Captain Jim Brickson: Miles from ordinary
Captain Jim Brickson isn’t your typical Salvation Army officer. He has an oversized goatee and tattoos galore. On the weekends, you’ll find him on the open road riding his Harley, or in a tree stand hunting bears.
He’s a mountain of a man, and a durable one at that: During Christmas 2013, he stood next to a red kettle for five days straight, setting a new Salvation Army world record for continuous bell ringing – 105 hours.
Although some of Brickson’s interests seemingly run counter to those of a traditional pastor, he’s found ways of using them to glorify God and advance the mission of The Salvation Army – from a motorcycle ministry, to a Christ-centered youth archery class, and more.
He and his wife, Captain Lee Brickson (pictured), have been leading The Salvation Army in Albert Lea, Minnesota, since 2007.
Here’s a closer look at Brickson and the exciting programs he and his wife have implemented.
Brickson is a member of The Salvation Army Motorcycle Ministry, an international group that is gaining momentum in Minnesota and North Dakota.
He and five other members in the Northern Division, along with 10 others from throughout the Midwest, saddled up their Harleys for their first official ride in early April. They started in Peoria, Illinois, and later caught historic Route 66 to St. Louis, Missouri.
“We’ve come together with a common passion – riding,” Brickson said. “This is about finding new ways to reach people with the gospel.”
Although members of the group don’t have to be members of the Salvation Army church, they must adhere to a strict set of bylaws, including no smoking or drinking.
“Even if you just have an occasional drink, you’re excluded,” Brickson said. “We want to be held to the highest standard possible.”
Two of Brickson’s friends from Albert Lea are in the group – Mark Roche, a longtime Salvation Army volunteer and retired Albert Lea fire captain, and Carlos Kramer, a Salvation Army church member originally from Venezuela.
“This group is my dream come true,” Kramer said.
Brickson and the gang are making tentative plans to attend the mother of all biker rallies – Sturgis, South Dakota, which will celebrate 75 years in August 2015.
“We want to make a difference, someplace, somehow,” Brickson said. “The biker community can be very exclusive. But if another biker doesn’t know who we are and sees us riding our Harleys, that makes us much more approachable.”
Brickson had always wanted to teach kids about Christ in a way that was fun and interesting. In 2011 he discovered the answer in Centershot, an eight-week program that fuses archery with Bible studies. Since then, close to 100 kids have participated.
“This program is exactly what I was looking for,” said Brickson, an avid bow hunter. “The first half-hour is about life lessons, life skills, and the foundational living that Christ provides. The second half-hour is about incorporating those lessons into archery.”
Example: Learning how to stand and position yourself with a bow and arrow provides a solid foundation for a successful shot. Similarly, following the teachings of Christ provides a solid foundation for how to live life.
Brickson runs two programs – one for kids in grades K-6, another for grades 7-12 – twice a year. The kids shoot inside the Albert Lea Salvation Army gymnasium, under heavy adult supervision.
“What’s impressive is the amount of girls who come through this program – there’s two of them for every boy,” Brickson said.
One of those girls is Jasmine, 15.
“She’s good enough to compete at the state level,” Brickson said.
But it didn’t start that way. Jasmine (pictured, left) struggled when she started the program two years ago.
“Even the little kids could shoot better than me,” she said. “I just didn’t have good form. But Captain showed me some pointers. I started getting better after that.”
Brickson learned about the program through a hunting buddy of 25 years. That friend knew an executive at Mathews Inc., a major archery supplier and Centershot sponsor.
“It’s like this whole thing was cultivating for 25 years,” Brickson said. “These kids are hearing about Christ because of archery. They’re learning about Christ by doing something fun.”
Actually, there is such a thing as a free lunch. It’s served hot and fresh every weekday at the Albert Lea Salvation Army, and is also provided during special community events (pictured).
The program has one purpose: build a stronger community.
“Some people come because they’re having a hard time making ends meet, while others need the socialization more than they need a sandwich in their stomach,” Brickson said. “They need to go somewhere where they’re accepted.”
Brickson remains touched by how much the lunchgoers lean on one another.
“They legitimately care for each other,” he said. “One time, one of the guys was in the hospital, and a dozen guys went to see him.”
The program has come a long way. When the Bricksons took over seven years ago, the Albert Lea Salvation Army served one lunch per week. Today, that number is five.
“We’re serving between 80 and 100 meals a day,” Brickson said. “Some days, it’s 120 or 130.”
Granted, Brickson says he doesn’t deserve any of the credit. That belongs to the people of Albert Lea.
“This program is successful because the people wanted to make it happen,” said Brickson, adding that every lunch requires the help of four to eight volunteers. “This is nothing (my wife) and I ever intended to grow so large. It’s been led from someplace else.”
Although the program is often low on funds, local businesses donate enough to keep it going.
“Without them, we’d be in big trouble – this program does cost a lot of money,” Brickson said, adding that much of the food comes from the local Walmart. “We may serve meatloaf a little more than the people want, but we’re just thankful to be serving.”
Better late than never
Albert Lea remains the Bricksons’ first appointment as Salvation Army officers, having joined the organization well into their 40s.
Their path to officership began in 2001 when they volunteered for The Salvation Army at a disaster East Peoria, Illinois. That experience eventually led to them attending a Salvation Army church in nearby Galesburg. After that, God handled the rest.
“It got to a point where you need to do what God asks you to do,” said Brickson, a retired railroad engineer and U.S. Navy engineer. “You either take His calling, or you end up working against yourself for a long time.
“We took our calling, and here we are.”