'And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that ‘they' get justice, and quickly.'

Luke 18:7

The history of The Salvation Army in fighting injustice receives its greatest compliments when the truth of its actions is written by others and not by us. One story of our past that continues to be repeated is highlighted on the label of a matchbox: 

Security from Fire!
Fair wages for Fair Work!
The Salvation Army Social Wing

The eyes of William Booth, Founder of The Salvation Army, viewed injustice in the workplaces of England. In particular, matches that were made using phosphorous had an advantage that they could be struck on any dry surface. Yet advantages that increase profit margins of employers often do not take workers into consideration.

As we pray for social justice, both from within The Salvation Army and throughout the world, Isaiah has something to say about our inner focus:

‘You wonder why the LORD pays no attention when you go without eating [fasting] and act humble. But on those same days that you give up eating, you think only of yourselves and abuse your workers' (Isaiah 58:3 Contemporary English Version).

‘Lord, gives us eyes to see the fervour of our worship in connection with the ethics of our action.'
Our story of Booth's matches takes up the cause of workers. The phosphorous in the matchmaking was poisonous. If it got into the gums or jaw of the workers, it slowly ate away the jawbones. This disease, commonly known as ‘phossy jaw', was also known as ‘matchmakers' leprosy' and was most painful and disfiguring. Young girls suffered from this malady and, despite treatment, lost their health and occupations.

‘Lord give us courage to explore conditions of injustice, including trafficked persons for cheap labour within workplace settings.'
The demonstrations that took place against match factory worker injustice included minimal government regulations that factories must provide:
a) Hoods to protect workers against phosphorous fumes.
b) Proper hand-washing arrangements for workers before they ate their food.

‘Lord, are we satisfied that ‘workers' are justly protected from the dangers and prejudice of their occupations? Help us to take personal note of workplace environments, in the community and the church.'

In May 1891, William Booth opened his own match factory as concern for the ‘workers' did not focus on the rights of the poor. The new factory used harmless red phosphorous and paid a higher wage to its workers. The premises were comfortably light and well aired, with a room for making tea.

‘Lord, give us the faith of William Booth to lift our worship into the realms of a practice that demonstrates justice with courage and concern for others.'
The Salvationist enterprise had the desired effect, and by the beginning of the 2oth century safety matches were the rule and ‘phossy jaw' was a matter of history.

What on-going attitudes and conditions in the workplace could become a matter of history through our witness in demonstrating the values and power of the Kingdom of God?

isjcM. Christine MacMillan, Commissioner



(Resource: S. Carvosso Gauntlett, Social Evils the Army Has Challenged, SP&S, 1946.)


You can also read the Prayer Focus in English, French, Spanish, or Portuguese. 



Read previous editions of the prayer focus