Jannie Cheatham’s Inspiring Journey of Faith & Community Service“Keep your eyes on Him who is the author and finisher of all things."
Jannie Cheatham is keeping a promise made more than 40 years ago. She and her husband, Sammie, are faithful volunteers and soldiers of the Aiken, South Carolina Corps. But keeping her promise to God and her community has not been easy—especially early on. Those years were particularly hard on the family and looking back, Jannie sees God’s hand on them despite unfair situations and, for any parent, the unthinkable. “I was faced with some hard decisions about my family and the circumstances we were facing,” Jannie recalls. “But I now know that God had already opened the doors that I needed to go through.”
Jannie accepted Christ as her Savior at the age of 10. She was attending a church service and the preacher gave an invitation that set the stage for what lay ahead for her in life. “If you want to be different from the world, come to the altar and allow Jesus to take control,” the preacher challenged. So, she did.
From that point on, Jannie realized the purpose of a Christian: to live in the world, but not be of the world (John 15:19). This includes her relationships with others, even when her Christlike attitude is not reciprocated.
“I started as an employee in our thrift store in the early 1980s and eventually became manager,” Jannie says. “Major and Mrs. Henry Russell were the corps officers then and one day when they were in our thrift store the major said to me, ‘We have not seen you in our corps; do you attend church anywhere? Why don’t you come worship with us?’”
Jannie and her husband had been attending a Baptist church but were not going as they should. They had a little girl by then and with Major Russell’s invitation, they decided to see what worship at The Salvation Army was like. Their daughter, Shaquita, loved being at the corps every Sunday and so their small family kept coming.
“After a few months Sammie and I took soldiership classes and decided to take local officer positions in the corps—but not everyone in the congregation was excited to have us there,” she admits.
One man was dead-set against the couple taking on lay leadership. His excuse was that they would not stay for long. The real reason, however, was racist in nature.
“People would say ugly things to us on Sundays, but that didn’t stop us—we still wanted to come here,” she explains. “I would say to them, ‘I’m not going anywhere—when I do leave it’ll be when they roll me up this aisle on my way to the cemetery!’”
Despite that man’s continued harassment, Jannie and the man’s wife became best friends. He became extremely sick and during some other tough times for that family, Jannie stepped up and did whatever was needed for them.
The Cheathams became respected and loved pillars of the corps, and in time, the man came to regret what he had been saying to Jannie and her family. “You can’t judge a book by its cover,” she says.
But then tragedy struck Jannie’s family. A drunk driver killed six-year-old Shaquita. “That happened on a Friday,” Jannie remembers, “and on Sunday, Sammie and I were here at church. People were shocked to see us and said, ‘What in the world are you doing here?’ But I told them that despite our grief this is where the Lord wanted us.”
Jannie is convinced that God used their daughter to lead them to further involvement in an organization that would serve Him and the community in ways they would not otherwise have found.
Today Sammie is Corps Sergeant-Major (the leading local position in the congregation) and drives the Army bus to pick up people who have no other way to come to corps activities. Jannie is Young People’s Sergeant-Major, working extensively with youth. They both teach Sunday school classes. During the week they volunteer wherever needed. Because of their faithfulness, other members of their extended family have become active in the Aiken Corps as well.
“This couple has been through a lot,” says Captain April Tiller, Aiken corps officer. “They came to the Army hurting and through the years experienced much more pain. But they have found answers in God’s Word and are vital workers in our corps.”
“God puts you where He wants you,” Jannie adds to her story, “not where you want to be or feel comfortable being. No matter what color your skin is, or what tragedies come your way, God has your back!”
Jannie insists that the Lord leads her to keep on working to build His Kingdom, “no matter what is dished out at [her]. Because He is the one who can change everything about [her] and in [her]!”
Not only that, but He can change the attitude of others. God does not discriminate.
Her advice to people facing similar circumstances and tragedy: “Keep your eyes on Him who is the author and finisher of all things.”