Captain Joseph “Joe the Turk” GarabedWhile touring across America and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, Joe the Turk often dressed up as a Captain America-type sultan, wearing a fez and playing his cornet to attract attention.
Joe the Turk was born Nishan Der Garabedian to Armenian parents in Tallas, Turkey in 1860. His father, an Armenian Apostolic priest, tragically died when Nishan was three years old. He lost his mother when he was 14 years old. In 1878, 18-year-old Nishan changed his name to Joe Garabed and made his way to London, England before boarding a ship to work with his brother as a shoemaker in Worchester, MA. Before leaving London, Joe witnessed Salvationists being attacked on the streets. He could not speak English, but he defended the group and briefly became their bodyguard.
Joe eventually left his brother’s employ and traveled the country. He was often fired due to his ever-increasing alcoholism and explosive temper, but his redeeming qualities were his physical strength and an innovative, smart mind. He opened his own shoe store in San Francisco, where he met a Salvationist, John Milsaps. Through the love and patience of Milsaps, Joe accepted Jesus into his life. On July 24, 1887, he became an officer (pastor). He sold his shoe store and served as a traveling evangelist.
Joe the Turk’s life personifies the catchphrase: “You could not make this up!” Joe the Turk became one of The Salvation Army’s most celebrated, fabled officers, even becoming the Army’s “Captain America.” In fact, while touring across America and sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ, he often dressed up as a Captain America-type sultan, wearing a fez and playing his cornet to attract attention. His eccentric, theatrical approach to evangelism also attracted the attention of the authorities. He was arrested 53 times, most often for disturbing the peace.
After 38 years of service as an officer, Staff-Captain Joseph Garabed retired in 1925. Then, on October 13, 1937, he was laid to rest in The Salvation Army’s famed section of Kensico Cemetery. His funeral was held at the New York Temple Corps (this author’s first appointment!). His tombstone succinctly describes his extraordinary life—“Joseph Garabed: An Armenian Soldier of the Cross.”
Commissioner Alexander Damon described Joe the Turk as “…a daring Salvationist extraordinary, a maker of thrilling Salvation Army history, a defender of the faith and an evangelist with methods bizarre, startling, and effective.” I pray, like Joe the Turk, we have a passion for Christ that emboldens us to share His name with others, regardless of the cost. How will you impact the world for Jesus? How will you share your passion for Christ to the world? How will you reach one more for the Kingdom of God?