At 7 a.m., the man who had been living on the street and was hungry for a meal and a range of help showed up at the Columbus Salvation Army office.
He said he hadn’t showered in weeks. He struggled with mental and emotional issues.
Envoy Amy Tompkins, the local ministry and social service agency’s new leader, met him. She gave him breakfast. Arranged a shower. Laundered his clothes.
And never batted an eye about the near-dawn assistance for one needing attention and love.
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“I’m far from perfect,” said the 45-year-old Tompkins, who assumed the top post at The Salvation Army two months ago, replacing Capt. Alan and Capt. Jodi Sladek, who were transferred to Shelbyville. “But I would hope that people somehow feel that Christ’s light shines through me.”
In a one-hour chat, Tompkins, who just moved from The Salvation Army’s office in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, covered a range of serious issues — poverty, joblessness, addiction, abuse — linking to struggling families.
But she also pointed plenty of jokes toward herself and her ways, and frequently let loose a laugh that easily echoed from her small work space at 2525 Illinois Ave. Others cannot help but notice her joy, coupled with festive, multi-colored glitter stylishly sprinkled in her hair.
“This building is definitely ringing with laughter,” said Nancy Johnson, the ministry’s administrative assistant. “I truthfully think that’s just one of her ways of showing love.”
Plus, she values people over programs. When one of Johnson’s clients struggling with addiction suffered a personal setback, Tompkins quickly assured Johnson she should leave her other busy tasks at the office to help the flailing client.
It seems fitting that Tompkins’ Salvation Army pullover vest carries the ministry logo almost over her heart. She is a fifth-generation minister of the denomination specializing in outreach for the hurting. Deep down, she knew God was calling her at age 16, but she wanted to enjoy the nightlife of her younger years.
“When you’ve seen your parents and your grandparents helping others for so long, you naturally develop a passion and compassion for people,” she said.
Not to mention a heart sensitive to those with challenges.
Her 11-year-old son, William, deals with autism, so she knows the hardship of navigating such adversity as a single parent. As she discussed her new post, William, who is home-schooled, drifted in and out of her office with questions.
She also understands severe heartache. Just before she entered ministry in 2007, she was terminated from a post with a large corporation in Texas on the same day that her husband, Andrew, died of a heart attack at age 34.
“God never promised us a rose garden,” she said. “I learned that if I can get through that, I can get through anything.”
Your pain probably has made you a good listener.
I am a good listener. Sometimes, people don’t want answers. They just want someone to listen, and someone to talk to.
Your first Salvation Army assignment was in a poor, high-crime area of Atlanta?
We were right in the heart of prostitution and gun violence (in 2013). We would regularly go into the strip clubs and bring the women hygiene and toiletry products (to show love).
What’s one of the challenges you see with faith today?
Well, we have a lot of fast food. And sometimes we want fast religion. But we have to realize that God doesn’t work on our timetable. He works in his own time.
What’s your current, most passionate prayer?
I pray for all my family to come to know Christ.
Your responsibilities sound like they can be tiring on a daily basis.
It sometimes can be a little exhausting when you’re seeing pain and hurt almost every day.
How do you deal with local clients in need? What approach do you take with them?
That’s a hard question. I realize that we see plenty of people here who are working full-time jobs and somehow still not able to make ends meet. And sometimes we can kind of over-help.
We have to be careful to hold one another accountable. I’m really big on having (administrative assistant) Nancy Johnson ask clients, “How are you paying these bills? And if you’re eating out a lot, is that because you need someone to help you with something like cooking classes, or learning how to clip and use coupons for groceries? If you need help, we can take time to show you.”
We have to ask about the colorful glitter in your hair.
(Laughter). I showed my hair stylist how to do it.
I don’t wear bling. But now I have my own “bling.”
Hometown: Detroit (though she calls San Antonio, Texas, home since she lived there 20 years).
In Columbus since: August.
Current role: New leader — her title is envoy — at the Columbus Salvation Army, whose outreach is significant enough to be serving 1,000 families per month at its food pantry.
Family: Children Zachary, 26, living in Houston; and son William, 11, in Columbus.
Education: Studied at The Salvation Army’s Evangeline Booth College in Atlanta.
Ordained: June 2, 2012. She is a fifth-generation Salvation Army minister.
Hobbies/interests: Acrylic painting, woodworking, following the NBA San Antonio Spurs (“Is there really any other team?”), and TV shows such as “Murder She Wrote,” “Matlock,” “NCIS,” and Hallmark Channel movies.