You’re Never Too Old to Talk About God“People are hungry for God!”
Lenny Proietto is 84 years young. For many years, this Brooklyn-born devout Catholic oversaw several successful logistics businesses and raised his family. But these days he is an all-out ambassador for Christ and The Salvation Army. His generosity to others, and his uninhibited urge to talk to people—anywhere and everywhere—have become a great contribution to growing the Kingdom of God through the Army’s corps in Clearwater, Florida.
Invited to worship at the corps by a friend one Sunday 12 years ago, Lenny sat in the chapel on the second row, waiting for the service to begin. He was taking in what he saw—the flags, the band’s preliminary music and the friendliness of the people there. Moments later a little girl was sitting next to him. The little girl had terrible hygiene, especially her breath, but Lenny’s heart filled with compassion.
“I wanted to help her but there were other children in the corps who were in need as well,” Lenny recalls his first Sunday at the Army. So, he bought about three dozen electric toothbrushes that were given out to the kids.
Lenny became involved in the Tuesday night youth activities, serving dinner to the children. When Barbara came into his life shortly after, she naturally joined him in ministry both at the corps and out in the community.
On Sundays after church, they usually take a couple of children to lunch. One week they learned of three girls who never had a new pair of shoes. “So, we took them to Target and they were so excited!” Barbara says.
Lenny and Barbara love doing things for the corps children, even taking 35 of them on a group trip to Disney World, the cost of which was underwritten by their son and daughter-in-law.
Another outing was to Walmart, where for Christmas the kids were able to pick out new clothes.
“The Salvation Army offers so many opportunities for people to do good for God,” Lenny adds. “That’s what I love about the Army.”
More important than generosity, Lenny’s real gift is that he knows no stranger. He and Barbara love to meet people and tell them about God’s love and grace, and about the mission and ministry of The Salvation Army, especially to those in need.
“I credit Major Mike Harris (previous Clearwater corps officer) for that,” Lenny says with a broad smile. “One Sunday sermon, he challenged the congregation with ‘the next time you’re in a restaurant, ask the waiter/waitress if they would mind you praying with them!’”
In one restaurant the server was so excited to have someone offer a prayer for her and her children, that she nearly dropped her tray full of dishes in order to hold their hands.
Lenny says that they have made this a regular practice and he estimates 99% of the time the responses are positive. “Only one time I can remember that the server responded with ‘I don’t believe in that mumbo-jumbo,’ and walked away.”
A few of the servers have even begun bringing their children to the Tuesday night youth activities for character-building programs where Lenny and Barbara volunteer. One server eventually became a Bible teacher in her own church.
Lenny has also developed the habit of saying “God bless you” or “Jesus loves you” whenever the Holy Spirit leads him to speak with someone he meets.
“The reaction to that is fantastic,” he reports. “About 30–40% ignore me when I say it. Some will say back ‘God bless you’ or ‘thank you.’”
“One time I told a (supermarket) store clerk, ‘Jesus loves you!’” he says. “The lady was so astonished that she responded with ‘I wish more people would tell me that Jesus loves you!’”
Becoming a spokesman for Christ has become something of a full-time job. Lenny asked the corps officers for Salvation Army business cards with The Lord’s Prayer written on the back. Five hundred were printed for him, and “we went through them very quickly. We told Major Ted (Morris) that we need more!”
The complex where the Proiettos live has many widows residing there, and it’s obvious that some of these ladies are struggling to make ends meet. Lenny arranged for 17 turkeys to be taken to them last Thanksgiving. One of those widows began attending the corps on Sundays and even became a senior soldier. The couple also shows a tender heart for single moms and the homeless.
They’ll often be driving along, when Barbara will spot a homeless person, so they pull over to tell the person about God and the services offered at The Salvation Army. “We tell them, ‘Don’t forget, we’re here for you!’ I’ve often given my last $20 bill to someone and they are shocked to get an amount that large—but it’s always worth it!”
Lenny and Barbara have become so well-known in the restaurants and stores they frequent that people are coming to them asking for prayer!
“People are hungry for God!” Lenny says. Six people have begun attending the soldiers’ preparation classes because of their love and compassion for those less fortunate.
In April, a few Clearwater soldiers formed a group to go to a nearby public park. Lenny cooked hotdogs and passed out gospel songbooks. At last count, 62 came over to enjoy the singing and fellowship. “So much so, that Major Pam (Morris) asked us, ‘When can we have another one?’ It was like an open-air meeting!”
“It brings God to the people,” Barbara adds.
Lenny may be seeing just a little of the fruit he and his wife are bearing for the Lord, but there is much more that will be revealed to them someday in Heaven.
“When I was younger, I was actually very afraid of God!” Lenny admits. “I thought of God as Someone who is mean and ready to send people to hell. I would say to myself, ‘Who wants to serve a God like that?’”
“But The Salvation Army has opened my eyes. I see Him in an entirely different light—now, here is a God who loves us and is worth serving!”
“If you live for God and love Him, you will work for Him,” Lenny concludes.
“God put me here for a reason. If He has kept me here this long, why not share Him with others?”
Major Frank Duracher is a retired officer who resides in NC.