THE year 2012 has arrived and as usual we are wondering what it will hold for us. What will be its high points? The Olympic Games will be the big event here in London. How can they possibly fit more people into this city during the holiday season? Well, they tell us it is all organised and things will go off without a hitch. We will see. My favourite part of the Olympics is the medal ceremony. Call me nostalgic if you want, but I love it when the gold medal is received, the athlete’s national flag is raised and the anthem played. Watching these strong, disciplined men and women holding back their tears (some not very successfully), speaks to me of a loyalty that goes beyond personal achievement. In that moment they represent their country and are proud of it.
Recently I visited Mozambique (Africa), Paraguay (South America) and Finland (Europe). There I was in different parts of the world, being translated in various languages and getting acquainted with the diversity of cultures. In a small village in Mozambique, a new Salvation Army hall was opened. In Paraguay, I visited an Army clinic where for 12 years the workers have been transforming their impoverished community. In Finland, the territory celebrated a spiritual springtime with the commissioning of four cadets. The events varied but we came together as Salvationists. The flag appeared in every place, representing this great salvation story that unites us. Like the gold medallists, I was deeply moved.
Many of us would admit that we love The Salvation Army. Some of us were raised in it so it is connected with our upbringing and our own family. Our memories with parents and siblings are shared Army experiences. And we first heard the gospel in our Sunday school, knelt at the mercy seat during a decision Sunday and studied the Bible at corps cadet meetings. We were introduced to music through the YP band and singing company and were busily occupied in every other activity. The Army was our second home. But it also gave us opportunities to develop leadership skills and get involved in ministry. It was common knowledge that to be a Salvationist, you were saved to save and saved to serve. Then came our calling, so real, so special that we knew that to be in his will, we must be Salvation Army officers. So the journey began, taking us to many places, using all our gifts and bringing immense fulfilment. For women, preaching was a special privilege because it was not one available in many other churches. So perhaps these are all good reasons for us to say ‘I love the Army’ as one would say ‘I love my family’ or ‘I love my country’, when we feel favoured and indebted.
But somehow it must go deeper than what ‘it’ does for me. At one point in time, I understood this love in a different way. The Lord imprinted on my heart that the Army was his. Of course, I had known this before, or had I? It made all the difference in the world to believe that The Salvation Army was raised by God and that if he created it, he could be trusted to preserve and govern it, if we let him. It gave me a great sense of responsibility and hope. Yes, like many, I had this love/hate relationship with the Army – love for all the reasons above and hate (or dislike) for its glaring weaknesses. Shop talk with other officers was often criticism of the destructive kind. Every other church seemed to get it right and we were the poor second cousin when it came to worship, impact and theology. But when God communicated to me that the Army was his, something changed. Now this love or loyalty is not the tenacity of clinging to a sinking ship because you owe it allegiance, or trying to fix it or prop it up so that it can compete in the religious environment. There is instead a sense of stewardship. And an immense sense of HOPE!
In recent articles, I have articulated my vision – our vision – for the Army. It has been launched on the International Headquarters website as well. But it is his vision! Soldiers and officers on the front line are resonating with it. Yes, it does state the obvious. Nothing new! But it is a vision of hope.
Salvationists and friends around the world have also caught the fire of the worldwide prayer meetings on Thursday mornings. There is this deep desire to be his Army, obedient to his calling, experiencing his reviving power. Our song book contains prayers for the Army. These are not chants of self-obsession, ungodly pride or exclusiveness. Many of these songs cry out to God for soul-saving love, soul thirst for him, for an Army blessed with righteousness, holiness and thanksgiving.
However we intercede, we must do so with the conviction that we have been God-raised for a purpose, and that gives hope. This is no attempt to compete or surpass or distance ourselves from the work and ministry of other denominations. I believe we make the greatest contribution to the universal Church by being the very best we can be as The Salvation Army. And together, we will effectively speak to this 21st century the transforming message of Jesus which brings freedom, hope and life.
First published in The Officer, January 2012