Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Balsam that flowed in Red from Calvary...

I was asked by someone as the Easter season approached ‘what does the resurrection mean to me’? I answered in the context of my experience of new life and the hope of Easter for our world. In particular, I shared about this in relation to the work that I do at the Hospice.

My first thoughts came through an African American spiritual called “There is a Balm in Gilead.” The title of the song refers to the Scriptures, "Gilead", which means hill of testimony or mound of witness, (Genesis 31:21).

The first verse really struck me. The words are:
“Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain.
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”

What a wonderful witness that is…. My soul revived again…

For nearly three years, I have been working at the Hospice. Each week there are more complex cases that come through the door, they tug at the heart and often make me feel completely helpless. And in a ministry like mine, it seems the work is never done. I’m often tired at the end of the day and frankly, at times, wonder if I can keep going.

We have twenty beds and a separate Day Care Centre that’s open Tuesday – Friday and that accommodates 25 patients daily. A proportion of these beds are allocated to terminal care whose next destination is the grave. Grieving family members can be found at all hours; conducting funerals is often a weekly event. I recently bumped into a friend at the local supermarket who also works at the Hospice. She asked me, “How’s it going? You know, saving the world?” I sighed a weak response, “Easter Egg Hunt!” It’s a religious service I organise to meet the spiritual needs of staff, patients, relatives and their friends. Prior to my arrival at the Hospice no Christian events were ever celebrated!!

Last week I began planning the service, wanting to make it varied, giving opportunity for people to reflect. I then began worrying about how I put the point of Jesus dying and coming to life again when there will be many facing the final stages of life themselves; some in emotional turmoil because they do not comprehend ‘Eternal’ life. For others the concern is, how the final moments of their life would be, and only a very small few know of ‘a tent or a cottage, why should I care, they’re planning a palace for me over there’.

Now, often, when these words spring to mind:
“Sometimes I feel discouraged and think my work’s in vain.
But then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”
it’s because it’s the thought of the ups and downs I often experience in my work. The highs I feel when I share in the spiritual experiences that people have encountered; the lows I feel when it seems the barriers are too great to overcome. There have been times when I have experienced real darkness and suffering as I have struggled alongside the bereaved, the dying mother, the anxious child.

I have struggled with a 17-year old girl who took an overdose, who felt nobody would miss her if she were gone. I cried after talking with two little boys of 6 and 7, who were so very sad that their Daddy had died and were afraid that their Aunt and Uncle who were caring for them would soon die too. I have shared in the pain of an abused young woman who lost the only person who mattered to her, her brother.

The true darkness that I have struggled with is my own limitations to help these people and their families; my feelings of helplessness and worry.

In my corps and my larger faith community we share a deep awareness of the many social injustices in our world. Particularly, in silent moments of prayer, I sense the restlessness around me, a stirring desire for change and new life. I am reminded that it is the responsibility of all who want to share God’s love and compassion to create change. In those moments, I know that my work is not in vain; my soul is revived.

On Easter Sunday, we celebrate the resurrection that reminds us that there is always hope for a new possibility and new life. I am also reminded of the rays of light that have emerged from my work. The excitement I have shared with a young person who has received their GCSE’s results; the joy of witnessing new friendships develop for my clients; the fulfillment of watching people develop in their faith and journeying into a deeper relationship with Jesus.

Let us join hands around the World as we pray together:

Gracious God, your love continues to surprise us and come to us at even the darkest moments of our suffering. We struggle with our own limitations to create change in our world, but we know that your love will give us strength to keep going. We celebrate this day and look for the rays of light in every day. Help us to remember that even when we feel discouraged or think our work is in vain, the Holy Spirit revives our souls again and again and again. Do it now Lord… Amen.

Tracey Oliver (Chaplain, Dove House)
Hull Citadel Corps
UK

Sunday, March 9, 2008

'For I know the plans I have for you, delares the Lord' (Part Two)

In Darkest England
I ended up buying the book, Gary’s, ‘Darkest England and the Way Back In.’, reading and re-reading it. Then I borrowed Booth’s book from my mum’s corps officer. I began to find that I have more in common with our founder than I thought. I identified with his passion that all men (and women!) might know God. My own view of the Army changed. Before I understood little of the origins of The Salvation Army and my view of it was contextualised by my own life and experience. I discovered my identity as a salvationist: I want to be an ambassador for God; Christ's messenger of hope for all men in order that souls may be saved... I may not wear the army’s epaulets, but God has given me a Salvationist’s heart!

I attend the Vineyard Church in Hull, and as part of our ministry to the “poor” we conduct a soup kitchen twice a week. I had got involved fairly recently, quite accidentally, and from being a nervous wreck who could barely pour tea without shaking, God made me braver and gave me an overwhelming compassion for the people that I met there.

One of the first eye opening encounters was with Rachel (name changed) who was the same age as me (18) and she had one child in care, another who had died inside her after she had taken crack cocaine at a time when she had not realised that she was pregnant. She was living in a hostel with her boyfriend Danny (name changed) and was pregnant with her third child. Guilt ridden and rejected she had run away from her abusive stepfather.

I met Helen (name changed), 32, who looked very tired. She was tired of life, tired with the men who had made nothing but empty promises, tired after 11 miscarriages and no baby to hold or man to hold her.

Those are some of the women’s stories. Most of the people who come in are men. Many have been in prison and many are drug addicts; our city, like most major cities, has a massive heroin culture. I find it more difficult to communicate with the men, many of them only know of one way to respond to a young woman who shows them kindness. I have to be careful what I wear. It would be inappropriate for me to wear a revealing or expensive garment. Makeup is kept to a minimum. This is ‘Darkest England’ with churches and projects such as these providing a beacon of light to those who are lost in the darkness. (Darkest England is of course everywhere… for example Darkest America, Darkest France, I refer to darkest ‘England’ to be in keeping with the title of Booth’s book.)

Gary mentions in his book there is not always a happy ending for the people that one meets. Every year people die on the streets and parents are not always reconciled with their children. This is the world we live in. But it is my prayer that everyone will know something of the Father’s love for them; to be reconciled with our heavenly Father,

A Social Worker
Around the time of the Roots conference, I was in a place where I was very unsure about what direction my life was to take. I was a first year undergraduate on a degree I was not enjoying and I was grappling with the concept of potential that I outlined earlier. My mother had often said to me ‘Why don’t you consider a Social Work degree?’ I always dismissed that idea: ‘It’s too close to home, I’d be no good, how could I be of any help to people? I’d be an emotional wreck!’ Yet God seemed to be leading me in this direction; here was an opportunity for me to utilise the skills that he had blessed me with and the compassion for the downtrodden that he had been nurturing within me. I applied for the BA Social Work course and was offered a place after an interview. I began last September and love both the course work and the course my life has taken. It was my experience at Roots that set the ball rolling.

I firmly believe that God can make beauty out of darkness. Even though I was hurt as a child, God has turned my pain into compassion. I no longer believe that I was a Salvation Army officer’s kid by accident. Who knows what the future holds; for now I’m happy to keep doing what I am doing until God shows me what to do next. After all, God’s plan for me is much bigger and far better than any plan that I could ever design or have for myself.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are My ways your ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts higher than your thoughts”. Isaiah 55:8-9

Leah Parker-Randall (daughter of Tracey Denise Oliver)
UK

Saturday, March 8, 2008

'For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord' (Part One)

Last May I found myself accompanying my mother to Roots. On the surface the only reason that I was going was to spend a weekend with my mum, I am an ex-officer’s kid and not a Salvationist. I certainly didn’t expect my life to change. But this is not the story of an epiphany but of gradual self-discovery, digging down into my roots and searching out what makes me “tick”.

Potential
I used to shy away from talk of potential, dismissing it as nice Christian schpiel that you tell people when they have made a wrong choice or circumstances have led to them to a low point. I’ve heard Jeremiah 29:11 time after time; For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. It's a wonderful verse full of hope, promise and affirmation. For years I’ve been told: ‘Leah, God has a massive purpose and plan for your life’ by people that don’t even know me. But all I saw was disappointment after disappointment. As a child I was unsettled and torn between my divorced parents. People who had known me as an officer’s daughter no longer seemed to care; maybe they didn’t know how to act, none-the-less I felt rejected by the church (Army) community I held so dear. So, when young I had no real knowledge or awareness of spiritual warfare and in my innocence I questioned, “If God’s people don’t want me why would God want me?” Tales of purpose and potential seemed irrelevant and growing up I adopted the cheery attitude of work hard, play harder and make the best of what you’ve got. I believed in God, but I didn’t actually believe he was very nice. I became a prodigal. But God was on my case and I rediscovered His love that I’d known as a 5 year old when I gave up my rights for the God who gave up everything for me. God blessed me richly and healed my brokenness. But I still struggle with this idea of potential and God having this big plan for my life.

It’s difficult to view ourselves and our lives objectively. I believe where I struggle with the idea of potential is that I assume something massive is going to have to change within me. Basically I feel inadequate, like I’ll never be ready. But God really wants to work with what I’ve got. He created me. He gave me strengths in communication. He gave me the ability to adapt. He gave me compassion for others. He gave me a passion for social justice. I am ready for God to use me and I have been since the day I was born. I just need to let Him do it. I don’t see the big plan God has for me because I am slap bang in the middle of it!

Roots
There I was, sat at the café at roots staring into a lukewarm cup of tea and suddenly my ears pricked up. In the middle of all the hustle and bustle two of the men from the leadership team, Chick Yuill and Gary Bishop were sat on the stage informally promoting their newly published books: Chick’s, ‘Others’ and Gary’s, ‘Darkest England and the way back in.’ I felt a tug at my heart as Gary shared snippets of his book that details the work of himself and a team of people who have moved out of their comfortable suburban lifestyle into a poor council estate (tenement) in Manchester, UK and made it their home and its inhabitants their friends. Doing what Jesus did; living life with the lepers of today, the people that nobody wants to be near. They are sharing God’s love with people through simply loving them enough to “do life” with them.

I understand the title of Gary’s book to be inspired by General Booth’s ‘Darkest England and the Way Out.’ God certainly placed the poor on Booth’s heart. As Christians we should have a heart for the poor and downtrodden, however, this is not always easy. Indeed, Gary recounts in his book a day when he came home to find that his new next door neighbour had stolen everything from his home! Yet, Christ died for all, including the thief who lived next door. I’m reminded that the last person Jesus spoke and offered salvation to prior to His cruel death was also a thief, and His neighbour, hung on a crude cross next to the one on which my Saviour was nailed and crucified...

Leah Parker-Randall
Hull University, UK
Daughter of Former Officers

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Spiritual Journey in Poetry and Song; Commissioners Keith and Pauline Banks


'CD's can take days, weeks, even months to produce. But not this one. This took a lifetime.

My wife Pauline was born to sing. I fell in love with her voice long before I spoke to her, and long before I fell in love with the amazing person that she is.

In the sixties, Pauline sang as a member of The Salvation Army's Internationally famous 'Joystrings', a pop group that made it into the national charts with two singles.

Her 43 years as a SA Officer have provided opportunities for her voice to be heard around the world: London, Tokyo, Port Moresby, Melbourne, Moscow, Copenhagen and Amsterdam being just a representative selection of the numerous capital cities of the world she has visited.

I was born with a deep love for music. Some of my earliest memories are of conducting famous Salvation Army bands and Songster brigades. They were recordings, of course! But I could always hear music in my head. I could hear a full band, orchestra or choir. Although I had no formal music lessons, I taught myself, in my thirties, to write simple music. I also developed a love of words and out of that came somelyrics which I began to set to music. We would often use these choruses and songs when leading worship in the course of our ministry as SA Officers - I would play the piano and Pauline would sing.

Pauline has long nurtured a dream to put some of these songs onto a CD, but we never got round to it. That is such a bland, weak explanation for lack of action on our part, but at least it is accurate! Since the end of 1999, Pauline has had many serious health problems to contend with, all of which pushed the idea of a CD further down the list of 'things to do'. But the desire to make a CD persisted. And so, against incredible odds, we achieved the dream on Friday, 28 December 2007.

Before you start listening, you need to know that this is not a perfect performance. Pauline is chronically fatigued due to the effects of an abdominal cancer, two brain tumours and resultant surgery, endless months of treatment, and the sudden total loss of her sight. She had to sing relying on her memory. She was sitting down throughout and experienced considerable discomfort. This project made demands on her that were far beyond the strength she had to give. But she did it - she fulfilled her dream - and it is a testimony to her faith, her strong spirit and her cast iron will.

So this CD is not about pleasing perfection. It is not about perfect tuning. But it is about the determination of one quite remarkable woman and the enabling grace of God. Its strength lies in its weakness.

My part in this is small. I accompanied Pauline, then recorded my poems once Pauline was back in bed asleep.

We made this recording less than a month after our retirement from active SA Officership. Our life together in the Lord's service has been a great adventure. It has taken us to ministy and service in England, Scotland, Papua New Guinea and Japan, with the privilege of visiting numerous other countries in the course of our work. We hope what you hear will convey something of the fulfillement we have found in our great adventure.

This is not a CD to be used as a background to some other task. It needs to be listened to thoughtfully and carefully. It is our hope and prayer that as you listen, the Holy Spirit will minster to you.

The proceeds from the sale of this album will benefit Ayrshire Hospice which gives such valuable support to Pauline and me, and to The Salvation Army in Papua New Guinea - a country whose spirit runs in our veins.

The recording was done in a very small box room in our home, with all the technical equipment set up in the kitchen. It took only a few hours. But no - it actually took a lifetime.'

Commissioner Keith Banks
January 2008

For further information and additional copies of this recording contact:
Keith Banks at k&p@uwclub.net
----------

Many UK 'Former' Officers will know and love Keith & Pauline as DC's and as members of the Training College staff. Others will know the Commissioner's name due the many songs composed and published in his name.

I have not had the privilege of knowing the Banks personally, however, I have visited Papua New Guinea and some years ago set up a small library in the Training College there in memory of my father on his PTG. And having served as an officer away from family and home comforts know too the hardships endured to serve He who sacrificed and gave His all. I'm certain you join me in saluting this exemplary team of loyal and faithful servants; "Heroes of the Faith" and "Proclaimers of the Faith". (Training College sessions)

The above information was provided by an active officer in the UK.

Blessings, Sven Ljungholm

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Today...

The Army today is much different than it was
 when we served. This week I sat in with our Corps 
Officer and the Divisional Secretary for Program for 
his evaluation, while a lady member was with the female 
Corps Officer and D.C. for her evaluation . Much more 
care and concern is put into the oversight of
 Officers. As well, corps have a much larger part to
 play in day to day managing of the congregation.

 I sometimes wonder if we would have remained had the system operated then as it is today. However, I know that God did 
not abandon us when we resigned and He has remained
 with us and our family through the whole time enabling
 us to serve Him and the Kingdom in many diverse ways 
in the past 20 or so years since we returned. 

Do I regret going to Training College and what 
happened since? Not at all for, “His Grace has
sustained us through it all”


There were any number of reasons why we ended back 
worshipping and making our church home in The 
Salvation Army. When we first returned to Winnipeg we attended a small Pentecostal church and then Calvary
 Temple which was the largest Pentecostal church (seats
2000) in our area. About two years later we started 
back attending at our former home corps (East
Kildonan). One of the main reasons is that my wife’s 
family attended that Corps as did most of our friends
... But more than a sense of family was also the fact
 that our Doctrinal Statement seemed to be more in 
keeping with what I believed than the Statements of 
Faith held by other denominations.



Fairly quickly after returning we were reinstated as
 Soldiers and somehow I ended up teaching Adult Bible 
Class on Thursday evenings. As well, I soon took over 
as YPSM. Edna became active again in the Band and
Songsters and also teaching Sunday School. Over the
 years since then we have remained within the Arm y
except for a period when our children were in their 
teens and the only functioning Youth Groups that fit 
in were at Calvary Temple and so we started attending
 there while still being involved in some Army 
activities.
 It was important for us that our children have access
 to youth groups and other activities for their growth.

I truly believe that The Salvation Army is and was 
the place for us because of our uniqueness in being
 what I call “The Spetnaz (Commando) Troops of
 Christianity “.

We as an organization have an impact 
in places where other Christian groups do not
 willingly go nor are they welcome. As such many people are
 brought into a relationship with Christ within The
Salvation Army and then some find their home in another
denomination. I do not think we will ever be a large 
denomination nor should we strive to be. We should be 
honest to our purposes and roots and seek out those 
who are in darkness bringing the light to them.

 As such our doctrines are open enough that we can 
minister to people without piling sets of rules and
standards of belief on them that restrict them from
 finding life in Jesus. Yet these statements of belief 
are Biblical and allow us to be called evangelical .
Some of us are conservative and some of us are liberal
but we all are evangelical. The brackets on either 
side of the Cross are wide enough for varying views on 
those items which are not salvatory (fundamentals of 
the faith) but narrow enough to know that not all will
be saved in the end. Our purpose is then to reach 
those who need to make the decision to accept the
 salvation that has been purchased for them and then to 
live a life of holiness in the power of the Holy Spirit.

 The Salvation Army is the unique place where this can 
be done.



John Stephenson
Canada

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Native American Mission Field

(part two)
As mentioned earlier, the Training College was a test relative to my perception of liberalism as witnessed in some of the other cadets. We were a large group of Cadets broken down into 3 streams. I was placed in Stream A with others, those with a university degree and a few others who fit into that level .There was an obvious rift established due the three streams consisting of both envy and the interpretation of scripture. In fact, the rift that existed was so clear in our theology class that the Training Principal found she could not conduct and handle the class and instead brought in Major Bill Brown, a capable conservative Evangelical who wrote “
A Concise Theology .” At times I wondered about how I
could even accept a commission if certain extrme liberal cadets were commissioned. But, I did and we went off to Neepawa.

I would say that Edna and I enjoyed our time as officers there despite having a D.C. who was as unbending as a concrete wall. In the time we were there we saw growth in attendance and finances but spent a lot of time explaining to the D.C. why I didn’t have my hat on when I went to the Hall some mornings after picking up the mail. One of our dear old saints would phone the previous officer ( who was now at DHQ as Cashier) every time I did not have my hat or tunic on. Five minutes later the D.C. would be on the phone. It was also a time in Canada when The Army was actively anti-charismatic (at least in our Division)
and those of us who were open to or supportive of the charismatic movement were berated many times about it.

Eventually all the nitpicking and anti this and that pressure resulted in us resigning ( 2 other sets of officers in our division did so at the same time) . I suppose the fact that prior to resigning we had been approached by a couple of the other ministers in town about taking credentials in their denominations helped speed up the process. So, after resigning off we went as Interim Ministers to a pair of Presbyterian congregations in Brandon, with the plan to go to Knox College the next autumn, as well as have a commitment to oversee a congregation just outside of Toronto.

Two nights before that move to Toronto we received a call from the Head Office of P.C.I.C. asking us to forgo Knox for a while and take on a mission to northwestern Saskatchewan ( a Native American area) where their plans had fallen through. The Head of Canada Missions said that since we “had been S.A. officers we figure you can handle anything”. So off our small family ( Edna, our 2 girls and I) went to what can only be described as a Foreign Mission appointment in Canada . The years we spent there were rewarding, however, it was also a time of introspection and we came to a realization that we were “Army”!

We moved back to Winnipeg and started attending the Army, after a short stint worshiping at a Pentecostal church. I got a job with the Corrections Division of the Manitoba Government. We were back at the home Corps, East Kildonan where soon I was back as YPSM , teaching Adult Bible Class and doing the odd Sunday at another Corps as a special.

During the time we were absent from the Army there was no official contact kept and we were treated as outcasts except by some Session mates and a few officer friends.
Part Two

John Stephenson
Canada

Saturday, March 1, 2008

From Catholicism and beyond...

In September, 1975, my wife and I were among a group of some fifty Cadets who marched into The Salvation Army Training College at 2130 Bayview Avenue in Toronto. What a day that was and what promises we all saw in the future.

The Training College was an experience that helped me grow but concurrently also sowed some seeds of doubt about what I perceived as my calling. I had problems with the liberalism I saw in some Cadets and the none sense of some of the rules for Cadets. But we persisted, and in June 1977 we were commissioned on the platform of Massey Hall and listened intently as we heard our appointment to Neepawa, Manitoba announced. This was back to our home Division, and less than 100 miles from my wife’s home and our home Corps. I was not a Salvationist by birth in that I grew up in a coal mining town in Cape Breton in a strong Roman Catholic family. My home town had about 10,000 residents and of which 9,300 or so were Roman Catholic. Our family were devout Catholics and included two uncles and cousins as Priests. I, and the other youth in our family were active in the church, however, our faith was in Christ . It was not the Catholic faith many see and heard about . The Priests in our Parish did preach Christ and Christ crucified as our way to salvation.

I got to know the Salvation Army in my home town through the Scouting movement. The only Cub Scout pack in our area of town was the one at the Corps and I jointed that troop. During the time I was involved with the Scout movement I met Salvation Army Officers who left a mark on my life, men and women who were true followers of Christ.

During my university years I, like many of the youth of the late 60s, went my own way and experimented with drugs, alcohol and all that was popular then. Following graduation I worked in retail management and sales until one year, when I went on holidays (vacation) and sobered up 2 months later 2,200 miles from my home in Nova Scotia in Winnipeg. I realized I needed to deal with my chemical addiction problem and entered the Anchorage Program at The Salvation Army Men’s Social Services in Winnipeg. Three months_later I accepted Christ and graduated the program._I made the choice to remain in Winnipeg and immediately found a job with a High School as Science Resource Person ( my 4 years of University was a major in Physics/Math) .

The Corps I was attending was East Kildonan and it was there that I met my future wife. Soon after being enrolled I found myself teaching the Teen Class and later that year was made the YPSM. Thinking about it now I am not sure that putting a new convert/soldier into those functions so soon may not have been a good thing to do but it happened. Soon after being married we applied and were accepted for training within a month of applying .

Part one

John Stephenson
Canada