Skeena Voices: Finding peace and purpose in Terrace

Salvation Army Lieutenant Rick Apperson reflects on his journey ahead of a move to Hazelton

Rick Apperson’s journey to becoming a Salvation Army lieutenant in Terrace has taken him through ups and downs and around the world.

Apperson is originally from Tennessee. In 1994, he attended a Youth of the Mission school in Texas training to become a missionary. There, he met his wife, Sarah, who is from Smithers. One year later, they were in B.C.’s north getting married in Sarah’s hometown.

Today, he and Sarah oversee the Salvation Army in Terrace, helping run the thrift store, food bank, church and emergency disaster service vehicle while also serving as the pastor.

Back in the 1990s, Rick and Sarah spent almost 4 years in Zagreb, Croatia shortly after the war ended in the Balkans to do work with Youth of the Mission. There, he preached, taught English at refugee camps, worked at orphanages and distributed medicine.

Apperson said the experience was eye-opening.

“I think the moment that struck me the most, we had taken a trip down to Serajevo and we were standing on the spot where Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Ferdinand to start First World War, and we look up at Olympic Stadium and there is a big hole in it and someone had spray painted the word “why,” he said.

“And so I am looking at the spot saying the First World War started here and here is 80 years later and you are staring at devastation from war, so I think it was kind of surreal. It was sad, it was heartbreaking.”

The couple moved to Smithers in 2004, and when Rick’s immigration paperwork was sorted out he took a job in 2006 running family services at the Salvation Army.

In 2009 he was tasked with overseeing the Salvation Army in Smithers and Houston. He did that until 2016, at which point he and Sarah decided to become pastors.

After two years training in Winnipeg, they were assigned to Terrace based on skill set and past experience with the northern culture having lived in Smithers.

“We were glad to be coming back to the north, for us this was just like home,” Apperson said.

Terrace turned out to be a good place for Apperson personally. He has suffered nine concussions, mostly sports-related, and he lives with post-concussion syndrome. He said he had an opportunity to get the resources he needed for personal development and growth.

During his two years working in Terrace there have been ups and downs, and Apperson had to relearn some things. He proved to himself that he is capable of doing the work that needs to be done, which he said wasn’t always a given earlier on after some of the head trauma.

“It gives me maybe an insight into some of those other struggles and how sometimes what people need is for someone to listen and not necessarily try to fix, which is huge,” he said.

Being in Terrace has has been positive for Apperson’s mental health and he said that the area’s beauty and the friendliness of the community has allowed him to become more settled.

“I feel this community has helped me to relax, I think I’d lost that. When I lived in Europe one of the things they’d used to say in Croatia was polako – slow down. If you miss a bus, have a cup of coffee and I embraced that but I lost that coming back to North America,” he said.

Apperson loves that Terrace gives him an opportunity to embrace his hobbies. He is a self-labeled baseball junkie, and enjoys getting his Yankees fix at Sonny’s Collectibles. He has a fun time visiting Misty River Books – he published his own book “Killed by the Church, Resurrected by Christ” in 2014, and he loves to read.

He said he is inspired by going out looking at mountains, sitting by the river and enjoying the nature around town.

“Having been around the world, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been is in Terrace,” he said.

One of the things he likes about his role as a Salvation Army officer is that it changes frequently, and he finds himself doing different things each day depending on what is needed. He could be writing a sermon one day and helping someone the next.

“When I was in Smithers there was a day I was just going to do paperwork catch up on the administrative stuff, and I open the door and a lady was crying and four hours later she handed me the knife, she was going to commit suicide, and so my day was involved with just helping someone in crisis so it does change day to day, and I think that variety is something that appeals to me,” he said.

However, his favourite part of the job is seeing people’s lives change for the better. He was homeless in Tennessee for part of his childhood. His father lost his job in the 1980s during a poor economy.

“We went a year without running water or electricity and eventually lost our house so I get some of the struggles are not always addictions, sometimes it’s just life circumstances and so walking with people through those challenges and seeing them come out the other side is very rewarding,” he said.

Apperson’s stay in Terrace is coming to an end after two years. He and Sarah have been reassigned to the Salvation Army in Hazelton starting Aug. 10.

“My wife and I, because we’ve travelled around the world to so many different cultures, we love culture and so for us just going to Hazelton is going to be a chance to experience a new culture that we are somewhat familiar with but still lots to learn,” he said.

“And so that’s what we are looking forward to most is learning the culture and the mindset of the people in the Gitxsan community.”

Although Apperson’s two year stint in Terrace is nearly over, he is thankful for the community he found and plans to remain connected and continue to embrace polako.

“We are going to miss this place, we are definitely going to be making trips back, I mean Hazelton’s not that far away away, we’ve made a lot of friends and so the community’s been really accepting of us and encouraging and so we appreciate that.”

READ MORE: Skeena Voices: ‘Believe in yourself’


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