THE first-ever visit of a Salvation Army General to Kuwait was a time of challenge and great encouragement to Salvationists and friends of the Middle East Region. The time in Kuwait included a meeting with the Crown Prince that is being spoken about as a significant moment for all Christians in Kuwait.
Having spent Thursday getting to know Kuwait, on Friday the international visitors met Salvation Army leaders from the Gulf countries that make up the Middle East Region – Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates – and joined young people of Kuwait Corps (church) for a time of challenge and prayer. Major Heather Grinsted (Regional President of Women's Ministries) led a praise and prayer time, and Commissioner Cox gave a brief introduction about the General’s family and service.
The General stressed the importance of people's relationship with God being real so they can be effective in his will in order to build up his kingdom.
The international visitors moved on to the National Evangelical Church compound to be welcomed by hundreds of enthusiastic onlookers, including flag-waving, singing Salvationists. At the public welcome and celebration – held with the Lighthouse Church – the 500-seater hall was packed with celebrating worshippers. Having been welcomed by Pastor K. R. Paton, the General preached on God’s faithfulness and made a powerful challenge: ‘Are you on the Lord’s side?’ Many people knelt at the altar in acts of prayer and dedication.
On Saturday Sheikha Hussah Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah (wife of the Amir's nephew, Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah, and world-renowned collector of Islamic art) arranged for the General and Commissioner Cox to have tour of the Americani Cultural Centre. The guests appreciated the display of Islamic art but were also pleased to visit what could be called the spiritual birthplace of Christianity in Kuwait, where Dutch Reformed Church missionaries to Kuwait made their home a hundred years ago.
The party then moved to a lunchtime reception at for 50 people, both Kuwaiti and expatriate, including embassy staff, senior church leaders, lawyers and others who were representative of many who have helped in the Booth House social care programme. Everyone was given a fun, functional gift of a mug (featuring a quotation from General William Booth: 'I like my religion like I like my tea – hot!') along with some tea, literature, and Booth House marmalade – made with oranges from the grounds of the UK embassy! The General was presented with his own gutra headgear, which a willing Kuwaiti helped him to put on.
The lunch was followed by a Salvation Army-style praise celebration back at the church, featuring the youth praise band, brass band, youth drama, a flag-waving welcome from children, praise, prayer, preaching and challenge!
On Sunday the international leaders were welcomed to the Seif Palace by His Highness Sheikh Nawaf Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Crown Prince of Kuwait. The meeting was cordial and friendly, with humour and seriousness fused in good balance. The General told the Crown Prince that Christians are grateful for the freedom they have to worship in Kuwait, and assured him that The Salvation Army seeks to be of help to the state and people of Kuwait. The Crown Prince told the General that he wants to help The Salvation Army.
After some time the Crown Prince asked: 'Why the name "The Salvation Army"?' which gave the General opportunity to speak about the Army and its work for the Lord, at the same time advocating for all Christians in Kuwait. Responding to questions by others in the room, the General told of the realities of poverty in Victorian Britain and the emergence of William Booth's Salvation Army, its growth around the world over 149 years, and its desire to help all people in need, regardless of colour, race or religion. The General presented the Crown Prince with a simple plate featuring the Lord’s Prayer inscribed in Arabic, a copy of The Salvation Army Year Book and a model camel made at Booth House.
The meeting between the Crown Prince and the General was filmed and has been shown on TV channels in Kuwait. Reports and pictures have featured in newspapers throughout the Gulf countries. The visit and its coverage have been greatly encouraging to The Salvation Army's congregation members in Kuwait, from an expatriate Canadian teacher and Asian doctors to impoverished African and Indian labourers. Senior leaders of other denominations have said that they believe the meeting will be beneficial to all Christians in Kuwait.
Later in the day the international leaders visited the Booth House social care programme, which has a tremendous ministry in caring for women who have been trafficked. The time at the centre included Ugandan and Ethiopian praise and dancing, an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, and the poignant experience of the General presenting 'Annette', a resident, with a Booth House certificate as she left to go to the airport to return home to safety.
A party of Salvationists said farewell to the international leaders at the airport. As he departed, the General prayed his blessing on the group, on The Salvation Army, on the country and its people and on Kuwait's leaders the Amir and the Crown Prince.
By Major Stewart Grinsted
Middle East Region