While the Global Call to 24-7 Prayer - A Day and Night Cry for Justice seeks to be an ongoing prayer initiative, there are already several Salvation Army centres with a sense of vision and calling to become Houses of Prayer (SA-HOP) - places where the fire of intercession never goes out and where God makes himself at home according to Isaiah 56:7 '...my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations'.
While many teenagers spent this summer spending time with friends, going on vacation, sleeping, and relaxing on their break from school, a group of teens from the Chicago Metropolitan division (USA Central Territory) were engaging in something much different - intense discipleship training as a part of the program called Band of Survivors.
Band of Survivors is a month-long summer mission school, made up of 14 teenage students, 5 young adult leaders, and 2 young adult interns, that aims to see youth love God and serve their neighbours. 'It's more than just a mission school, it's a discipleship school. Our goal is to see youth become life-long followers of Jesus. Through Band of Survivors, we long to see spiritual complacency be eradicated,' says Nate Irvine, Divisional Director of Youth, Evangelism and Discipleship, and director of Band of Survivors.
The students and staff live in community together throughout the course of a month - spending one week of orientation at the division's Camp Wonderland, and the remaining three weeks at the School for Officers' Training in downtown Chicago. They work together, prepare meals together, pray together, worship together and serve together. The programme consists of two parts: teaching (studying the Bible, 24/7 prayer, cell groups, learning about the Salvation Army) and service (evangelism, youth work, supporting corps in the division). Band of Survivors students are trained to use a skill set that puts them on a course for holiness, and they go home excited to fight alongside members of their Corps.
Band of Survivors began in 2003, as the Chicago Metropolitan division recognized the need to disciple youth in the division more intentionally and specifically. Outside of the yearly youth council's event, the division desired to have a programme that was more focused for their teenagers. 'It's so great that the division recognizes the importance of teen discipleship and has set aside the resources for Band of Survivors,' remarks Nate.
The programme isn't for just any teenager. Applicants must be prepared for a fierce month of mission, be passionate about God, and be willing to be stretched in order to be admitted to the program. "The summer is a time of intense discipleship. It's not an experience that every high-school student would enjoy," warns intern Johnny Kent (Oakbrook Terrace Corps). "But these students are hungry for more in their spiritual walk." Many of the Survivors' goals for the summer reflect this hunger. Ethan Hansen from the DeKalb Corps desired to become more spiritually mature through this summer's discipleship. 'I'm already a leader in my corps,' states Justin Polsley (Oakbrook Terrace Corps). 'And as a leader, I need to learn how to lead others to Christ. I'm already seeing results of my growth from Band of Survivors in my conversations and relationships at the Central Bible Leadership Institute.'
The Survivors learned and applied different types of spiritual disciplines during their time, including scripture memorization, worship, warfare, and community. Students took part in daily small group bible studies on the book of Luke. They also practiced the discipline of fasting, which included an all-month long media fast! Students' phones were collected and held for six out of seven days a week. They didn't go online at all, or watch TV or movies, unless it was part of an outreach. Justin maintained that the media fast 'wasn't hard, but a great tool for us to really focus on God.' A fellow Survivor, Gissel Maya (La Villita Corps) agreed: 'I liked [the media fast] a lot; it helped me to not be distracted from what I was learning ... I didn't even think about using my phone.'
Other important disciplines that the Band of Survivors students and staff participated in were 24-7 prayer and solitude while in the prayer room. The first week after orientation, Survivors were assigned hour-long shifts in the prayer room. The second week, the shifts increased to two hours and finally in their third and final week they prayed in shifts that lasted three hours. For many of the students, it was their first experience in a prayer room, but it proved to be a powerful time spent with God that went by faster than expected. After Band of Survivors ended this summer, Gissel began incorporating prayer shifts into her daily life at home, going into her room and praying alone for an hour each day. 'My personal time with the Lord spent in prayer was the most memorable experience from this past summer,' she recalled.
While spending extended time in solitude and prayer was a challenge for some Survivors, most importantly it was an enriching one-on-one experience with the Lord. 'The prayer shifts and spending time in solitude and silence were tough disciplines for me,' says Johnny. 'But it allowed me to focus on the Lord, and I know He did a lot in me during those times. Going into the prayer room at 3 am - you feel alive, and the Lord reveals things to you. I really learned how to pray during those times.' Survivor Ethan agreed: 'Our prayer shift times were awesome.'
Tabatha Anderson (Oakbrook Terrace Corps) was also an intern with Band of Survivors and was responsible for planning and putting together the prayer room. She hopes that the Survivors left this summer with a better understanding of their role as leaders. 'Band of Survivors helps the teens realize you don't have to be on stage or facilitating a Bible study to be considered a leader. Sitting in the pew each Sunday and worshipping the Lord can also be leadership because others see you do that,' states Tabatha. 'Seeing how God used me this summer in the background was so memorable. I loved seeing him do amazing things in the kids' lives because of their experiences in the prayer room. God did amazing things without me even being there.'
With Band of Survivors concluding their tenth summer this year, the division is able to see good fruits of their labour. At the territorial Central Bible and Leadership Institute, many of the teenagers and young adults from the Chicago Metropolitan division had been through the Band of Survivors program. The alumni are leaders in The Salvation Army. Many have gone on to work in full time ministry in the Salvation Army as youth pastors, and in other capacities. One of the programmes former members is now a cadet, and one has been commissioned as an officer!
'We want to see these teens go home as completely different people, on fire for the Lord,' says Nate. 'We want them to be in Bible study personally, as well as corporately, and practicing these spiritual disciplines consistently. If any division has the opportunity to invest in teen discipleship, do it!'