Heroes: Joe The Turk

by in Action, Features, Sliding Gallery

years fighting: 1860-1937
hero id: Joe The Turk
mission: be novel, creative and do whatever it takes to attract attention to Jesus
strength: fearless

Joe’s original crib (literally his baby crib!) was in Turkey where he was born with the short, cool sounding and easy to pronounce name – Nishan Der Garabedian (ok, maybe not so short and easy to pronounce). He had a Christian upbringing and at 17 yrs old he hopped on a boat bound for the USA with his bro’ for an adventure and to open a shoe business in Boston. Word is that while in London, England on his way to the US and not speaking any English, he stepped in to do the right thing for a couple of complete strangers and flexed some muscle for a couple of Salvationists being attacked. If that doesn’t give you a glimpse of this guy’s heart and character, I don’t know what will.

It helps for you to know that this guy was a tank! Picture this… he weighed in at 250lbs+ and towered 6 feet tall. Wowzers! That alone would be enough to get your attention don’t you think? Wait… it gets better. He decked himself out with flaming red, baggy zouave trousers and a matching blouse that was luxuriously trimmed with braid. This was topped off with a large red fez slapped on his head. I’m thinking that this guy’s appearance, size and personality kinda makes me picture him like a W.W.E. wrestler ‘cept with a Godly attitude! What do you think?

After being in Boston for a while, it turns out that Joe wanted to see the country and ended up going West to San Francisco and opening another shoe business. It’s here in San Francisco that he crossed paths again with The Salvation Army. He got involved by being a protective presence for these Salvationists as well as handing out Jesus info sheets good for the soul in his shoe shop. Initially he wasn’t a backstage pass, card carrying member of The Salvation Army because of his smoking and drinking habits but as he hung around them, God changed his heart and ways and he ended up becoming not only a Christian but also a Corps Sergeant Major1 for a San Francisco Corps2 and in 1887 a Salvation Army Officer3!

Living up to the ethos of the early Army, Joe would do whatever it took to capture people’s attention. Joe was a Godly prequel to more modern day creative expressionists like Marilyn Manson and Lady Gaga who are rip-off artists looking to get rich and probably got inspired reading Joe The Turk escapades in some online blog titled ‘How To Get Attention For Dummies’.

Ok, so seriously… imagine this. Imagine Joe all decked out in the costume we described above and carrying an over-sized red, yellow and blue umbrella with religious slogans on it and a picture of the founder, General William Booth. Some of the slogans he used were “Heaven is real and so is hell“, “Jesus is mighty to save“, and “No cross, no crown“. If that weren’t attention getting enough, Joe affixed little lights around the outside of the umbrella that he’d light up at night and on top was a small miniature statue of liberty with a torch that also lit up. Crazy Joe The Turk would even use a goat’s cart if it suited his purposes and would use it to form a mini-circus and parade into town to gain attention.

It wasn’t just townspeople that got a taste of Joe’s zeal and zaniness. He’d even leave his mark with his host’s by ‘decorating’ their linens and walls with his rubber stamp, “Jesus Saves.” Man, you can’t ‘Shout’ that out!

Beyond flexing his muscles and sharing the good news about Jesus loudly and proudly everywhere he went, Joe had a few incidents specifically worth mentioning.

At some point in his travels, he came across the town of Macomb, Illinois which was in the grips of a crooked mayor (not exactly sure what this looked like but use your imagination for ‘crooked’). What’d our hero do? Well, he ran him out of town and took over position of mayor until the people could hold an election! Oh man, can you imagine that? Another time and another town, he saw a mob about to lynch a Salvation Army corps officer. Did he run away or hide behind his umbrella or a big oak tree? No way, not big Joe The Turk. He braved the angry crowd to rescue the officer and put him safely on a train out of town! This is crazy stuff right?! I mean, it sounds like it’s straight outta old west movies.

Have you ever been to prison? What does that conjure up in your mind? A hard bed, stainless steel toilet with no lid (or privacy) and super small space? I think I’ll take a pass thanks. Not Joe! He boasted of being “jailed 57 times for Jesus.” Yes… FIFTY SEVEN times! WILLINGLY and GLADLY! In city after city, though Joe would be arrested for disturbing the peace, when brought to trial, he would be acquitted by the juries. Town ordinances forbidding open air meetings toppled in his wake. This guy would be a legend except for the fact that it’s ALL TOTALLY TRUE! Instead of being legendary, he was the real deal, a true hero.

R-U a part of The Salvation Army? If so… this stuff is in your d.n.a, it’s part of your spiritual family tree! Tap into it. Let it speak and breathe life into you. Wake up from your trance. Dust yourself off.

Do yourself a favour. Sit down for a minute. Turn off your cell phone and ipod and reflect for a couple minutes of ‘you’ time to do some soul searching. Answering these questions below will help give you a sense of purpose for your life.

  • What heroic things are you currently a part of? If you’re not, why not (lazy, $, time…)?
  • What kind of hero will you be?
  • What heroic things/social injustices will you BECOME a part of fighting?
  • How can you start taking action on that RIGHT NOW (this week)?
  • What will you be remembered for when you’re dead and gone?

See previous Heroes:

Fight against injustice // Fight hard // Fight with love

1another name for chief elder or lay leader using The Salvation Army military metaphor. Assists the corps officer (CO) with meetings and usually takes command and responsibility in the CO’s absence.
2another name for church using The Salvation Army military metaphor
3another name for pastor using The Salvation Army military metaphor

Share this:

, ,