elephants, monkeys, lions and other wildlife they encountered while on safari in the jungles of South Africa.
The Murrays donned scuba gear to go swimming with the sharks, an experience Beckie counts among her most incredible.
The couple also have stories of tougher times when ‘load shedding’ events – times when the South African government shuts down the power grid due to high demand – left their shelter without power for days.
Murray noted that while the United States is certainly not lacking in poverty, his experiences remind him of how poor some countries are in comparison.
“We take a lot for granted in the United States,” he said. “We walk into a room and turn on the lights and we know they’ll come on if we’ve paid the bill.”
Through it all, Murray said he’s come to realize two important things: people are people wherever you go and wherever you go, chances are good you’ll find people in need.
Before officially taking over as the new Salvation Army leaders in Falls, the Murrays drove around town, deeper into neighborhoods they don’t advertise in tourist brochures.
It was obvious to them that there was a real need here in Falls.
The couple are looking to do their part to help people meet their needs, a process that Murray says often comes one person at a time.
“You get an idea of what Niagara Falls is really like,” he said. “It’s really no different than any other community anywhere else.”
So far, the Murrays say they enjoy being the downfalls and going back to what they did when they started in their 20s with ambitions to follow their faith by serving the Salvation Army faithfully.
“We’re really enjoying being back in what we call a field position as opposed to administrative positions because it’s about working with people and helping people,” Murray said. “It’s the personal touch you don’t get in an office.”
It will soon be the busiest time of the year at The Salvation Army as staff and volunteers embark on the annual Red Kettle holiday fundraising campaign. Murray said like most other places he and his wife have been stationed, funding is always a concern.
However, much like his experience all those years ago when a kind woman reminded him to pray instead of panicking, Murray said he was confident they would be able to carry on the decades-old tradition. from the Salvation Army service in Falls.
“We have been here for over 150 years. We’re not going anywhere,” Murray said.
The Salvation Army of Niagara Falls is located at 7018 Buffalo Ave. If you would like more information about The Salvation Army or its services, contact the office at 716-283-7697.