For 14 years, Kenneth and Catherine Walker have been the Good Samaritans of Queenstown.
They’ve helped thousands of poor and needy – in times of crisis and adversity, like the 1999 floods and the Canterbury earthquakes.
And the Sallies auxiliary captains do it all without batting an eyelid – for them, community service is second-nature.
“It’s something that we would talk about as a calling, which is probably really the reason why we continue to be and are able to do it,” Catherine explains.
That calling last week took them to Nelson, where they have been asked to run the Salvation Army Corps.
It’s a move that they accept – although not without a degree of difficulty, since Queenstown is the first place they’ve called home.
“To be honest, I haven’t been thinking about the move,” Catherine admits the day before the family left the Wakatipu.
“The depth of connection and love for the place is such that in a lot of situations we have had to hold back our own feelings and deal with the matter privately, because it’s hard.
“But when you sign up as Corps leaders you know that moving is part and parcel of it.”
The couple arrived in Queenstown as family and child workers in 1999 from Hamilton, where they’d been Salvation Army youth workers. In 2002 they became Corps leaders.
Back then, local Church membership was small and there were no family stores – just a thrift shop instead.
Over time, the local Sallies Corps has blossomed to a fellowship of 130, with about 90 people attending Sunday services at its Camp Street centre.
It also boasts four family stores – three in Queenstown and one in Wanaka – which provide the Corps with most of its funding for its 37 staff.
Catherine says it enables them to employ a children’s worker, a youth worker and senior services workers in Queenstown and Wanaka, plus a community ministries worker, community chaplain, business administrator and resource centre manager.
The need for support from the likes of the Salvation Army has always existed in Queenstown, but the capacity to meet that need has grown, Kenneth explains, adding that a large number of people require their assistance each year.
“A number of people find their way to Queenstown under the impression that it’s the town of opportunity – which it is – and that there’s plenty of money,” he says.
“But they come without the knowledge that it’s hard work and a lot of them don’t come with back-up – they don’t have financial backing or a support network.
“You can’t survive in Queenstown with no money. It’s a very expensive place to live and climactically it’s also very tough in winter. In summer, people might choose to live in the trees but in the winter you can’t actually do that.”
Others can’t figure out how to leave.
“We end up helping people go back to where they’ve come from,” he says.
“We don’t tell them they should leave, but when we talk to them they come to that conclusion.”
No matter what help they might provide, the Salvation Army ultimately offer faith and hope, the couple say.
“I think some of the harder things are not necessarily the physical circumstances – it’s when you scratch the surface and discover people walk around wounded,” Catherine says.
“They are not functioning so well because they are broken. That’s probably one of the things that I find the most difficult.
“For us our faith enables us to show people God’s love and work for ways of overcoming and finding healing.
We never just want to offer people practical help without providing any bigger or greater context.”
The couple’s children, Elizabeth, 21, Sarah, 19, Catelin, 12, and Benjamin, 11, have all played active roles in the community, Kenneth says.
Elizabeth will remain in Queenstown as a Salvation Army children’s worker and Sarah is volunteering in Hawaii, working with the homeless and people with addictions. The younger two will shift to Nelson with their mum and dad.
New Church leaders will be Lieutenant Shaun and Captain Karen Baker, who have been posted from the Pukekohe Corps.
“Shaun and Karen will be great,” Kenneth says.
“I’m very confident that they will embrace the community and the community will embrace them.”