New Conway Salvation Army officers want to expand church

By Donna Stephens Originally Published July 7, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated July 5, 2013 at 10:52 a.m.
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Nick Hillemann

Capts. David and Joanna Robinson, corps officers for The Salvation Army in Conway, stand in Joanna’s office, where she has a collection of Byers’ Choice carolers. Her grandmother, who died in 1999, was a member of The Salvation Army for 50 years.

— Capts. Joanna and David Robinson have the back-and-forth teasing and finishing of each other’s sentences that come with being married for a while.

David, 50, and Joanna, 49, are the new corps officers for The Salvation Army Conway Corps and have just settled into the city.

“Salvation Army’s been my life — my grandmother started taking me when I was a baby,” Joanna said.

“She’s a Salvation Army brat,” David said.

The couple have been married 28 years, and they are new grandparents — they’ll happily show anyone Laila LeighAnn’s picture.

Their son, Barry Robinson, 23, his wife, Christina, and their baby live in Hot Springs. Their daughter, Risa Robinson, 26, lives with her brother and his family and works for The Salvation Army in Hot Springs as an evangelism and youth outreach coordinator.

Joanna and David came to Conway from Pine Bluff, where they were corps officers, but they started in Oklahoma.

Joanna was raised by her grandparents in Ponca City, Okla., and David grew up in Davenport, Okla., in the Baptist church.

He was working for a company that rebuilt engines, including those of its biggest customer, U-Haul.

“I’d feel bad every time I’d see one on the side of the road,” he said.

“I knew I was called to minister when I was 19,” David said. “I told my minister, and he said, ‘You’re right,’ and nothing was said or done. I just kept going to church.”

Joanna planned to attend seminary in August, but she met David in June at … a family reunion.

Joanna pounded her fists on her desk as she laughed.

“My sister was married to his cousin,” she said.

In 1983, she was working for The Salvation Army in the front office and thrift store — the stores are now called family stores.

They met on June 30, 1984. In December, they were married.

Joanna was working as a lifeguard then at a Salvation Army camp.

“I just turned 20 — I was living the life,” she said.

David said Joanna’s grandmother wouldn’t speak to him when he called, “because she knew I was going to take Joanna away,” he said.

For a time, the couple didn’t attend church.

“We went through about eight years that we didn’t go to church at all,” David said.

They tried some churches, but nothing fit.

“One day we kind of woke up and said if our marriage is going to make it, if our family is going to stick together, we need to move out of this small town. We were just not doing what God wanted,” David said.

They moved to Sapulpa, Okla., where David went to work for Schwan’s, selling ice cream, and Joanna worked at Dollar General.

They started attending The Salvation Army church.

David said he felt comfortable immediately.

“It was like walking in the front door of our house,” David said.

One church member was someone Joanna had grown up with, and they reconnected.

Joanna was on the staff, taught Bible classes and went to camp in the summer to Oklahoma to work with the kids.

“I go next week again,” she said.

David joined her at camp the week of the Fourth of July in 1996, and the Robinsons were asked to work for The Salvation Army full time.

“I just remember Joanna’s mouth dropping open, and she started crying because that was a dream come true,” David said.

Her grandmother started talking to David again, too.

They moved to Bartlesville, Okla., as corps helpers and were trained for a year “by excellent officers,” Joanna said.

The couple were sent to Atlanta, then went to The Salvation Army Evangeline Booth College, now EBC, in the city for two years of training. They were ordained in 1999.

David, who is “low key,” Joanna said, enjoys disaster work.

He said he kicks it into another gear when disasters strike.

“If it comes to disaster work, I’m gone; I’m there,” he said.

He went to work after the tornado in Moore, Okla., in May.

“When it comes to disasters, I’m the yes guy,” he said. If someone needs something, “I’m not going to make you fill out 15 pages of paperwork.”

David said he’s done disaster-relief work in 30 or more hurricanes and some tornadoes, but the Moore tornado was the worst disaster he’d ever worked.

“This tornado — we were right down in the middle of it, and people were still coming out of their cellars. Some, that’s all they had left,” he said.

The Salvation Army had nine or 10 vehicles there, he said, driving around for a week.

“We did not have one flat in a week,” he said. David said he asked a tire service to come check their vehicles, and an employee said the service had changed 3,000 flats because of tornado debris being run over.

“God had his hand on us — we got down in places we should have never been,” he said.

After Atlanta, the Robinsons’ next move was to Virginia. “It was beautiful; I loved it,” Joanna said.

“We had no idea we were going to move to Port Arthur, Texas. That was kind of a shock,” David said.

They stayed in Port Arthur four years and moved to Conroe, Texas, where they lived for five years.

“It was wonderful; it reminds us a lot of Conway,” David said, because it was a fast-growing city.

“Everybody was hollering recession, recession. We said, ‘We don’t see it.’”

Their children both graduated from high school there, which they said is rare for Salvation Army families.

“God had a hand in it,” David said.

They’d never been to Arkansas when they were moved to Pine Bluff, and they were assigned there for four years.

The Robinsons said they are “real good friends” with Jamie and Russell Clay, the corps officers they replaced in Conway. The Clays took over as officers with the Fort Smith Salvation Army.

“Dominoes started falling — they needed [the Clays] somewhere else,” David said.

Before the Robinsons knew they were moving to Conway, David brought his disaster unit and cooked hamburgers for the grand opening of the Conway family store in its new location.

David said the timing of the move to Conway was perfect. “[Our granddaughter] was born a week before we moved. It was a blessing,” he said.

The Robinsons said they are enjoying Conway.

“People are so friendly, just so friendly,” Joanna said.

She loves the ubiquitous roundabouts on the roads, too.

“I feel like I’m in Europe. I just have to remember to yield and not keep driving in circles,” she said.

Joanna said one of her main goals “is to let people know The Salvation Army is a church, let people know they are loved and to grow the church.”

David said The Salvation Army Conway Corps has “excellent church leadership — we just need to get more people in here, so they’ll have somebody ...”

“To lead,” they said at the same time.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

None Donna Stephens can be reached at .

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