He was tall, impressive, and built like a prize fighter. Often considered rude or even obnoxious, he did not follow the rules. Though never in charge of a corps, he opened doors through which others could follow in a more conventional way.

He was born Nashan Garabed, or Garabedian, in Tallas, Turkey, to Armenian parents. His father died when he was three, but his mother saw that he had a Christian upbringing. At 17, he set out to work with his brother as a shoemaker in Boston. On the way to the U.S., he saw some Salvationists being attacked on the streets of London, and though knowing no English, he stepped in as their bodyguard.

In Boston, he felt the need to travel the country. It wasn't until he reached San Francisco that he saw more of these spirited, persecuted Salvationists. Protecting them was his pleasure. Though at first he could not be a member (because of his smoking and drinking habits), he passed out tracts in his shoe shop and gradually heard more of what they were trying to do. He changed his name to John, which later became "Joe the Turk." Captain John Milsaps convinced him to change his ways, and he became converted.

Joe's shoe shop became a colorful religious center, and he constantly thought of new ways to attract attention. Then he gave up his shop to work full time for The Salvation Army. He was made a captain shortly after helping the Army begin work in Los Angeles.

Novel methods always had a place in his campaigning. He wore a turban or fez with his uniform, which usually was bright red with a gold braid. When the district officer was transferred east in 1890, he took Joe with him. For the rest of his career, Joe traveled the country as a representative of the Trade Department, preaching and exhorting others to repent along the way. When the town of Macomb, Illinois, was in the grip of a crooked mayor, Joe ran him out of town and took over until the people could hold an election. In another town, he saw a mob about to lynch the corps officer and braved the crowd to put the officer safely on the train.

In city after city, Joe would be arrested for disturbing the peace. However, when brought to trial, he would be acquitted by the juries. Town ordinances forbidding open air meetings toppled in his wake. He boasted of being "jailed 57 times for Jesus."

In later years, Joe carried a large umbrella decorated with slogans and pictures of the Booths. To the wonder of his audiences, little light bulbs made it glow in the dark. If a goat cart suited his purpose, he would form a mini-circus and parade into town to gain attention. Many a host found linens and walls decorated with his rubber stamp, "Jesus Saves."

After 38 years of adventurous service in the ranks of the Army, he retired in 1925. He was promoted to glory in his New York hotel room in 1937. Thousands called "Joe the Turk" their spiritual father.