16 October 2014

Count Me In auditorium

MORE than 5,000 people attended the first-ever ‘Count Me In’ convention, celebrating the adult rehabilitation centre (ARC) programme in The Salvation Army's USA Western Territory and its emerging partnership with corps (church) ministry. ARC beneficiaries, alumni, family members, administrators, volunteers, corps officers and soldiers attended the convention – held at the Anaheim Convention Center in California – which was nearly two years in the planning.

From workshops on the 12-step programme to music and talks from nationally known figures, the weekend offered ample opportunity for prayer, fellowship, education and worship. A huge white cross in the main auditorium that served as a mercy seat was well used throughout the event, with almost 2,000 people seeking a deeper relationship with God.

The idea for the convention developed as part of the territory’s Harvest Initiative, an effort to bridge the gap between ARC and corps. A main objective of the Harvest Initiative is to provide better aftercare for graduates once they leave the programme. The sobriety rate of an ARC graduate after 12 months is 30 per cent, roughly three times the USA national average. Of those that connect with a Salvation Army corps, however, 86 per cent are sober after 12 months.

The threefold approach to better aftercare includes corps officers building relationships with beneficiaries, providing temporary housing to alumni and helping them secure employment upon graduating.

Count Me InUSA Western Territorial Commander Commissioner James Knaggs described the event as ‘history in the making’, and explained in his online blog: ‘The idea of “Count Me In” was to recognise the sobriety of the delegates who count each day as victory over their addiction and for each one to realise his or her potential place in the Kingdom of God and The Salvation Army. We want them to know they are welcome to continue their spiritual formation at the Army. God led them to us. We have the joy of leading them in their journey to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.’

All 24 ARCs in the territory were represented at the convention, along with 35 corps, two adult rehabilitation programmes, Los Angeles Social Services, the College for Officer Training and officers from the USA Central and Eastern Territories.

More than 1,700 active beneficiaries travelled from as far as Hawaii and Alaska. They were joined by more than 2,400 alumni and family members, including over 300 children. For families in attendance, the convention featured a childcare and youth track called ‘Count Me In Too!’

The welcoming ceremony on Friday 10 October saw ARC Commanders Man-Hee and Stephanie Chang promoted to the rank of lieut-colonel by the territorial commander for their service at ARC command. Dr Steven Arterburn, author of The Life Recovery Bible and host of the nationally syndicated Christian counselling talk show New Life Live, delivered a keynote speech. After sharing his own testimony, he implored those in attendance to be more Christlike.

He added that being in recovery does not prevent anyone from doing God’s work. ‘You never know what God will call you to do,’ he said ‘It’s so surprising that he usually uses people that are disqualified to do some of the major things in the world. You’re an alcoholic? He chooses you to be team captain in your area to run one of the most fantastic recovery groups ever.’

Saturday’s ‘Empowering Day’ line-up allowed beneficiaries and alumni to learn from recovery experts, including Maria Durso and professional skateboarder Christian Hosoi. There were also more than 20 workshops, targeting both individuals in recovery and leaders in recovery ministry.

Sunday concluded with the territorial commander enrolling 150 soldiers and adherent members. An offering held for Joyville Children's Home in The Philippines raised $8,688 – exceeding its goal of $7,000. This amount will be matched by the Southern California Division.

At the end of the weekend, delegates were full of enthusiasm about the event. Brandon Dougherty, for instance, came into contact with The Salvation Army when he received a court order to attend the Pasadena ARC after his second DUI (driving under the influence) conviction. He graduated from the programme 18 months ago but still considers The Salvation Army as family – something ‘Count Me In’ reaffirmed. ‘This was exactly what I needed,’ he says. ‘I’m so fired up.’

Paula Ibarra, another 2012 graduate who is now working as an administrative assistant at the Pasadena ARC, said it was great to reconnect with people who helped her through her recovery and to witness ‘all these people actively trying to make their lives better,’ she said. ‘It was amazing seeing the progression of how many people were going to the mercy seat. The big, white cross on the floor was overflowing with people seeking God, the first night. By the Sunday morning worship, the whole floor became the mercy seat.’

Adapted from a report by Jared McKiernan for New Frontier Chronicle

Tags: Americas and Caribbean, Events