Military to missionary: Ex Cadet trades gun for Bible

Military to missionary: Ex Cadet trades gun for Bible

Ex Cadet 26193 Vanessa Banks begins missionary work in El Salvador this summer

By Steve Fischer

An Ottawa woman is about to undergo a dramatic career change.

Vanessa Banks, 24, is leaving a promising career as an officer in the Canadian Armed Forces to be a Christian missionary in El Salvador.

Banks studied at the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, following in the footsteps of her father and two older sisters.

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She achieved the rank of second lieutenant and was in training to command tanks and armoured vehicles, stationed in Gagetown, N.B.

But now, she’s trading in her gun for a Bible.

Career change came out of volunteer work

Four years ago, Banks spent her vacation time travelling to El Salvador with members of her church as part of the international charity Youth for Christ Canada.

She describes it as a life-changing experience.

“At the end of the day, I had to just trust where I felt I was meant to be and where I felt I was fully using my passions and my gifts and my personality,” she said, while visiting with her parents at their home in Stittsville.

After several more trips to El Salvador, Banks decided to break her contract with the military, give up her pension, and start fundraising the $10,000 she estimated she would need to work in the Central American country for one year.

As she packed her bags in preparation for the trip south, Banks said she felt confident in her new career path.

“I was so passionate about missions work and just seeing people’s lives get changed and seeing all the things we were doing there, just lit my heart alive and from that point on I knew it was only a matter of timing until I would become a full time missionary there,” she said.

El Salvador murder capital of the world

But her new career in a new country comes with certain dangers.

Last year, El Salvador had the notoriety of having the highest murder rate in the world, with 105 homicides for every 100,000 residents, according to the country’s Institute of Legal Medicine.

By comparison, Canada’s rate is a less than two homicides per 100,000 residents, according to Statistics Canada.

It’s estimated that a murder is committed every hour somewhere in the country, with authorities blaming most of the deaths on gang violence.

Parents tried to dissuade her

Banks’ parents, Gary and Christine, tried to talk her out of the dramatic career change, but eventually came around to the idea.

Gary Banks at first tried to dissuade his daughter Vanessa from leaving her military career to become a missionary. (Steve Fischer)

Her father, a retired lieutenant colonel, was disappointed in her decision at first. “The more I thought about it and the more I realized that this is truly what she wanted to accomplish, that she wanted to follow God and was called by God, I’ve certainly come to accept it,” said Gary Banks.

Allan Day, a volunteer with Youth for Christ Canada, expects Banks’ military training will prove to be an asset. “(It) will assist her in evaluating the situation. It will give her the heads up whether or not something is too risky to step into,” he said.

Goals include starting an orphanage

Banks will fly to El Salvador on July 6.

Her goals include helping to start an orphanage and set up a mission camp next door to the home base of one of the gangs.

She says she will not carry a weapon, just her bible and a guitar. She plans to listen to the locals and follow their lead as far as security concerns go.

Banks’ contract is for one year, but if all goes well, she hopes to extend it for another four.

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