Serving since 2007

Serving since 2007

Monday, October 12, 2015

Was God’s Army destined to fail? Part Three

1993 Captain Sven Ljungholm
Commander, Ukraine – Moldova

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn said when presented the
 Nobel Prize in 1970:

“We must go out into battle – one word of truth outweighs the whole world “


As I write this my wife and I are sharing our last week-end as commanding officers of the Moscow Central Corps, encamped with one hundred seventy five of the corps’ uniformed young people, the maximum number of persons the Russian Foreign Ministry resort can accommodate. It’s on the Moscow River near Camp Victory the setting of the corps’ summer Bible, music and fellowship camp programs the last two years. Many of our young people were saved and undertook their recruit classes there.

Included in the corps young people make up is a first-rate singing company of sixty members, some who are also included in the Corps Cadet group numbering almost one hundred, the national folk dance troupe of twenty, and the fourteen member timbrel brigade.

The repeated phrase my wife and I have shared this weekend is; God has done an incredible work in the lives of these young people - where were they a year ago? – And how did God direct the other four hundred uniformed soldiers the Army's way? 

It was just 19 months ago since our first Moscow SA meeting, and 12 months ago today that General Eva Burrows presented us with the Moscow Cental Corp's new standard with the tricolours our soldiers had come to treasure, but this time with Blood and Fire spelled out in Cyrillic fonts. And with it, the pulpit cloth with the SA crest in its original Russian design incorporating the Orthodox cross. More than five hundred Russians, young and a bit older, have been ‘baptized’ into our sacred Moscow fellowship beneath its colors. 

How did God bring them together - and to what end?

Often in these last months my thoughts have been thrown back to the times when I visited my retired Salvation Army officer grandparents as a child. I explored every inch of their small retirement quarters in Sweden, and often my “exploration” included their tiny darkened closet. There, seated on the floor, I would sift through their memorabilia, items collected and saved from a lifetime of service, items precious mostly to themselves. Their greatest treasures, perhaps because it represented all that they had salvaged when fleeing Russia in the company of a handful of other pioneer officers in 1918, were bound up and kept on the corner shelf. The closeted items included a wooden bonnet box, some rubles, a tri-coloured prayer rug, an icon removed from the wall of the army hall in Moscow, grandfather’s Russian Bible, a Russian SA song book, and grandfather’s brittle paged diary.

As an eight-year-old boy and again the following two years when I visited, I read my grandfathers diary from cover to… well to page 46 at least, where halfway down the page his entries halted abruptly. I sat and closed my eyes and dreamt that I too was a part of the brave bands whose victories he recorded; I too stood on Gorky Street in Central Moscow, as a Salvation Army officer, and like him, led ‘poor Russians’ to Christ. They were wonderful victories - he praised God on every page; for the opportunity to serve, and each page ended with a special uplifted prayer, speckled with ‘hallelujahs’ and ‘Slava Bogu’ (Praise God) for those who came, sought and found salvation. As I matured the diary and its sentiments became ever more meaningful, challenging and inspiring.

Fifteen years reality and a career far removed from concern for Gorski Street’s poor and suffering led instead to lofty corporate boardrooms in Manhattan, London, and Kowloon. I didn't see the diary again until some months following my grandfather’s promotion to Glory when I learned he’d bequeathed it to me. As I re-read those pages, now as an adult, I reflected on the irony, the paradox, that an all-powerful God had allowed “His Army" of salvation to be defeated, banished, indeed vanquished from the battlefield! Through the years of my secular career, one that brought me to Russia on business several times, my mind often went to that unfinished diary, implying God’s unfinished battle - a failure.

End Part Three

Sven Ljungholm

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Was God’s Army destined to fail? Part Two

Jan 9 1894 the Glasgow Herald from Petrograd reported:

The Salvation Army in Russia is doomed. I hear upon best authority that the Imperial Government views with extreme favor the continued propagation of General Booth’s ideas which have of late taken deep root in various parts of Russia, principally in Finland, but also in St. Petersburg itself.  It is only a few days since a painful sensation was caused in aristocratic circles here by the action of the Princess Gargarine, who, it will be remembered, wished to have the religious service at the funeral of her late husband performed in accordance with Salvation Army notions and ordered the minister of the Greek Orthodox out of the house. In consequence of this, and other cases which have been brought to the notice of the authorities, they have determined to take energetic measures to check the further extension of Salvationism.

Over the course of the last thirteen years the Army’s work and effectiveness peaked; more than a dozen corps, eighteen cadets, childrens homes, a popular and profitable newspaper, acceptance at every strata of society yet we are in decline; we have but one corps now in Moscow and Petrograd. We can no longer publish our ‘War Cry’ due the lack of paper. –

“1918 was in every respect a dark year for our work. Despite all our hopes, all our strivings, after triumphant faith, in spite even of our occasional successes, it was becoming clear that the tide was on the ebb.”  

Ten Years in Russia, Karl Larsson p. 123

“Adjutant and Mrs. Ljungholm have arrived from Moscow and we have decided to allow them and the other Swedish officers to continue on to Sweden”- to safety....

12 December 1918 Petrograd, Russia

01:00 Packing for the expulsion train journey from Petrograd across the frontier to the Finnish border - Colonel Karl Larsson reflecting on the ten years that resulted in defeat; the planting the Army’s banner firmly on Russian soil:

And were we brought to live in splendor
Among golden clouds in skies of blue,
And were our life a stellar dance,
Where tears aren’t shed, where laments aren’t known,
To this poor country still (Russia)
Our longing would endure.

On crossing the Finland Russia border some twelve hours later;

 Isn’t that what I said”, exclaimed the Finnish border Chief Officer when he saw us, “that you would soon return!” –from Russia. “Absolutely right”, was my response, “but we will return yet again to Russia.” “I believe that as well, he answered.

1937 Karl Larsson reflecting in his book; Ten Years in Russia, 

It has taken longer than we thought. But one day the Salvation Army will return to Russia. I probably will not be among them. But others will go and execute that which we failed to accomplish.”

*Och fördes vi att bo i glans
Bland guldmoln i det blå,
Och blev vårt liv en stjärnedans,
Där tår ej göts, där suck ej fanns,
Till detta arma land ändå
Vår längtan skulle stå.

Oct 10, 2015

Sven Ljungholm
Liverpool, England

Was God’s Army destined to fail? Part One of Five

Ten years in Russia

When the Salvation Army through the initiative of General William Booth in the early1900s sought to establish its presence in Russia it was apparent that there would be great difficulties. The country was in many ways susceptible to outside influences or movements. Initially, in 1913, through contacts in Finland and a large exhibition in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) an opportunity opened.

The leader of the Salvation Army in Finland was the Swedish Smålandsman Karl Larsson, who later became the Commander and leader in several other countries, including Sweden.

Karl Larsson was a driven and courageous leader, but also an accomplished and prolific writer.

In one of his stirring books he talks about the ten years in Russia.

Commissioner Sven Nilsson now shares in his series of "Salvation Army Literature" for about this book, which was first published in 1937 and then in a successive three runs. He writes that "the book provides an interesting account of how the Salvation Army's work, not least with the help of the Swedish officers who were actively working there, was established and developed. Karl Larsson tells of privation, hardship, stress and illness, but also for the pioneering spirit and self-sacrificing work.

© Photos: Stefan Örtenblad & from the book Ten Years in Russia

Copyright: Salvation Army File, Inal 2013-11-07

Sven Nilsson
At several steps on their path to death by beheading and crucifixion last month, 11 indigenous Christian workers near Aleppo, Syria, had the option to leave the area and live. The 12-year-old son of a ministry team leader also could have spared his life by denying Christ.

The indigenous missionaries were not required to stay at their ministry base in a village near Aleppo, Syria; rather, the ministry director who trained them had entreated them to leave. As the Islamic State (ISIS), other rebel groups and Syrian government forces turned Aleppo into a war zone of carnage and destruction, ISIS took over several outlying villages. The Syrian ministry workers in those villages chose to stay in order to provide aid in the name of Christ to survivors.

"I asked them to leave, but I gave them the freedom to choose," said the ministry director, his voice tremulous as he recalled their horrific deaths. "As their leader, I should have insisted that they leave."

They stayed because they believed they were called to share Christ with those caught in the crossfire, he said.

"Every time we talked to them," the director said, "they were always saying, 'We want to stay here—this is what God has told us to do. This is what we want to do.' They just wanted to stay and share the gospel."
Those who chose to stay could have scattered and hid in other areas, as their surviving family members did. On a visit to the surviving relatives in hiding, the ministry director learned of the cruel executions.

The relatives said ISIS militants on Aug. 7 captured the Christian workers in a village whose name is withheld for security reasons. On Aug. 28, the militants asked if they had renounced Islam for Christianity. When the Christians said that they had, the rebels asked if they wanted to return to Islam. The Christians said they would never renounce Christ.

The 41-year-old team leader, his young son and two ministry members in their 20s were questioned at one village site where ISIS militants had summoned a crowd. The team leader presided over nine house churches he had helped to establish. His son was two months away from his 13th birthday.

"All were badly brutalized and then crucified," the ministry leader said. "They were left on their crosses for two days. No one was allowed to remove them."

The martyrs died beside signs the ISIS militants had put up identifying them as "infidels."
Eight other ministry team members, including two women, were taken to another site in the village that day (Aug. 28) and were asked the same questions before a crowd. The women, ages 29 and 33, tried to tell the ISIS militants they were only sharing the peace and love of Christ and asked what they had done wrong to deserve the abuse. The Islamic extremists then publicly raped the women, who continued to pray during the ordeal, leading the ISIS militants to beat them all the more furiously.

As the two women and the six men knelt before they were beheaded, they were all praying.
"Villagers said some were praying in the name of Jesus, others said some were praying the Lord's prayer, and others said some of them lifted their heads to commend their spirits to Jesus," the ministry director said. "One of the women looked up and seemed to be almost smiling as she said, 'Jesus!'"

After they were beheaded, their bodies were hung on crosses, the ministry director said, his voice breaking. He had trained all of the workers for their evangelistic ministry, and he had baptized the team leader and some of the others.

Hundreds of former Muslims in Syrian villages are in danger of being captured and killed by ISIS, which is fighting to establish a caliphate in which apostasy is punishable by death. The underground church in the region has mushroomed since June 2014, when ISIS began terrorizing those who do not swear allegiance to its caliphate, both non-Muslims and Muslims. Consequently, the potential for large-scale executions has grown along with the gains in ISIS-controlled territory.

The ministry assisted by Christian Aid Mission is providing resources and trying to find ways to evacuate these families by other routes.

Many of the ministry's teams also remain in Syria. Christian Aid Mission assists those who do not or cannot leave with the means to survive.

Even those who leave, however, may encounter ISIS militants and other criminals in refugee camps, said the leader of another ministry that Christian Aid Mission assists. He spoke of a Muslim from northern Syria who, like all men in areas that ISIS takes over, was coerced into joining the caliphate or being killed.
Recruited into ISIS, he fled the country after his brother was killed in the fighting. Disillusioned with ISIS but still adhering to Islam and its teaching that Christians and Jews are unclean "pigs," he went to Amman, Jordan, as he had learned that relatives there were receiving aid from Christians.

The Muslim, whose name is withheld for security reasons, went to a Christian meeting with the intention of killing the aid workers gathered there. Something kept him from following through on his plan, though, and that night he saw Jesus in a dream, the ministry director said.

"The next day he came back and said, 'I came to kill you, but last night I saw Jesus, and I want to know what are you teaching—who is this One who held me up from killing you?'" the director said. "He received Christ with tears, and today he's actually helping in the church, helping out other people. We're praying for lots of such Sauls to change to Pauls."

The sorrow of the ministry team leader who lost 11 workers and one of their children last month has been deep, but he takes heart that their faithfulness could help change the hearts of persecutors.

"They kept on praying loudly and sharing Jesus until their last breath," he said. "They did this in front of the villagers as a testimony for others."
He asked for prayer for surviving family members and for himself.

"These things have been very hard on me," he said. "What wrong did those people do to deserve to die? What is happening is more and more people are being saved. The ministry is growing and growing—in the past we used to pray to have one person from a Muslim background come to the Lord. Now there are so many we can barely handle all the work among them."

Friday, October 9, 2015

My drawing toward the same gender

I knew I was attracted to the same sex when I was seven — in some capacity, anyway. I don't think it's physiologically possible to truly feel sexual attraction at such a young age. But I knew there was a drawing in me toward the same gender – and drawing that was more than what some would say is "natural" or "normal."

As I grew up in a rural Louisiana town and teenage hormones began to surge throughout my body, my drawing toward the same gender intensified — sexually and emotionally. While I was definitely not engulfed in the life of a church during my adolescence, I was raised in close enough proximity to religious things – and religious people – that I knew the Bible referenced to homosexuality as an abominable thing.

The Bible referenced to me as an abominable thing. That was my understanding anyway. And not only did the Bible paint people like me in the light of all that is grotesque, but so did the people around me. Family, friends, football coaches. Everyone. To be gay was to be gross. To be gay was to be wicked. To be gay was to be scum.

So I prayed. Oh. How. I. Prayed.
"God, make me normal."
 "God, make me straight."
 "God, make me like everyone else."

But God didn't answer those prayers. Why?
I hear my experience repeated by others all the time. Just yesterday, actually. A Christian friend of mine was conversing with a guy who is living a homosexual lifestyle. He pleaded with her to believe that he had prayed for years for God to make him straight…. to no avail. She was speechless. She didn't know how to respond.

"Matt, why didn't God answer his prayer? I mean, he prayed God's will? Why was there no answer?"
I'm not God, so I can't know all the reasons why He wouldn't have answered this guy's prayers to be made attracted to women. But, I do know what He's revealed in the Bible and I do know what I now, as a believer in Jesus, believe to be true of my own "unanswered prayers" experience.

Firstly, when I grew up pleading with God to make me straight, I had no real interest in God Himself. I wasn't praying for God to do this because I loved Him or wanted to live my life for Him. I was actually pretty unconcerned about Him, to be honest. I wanted God to take away my same sex desires for my own benefit – so that I could fit in, be normal, be one of the guys, and even so that I could just have sex with girls like all of my friends were. 

 — So I obviously wasn't worried about being sexually moral. I just wanted to be sexually normal.

My desire to be made straight was all about me. I had no interest in being reconciled to God or having a relationship with Christ.

Which brings me to by second point. From what I see in the Bible, God is far more concerned with first fixing our hearts than he is with fixing other things in our lives. Same sex attraction included. 
Yes, it's true that God hates homosexuality. But more than that, He hates that our hearts are opposed to Him and that we long to live our lives separated from Him. God's foremost desire is that we would come to Him through Christ to receive new hearts that love and adore Him.
In fact, nothing can even begin to be done as far as the untangling of our sexualities until we receive new hearts that love and adore God. How do I know that? Because Romans 1 says that the whole reason homosexual desire even exists is due to our rejection of God's loving rule and authority over our lives.

Don't skip over this passage of Scripture I'm about to paste under here. It's vital that you read it.

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."- Romans 1:18-26.

Homosexual desire – and all other sinful desire — exists in the hearts of people because worship of God doesn't. In Adam, we corporately rejected the good rule of God over our lives. And in each of our hearts, we have all individually rejected the good rule of God over our lives. And what has been the result? God has given us over to ourselves. He gave us up to our sinful desire, and has allowed us to revel and further deteriorate in it.
So why didn't God answer my prayer to rid me of my homosexual desires? Because homosexual desires were not my main problem. They were a problem, for sure. But the root of my problem was that I didn't love God or worship Him, and my homosexual desires were just fruit of that, so to speak. God's desire was to fix the root of my issues.

And in 2010, He did just that. He opened my eyes to see all that Jesus Christ is for those who will believe. I finally really saw Jesus as the Son of God who took on flesh and who in humility and incredible graciousness laid His life down for mine. He offered up His life to pay for my guilt in order that I could draw near to God and be given me a new heart; a new heart that loves, adores and worships the one true and incredibly good God.
Am I now straight? Am I now normal? Am I now free from same sex desires and attracted solely to women?

No, no and no.

My heart was changed instantaneously when I trusted in Christ and began to follow Him, but my mind was not. I now have a heart that genuinely loves God and desires to worship Him, but at the same time, I'm still utterly messed up and damaged by sin. The Lord is working in me and renewing my mind day by day, shaping me more and more into the reflection of Him that I was created to be. But it's been a process. And it will continue to be a process until I receive a new, perfect and sinless body in the age to come. When that day comes, the fullness of what Jesus purchased for me will be given to me: full freedom from every sinful thing that restrains my enjoyment and worship of God.

But even now, in this messed up damaged flesh, I have experienced some change in my sexuality over the past four years. I can't deny that. And the shifting in my sexual desires is a direct result of my grace-given love for God. I've grown in my disgust of homosexual relations because I see what a twisting and perversion it is of the image of God. And I've grown in my desire for women (specifically, one woman.… I wrote about it here), and maybe even in my desire for marriage, because I see how a one man + one woman marital covenant so beautifully reflects the image of God.

My growing desire for women is the overflow of a growing desire to see God's glory manifested in my life. Plain and simple. I'm not saying that I'm definitely going to get married one day. I might not. I may be single and celibate for the remainder of my sojourning in this world. But either way I will be fine and I will be joyful because my main problem has been fixed. I might not be "straight" or "normal", but I have a new heart, I have Jesus, and I have the Father. And that's all I really need.

Matt Moore is a Christian blogger who was formerly engaged in a gay lifestyle. You can read more about him at