Israel L. Gaither, Man With A Mission
Author: Colonel Henry Gariepy
Israel L. Gaither, Man with a Mission is published in the USA by Crest Books, price $9.95 plus postage and packing; or �10.99 plus postage and packing (�2.95 UK, �4.50 Europe, �5.50 rest of the world) when ordered from Salvationist Publishing and Supplies Limited (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
MANY biographies and autobiographies have been written about Salvation Army leaders, but Israel L. Gaither, Man with a Mission is the only one to begin with The Salvation Army’s mission statement. That says something. But in case any reader doesn’t get the point immediately, the statement is followed by a quote from Commissioner Gaither: ‘Mission matters most’.
Just to make it abundantly clear, the back cover of the book has General Shaw Clifton declaring its subject – currently National Commander of The Salvation Army in the USA – to be not just ‘a man of God’, ‘a family man’ and ‘a man worth knowing’ but a ‘man on a mission’.
Another General – Retired General John Larsson, who chose Commissioner Gaither to be his Chief of the Staff – declares: ‘Here is the story of a contemporary giant who has become a legend in his own lifetime.’
And, as an indication of how well Israel Gaither is regarded beyond the ranks of our Movement, the cover also carries these words of Dr Jeffrey E. Greenway, President of the USA’s Asbury Theological Seminary: ‘Israel Gaither is a man after God’s own heart. Nurtured in the faith and called to the ministry of the gospel in The Salvation Army, this man of God is a leader of leaders who has impacted the world for the cause of Christ, one person at a time. His biography is a compelling life story within the context of a foremost evangelical movement.’
Israel L. Gaither, Man with a Mission, is written by Colonel Henry Gariepy, a former National Editor-in-Chief and Literary Secretary of The Salvation Army in the USA. Now retired, he is one of the Army’s most prolific authors, with 25 books to his name, as well as contributions to 40 more.
What does his book tell us about the man who, as General Larsson’s Chief of the Staff, is known throughout the Army world as a powerful preacher, inspiring meeting leader and effective administrator?
First, the book documents Israel Gaither’s life story. Born into the warm environment of a Christian, African-American family living in the small town of New Castle, Pennsylvania, Israel – ‘Izzy’ to family and close friends – was initially shaped by his godly parents.
The eldest of five children, he describes his childhood as ‘rooted in God’s Word’. He recalls: ‘I early learned basic values that were more a starting point for my Christian faith than for a specific religious system.’
The young Israel Gaither’s earliest years of church life were spent in his family’s church, Union Baptist, of which his father became an ordained minister. The future Commissioner Gaither was baptised as a young teenager by his father and enjoyed a full, rich experience of church life. His mother, too, had a significant influence on him.
‘I was impressed by the strength of my mother as a woman of conviction and strong belief’, he declares.
‘Her powerful influence came through her Christian living … my mother always carried herself with dignity and grace – and she still does.’
A defining moment for young Israel came when he was 12, when for the first time he consciously asked for God’s forgiveness and turned his life over to Christ.
Soon afterwards, a family of Salvationists moved into the neighbourhood, and Israel, after forging a friendship with one of the boys his age, began accepting invitations to attend Salvation Army youth activities. For a while he attended both church and the Army, but by his mid-teens the bulk of his free time was spent at the corps.
Eventually he became a soldier, and began to be aware of the call to officership. The decision to accept this call came as the result of a direct revelation from God in the form of a letter from a friend, on the back of which the friend had written the Great Commission passage of Scripture: ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’ (Matthew 28:19).
Commissioner Gaither recalls: ‘Before I opened the letter, when I saw the back of the envelope with that passage, with its challenge to go into all the world, I knew that was the confirmation I’d been praying for.’
In March 1962 Israel formally offered for officership, and in September of that year he became a member of the Heroes of the Faith Session at the School for Officer Training in New York, one month before his 18th birthday.
Two years later, on his commissioning, he was appointed to Pittsburgh, to assist at Pittsburgh Northside Corps. Also appointed to Pittsburgh, to assist at Homewood-Brushton Corps, was another member of the same session, Eva Shue – an ‘attractive, winsome, intelligent and dedicated young woman who would soon capture Israel Gaither’s heart’, as Colonel Gariepy records.
Although they had got to know each during their two years of training, the relationship between them had not developed further than that of cadets in the same session. That situation changed in Pittsburgh, and in July 1967 their wedding took place at Pittsburgh Northside Corps, with Israel’s father officiating.
Their marriage was not without controversy in the eyes of some, Israel being African-American and Eva being white. Some white people accepted their marriage less easily than the African-American community, and the Gaithers’ early officership was not without its painful experiences. Says Israel: ‘We experienced no overt racist attitudes within the Army but we knew they existed. We could feel it at times.’
And so the Gaithers’ joint service continued. Corps work was followed by their appointment as divisional youth leaders in Greater New York. Subsequently, Israel served as Divisional Secretary, Greater New York; General Secretary, Western Pennsylvania; Divisional Commander, Southern New England; Divisional Commander, Western Pennsylvania; Field Secretary for Personnel, USA Eastern; Chief Secretary, USA Eastern; Territorial Commander, Southern Africa; and Territorial Commander, USA Eastern. Then, in 2002, General Larsson asked Commissioner Gaither to serve as the Chief of the Staff at International Headquarters. Four years later, on the General’s retirement, Commissioner Gaither took up his present appointment as National Commander, USA.
Obviously, that bare recital of appointments represents several decades of important experiences. These are chronicled by Colonel Gariepy. Buy the book and read them at your leisure.
Are there any surprises for the reader who knows Israel and Eva Gaither only by repute or occasional contact? Of course – it would be a dull biography if that were not the case.
Israel Gaither, it transpires, is an early-bird who begins work at what many would see as an unearthly hour. His wife prefers ‘to see the daylight when she arises’. One result is that Eva has been known to drive her husband to work ‘while still in her pyjamas and curlers, then returning home and travelling later to the office herself’ (though not during their days at IHQ!).
Also, we’re told, the former Chief of the Staff always takes with him on his travels a bag containing pills, bandages, ointments and medicines, known to his friends as his ‘travelling apothecary’. Says his biographer: ‘He is not dependent on these medicines, but he is predisposed to be prepared for any exigency that may arise.’
And according to the Gaithers’ daughter Michele, he shares her affinity for seafood, collard greens and sweet potato pie.
But to end this brief review on a note of trivia would be unfair to both the book and its subject. A more fitting end would be to quote from his article ‘Authentic Christians in an artificial world’, published in an anthology printed in 1991, which clearly expresses Israel Gaither’s personal philosophy.
He writes: ‘Americans, generally, are growing discontented with the artificial … we want authenticity! We want to be real. We want our lives to count for something. We need to be authentic Christians in an artificial world … We share in a faith that is rooted and grounded in Jesus Christ! We have a faith that has stood the test of time … The commission to every believer is to be a witness! To win the lost … There is no time for artificiality. God’s people must be authentic. It will make a difference in our motives, in relationships, in deeds, in attitudes and in the way we affect others around us.’
Colonel Gariepy sums-up: ‘The story in this book is the life story of an authentic man of God living out his life and ministering faithfully in an artificial world. By the anointing of the Spirit and his effective leadership, Israel Gaither did not merely fill a chair or a niche in the Army’s hierarchy, but he made a difference in each appointment, from his early days as corps officer up to positions of high leadership.’
Colonel Gariepy writes here in the past tense, but goes on to remind us that the subject of his biography is still an active officer, currently occupying one of the most significant appointments the Army has to offer. Israel Gaither, he declares, ‘will stay the course as further chapters of God’s will and work unfold. His ultimate legacy under God’s leading … will redound with enduring enrichment to countless lives across America and throughout the world.’
Israel Gaither is still a ‘man on a mission’.
Reviewed by Major Charles King