Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Memories – “One of the Boys"

The days were long at the Hartford Holiday Store, where The Salvation Army collected and distributed food and toys donated through a local radio station and United Technologies Corp.

I was to be on duty for two weeks, Monday through Saturday, from 6:45 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. With little or no donations coming in, the days dragged by, and I began to think that this was a waste of my ‘valuable time.’ Then, one day, everything changed.

It was midmorning when two gentlemen walked in. They were disheveled, filthy, and reeking of alcohol. When I asked if I could help them, they replied, “No, just looking.” Funny, I was never afraid of them. I asked if they might like some coffee and something to eat. They took no time in responding, “Yes.” But to my surprise, they rejected the fresh bagels we had on hand for the volunteers. I soon learned why - they had no teeth and could not manage such chewy bread. George and Leo quickly learned that I was a captain in The Salvation Army, and I learned that they were both homeless and sleeping at the shelter. During the day, they walked the streets.

Word was soon out on those streets that a captain from The Salvation Army was giving out coffee and food to “the boys.” Most who stopped by – some several times a day – had been drinking and needed a warm place to hang out. Suddenly, I knew why I was at the holiday store. My mission was not to collect toys, money and food, but to listen, to be a friend, to let these men know that God loved them, no matter what state they were in.

From the beginning, I sensed something was different about George. We often talked about his life and how he had reached this low point. Even when he was so drunk that he couldn’t walk straight, I could see in his eyes that he was crying out for help.

One night, George agreed to go into detox the next morning. That thrilled me…until he didn’t show up. I waited and waited…no George. I even went out and walked the streets – I now knew where the boys hung out. But there was no sign of George, and no one would tell me where he was.

Later that afternoon, a very drunk, very embarrassed George finally showed up. I acted as if nothing were wrong and offered him coffee. He kept spilling it; when he fell asleep with the cup in his hand, I could see that he needed a place to sleep this off. So I gathered some donated coats, placed them on the floor behind a counter, and led George to his makeshift bed. He woke up a couple of hours later and asked if I could get him into a detox program. I found him a placement at a center called Blue Hills, called a taxi for him, and paid the driver to take him there.

That night, George called me at home three times. On the final call, at 11:00 p.m., he asked if I could bring him some cigarettes. I pulled on my sweats, went to a convenience store, and I bought three packs of Newports. I knew enough about addictions to realize that George could not kick two habits at once.) I drove to Blue Hills and walked into the detox area. The guard said, “You must be the captain.” How he knew from my lounging clothes I don’t know.

I can still see George shuffling down the hall toward me. With tears in his eyes he gave me a big hug, and I assured him he was going to beat this thing if he put his trust in God.

That was December 22, 1997. George’s first day of sobriety, the next day, was my 41st birthday. In 1999, I visited George on “our day.” As I looked around his room, I said, “George, whose stuff is this?” “Mine,” he said. I said, “Do you realize that two years ago, you brought me your life’s possessions in a small brown bag?” We both laughed.

He has come a long way, and so have I. George spent several months at the Springfield, MA Adult Rehabilitation Center, run by The Salvation Army. He became resident manager there; he is in a similar position now with the Honor Court, a program run by the Sherriff’s Department in Springfield.

As for me, I learned an important lesson about my part in Kingdom building. What happened at the holiday store wasn’t about my being “the captain,” but about my openness to God’s leading. Those two weeks at the holiday store changed my life forever. I have learned that my ministry is complete when I totally surrender to God’s will, whatever that is.

Lauren Garell
Manchester Citadel Corps
USA East

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Part three
I believe in the mission of The Salvation Army. If you and I are to have daily victory over Satan, we too, like Peter and John in Acts 4, must speak boldly for Jesus. And we must do this out of a deep sense of urgency because of the terrible consequence of sin.

We must speak because the of the joy of our own salvation. We must speak because the salvation of others depends upon it. Because when we truly belong to God, and when we diligently strive to live out the gospel imperative we become aware of that divine command that becomes the very focus of our compulsion...Jesus said, "Ye shall be witnesses unto me."

During this holiday season I've become keenly aware that there are people everywhere without Christ. Lost, broken, confused people who need the touch of Christ. Think of it...they live in our neighborhoods, they live around the corps building, they come to the Army doors for assistance every day, they even participate in Army programs. God sends people to you and me in abundance, and He asks that we feel a sense of urgency, an inner compulsion and conviction about sharing the good news of the gospel that can set the sinner free.

Not only must we have that compulsion to speak for Jesus..but if we're going to have victory in our lives, we've got to show others the evidence of the redeemed life. Peter and John had preached that Jesus who had been crucified had also been raised from the dead, that He was in fact the living God through whom there was forgiveness of sin and eternal life. During my SFOT days I decided that if I'm going to live a victorious life I must give evidence...the evidence of being made whole, of being Christlike, of being a new creature in Christ Jesus. I wanted to be the kind of officer who gave evidence that the power of God can and does transform. That the power of God can keep the vilest and the worst, and that the power of God can keep me from sin and keep me from sinning every day giving me victory.

I mentioned in my previous blog..."although no longer an officer, the words printed on my covenant card still rings true for my life after officership...to win souls and to make soul-winning the first priority in my life," (but somehow/someway all that "other stuff" got in the way). Some of the "other stuff" included petty,mean-spiritied and difficult colleagues who were more of a problem than a blessing. But as a child of God (post officership) I continue to covenant the great commission as outlined in Matthew 25 -giving evidence of God's redeeming power while engaged in the business of bringing men and women to Christ.

Further, in order to live victoriously I must be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. God wants His people to be Holy, to be pure, to be filled with his Holy Spirit in order that we be empowered for Christ-like living. It will make all the difference for me to daily invite God's Spirit to take my will, to take my mind, to take my heart and to form them into His likeness.

With thy Spirit fill me,
With thy Spirit fill me,
Make me holy thine I pray,
With thy spirit fill me.

Andre Burton
Times Square Corps
New York