Saturday, November 29, 2008

SET UP FOR A FALL (part two)

Obviously, anyone who knows the Army system will know that when we left the work we had nothing. Well, not “nothing” exactly. We had some ‘civvies’ clothing, a few personal needs items, a few small furnishings and an old car. Not much when you need to start life over. We headed to the Midwest, planning to live with my husband’s parents until we could get established. Six months later we separated; a year later we were divorced. Again, not a word from the Army.

It took me some time to attend church again, let alone set foot in an Army corps. After all, church was a “together thing”, something we had done as a couple, not only by choice but by Army standards. I can’t say I felt much allegiance to the Army anyway. A few close officer friends kept in touch. Other than that, no one seemed to care. And from what I have learned, that is the typical experience of most ‘formers’. It seems many are fearful of being tainted by association. The only correspondence we received was related to business matters. No “hello, how are you doing?” phone call, no Hallmark card pulled from the donation pile sent as a token greeting, not even a War Cry. It was as if I was living in an alternate universe and my Army experience had never really happened.

That was ten years ago. Since that time, both my ex-husband and I have remarried. We are both active in our local churches and no, they are not Army corps. My current husband is interested in ministry and will occasionally ask me if I would be interested in church planting. The question brings up a flood of anxiety. I understand that the chances of repeating the past are very remote, but I can’t bring myself to contemplate the idea. He was in the process of researching seminary schools and asked me about the possibility of Salvation Army training school. He’s familiar with the Army mission and he has a passion to reach the lost, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Seems like a perfect fit, right? I look at my husband, see his passion and free spirit and am reminded of the “autonomy” conversation. No honey, I tell him, I don’t think it would work. Obviously there are other issues as well…I don’t know that I would want to return to officership and I don’t know that I would be welcomed back.

It's no doubt a question every 'former' asks of themselves, some perhaps often, and for some wistfully. The victories, albeit few perhaps, were of eternal significance. I have always believed in the Army mission, and belive God placed me square in the middle of it, even in that remote New England village. However, I've been to only one SA Holiness Meeting in the past several years (to visit a friend). That was the only SA meeting my current husband has ever been attended. But yes, it would be something to consider, if everything fell into place and there was a way for me to utilize my counseling degree in a professional capacity. And, if my husband's gifts would also be used to the fullest.

As I step back from the ordeal and truly assess how Army life affected me, I can see both the positive and negative aspects. The Army gave me firsthand experience with meeting people’s needs and stepping out in faith to proclaim the Gospel message. I made lifelong friends and was able to minister to and meet people from a wide variety of backgrounds. The experience has changed me in some other ways as well. I struggle with the question of calling… Was I called? Was I called for a time? Has my calling changed? I’ve been separated from an organization that I at one time looked upon as my extended family. And, sadly, I’ve come to understand the meaning of the phrase, “We shoot our own wounded.”

I have grown, changed and matured in these last ten years. Although I certainly could not see the future at that time, I love the life I have and hope my ex-husband is happy and fulfilled as well. I am currently attending graduate school, pursuing a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. I strongly believe that this is a calling, and that God is enabling me to pursue this to His glory. I have been able to minister to my family and see the hand of God at work in that as well.


I will conclude by making it clear that I hold no ill will toward the Salvation Army or its leadership. Admittedly, I was angry for some time. I saw the Army as a trusted friend that let me down. We are all aware, however, that even our most trusted friends are human and have flaws. The Army is no exception.

My wish is that the Army would stay true to William Booth’s original mission as it spreads God’s love throughout the world. As it does so, I also pray that leaders would be more attentive to officers’ struggles and provide encouragement and support on a consistent basis. When officers fail, provide discipline in love with the hope of restoration. Finally, it would be my hope that those who leave officership, for whatever reason, are not left to flounder alone but are still loved and cherished as an integral part of the Army family. See how the Christians (Salvationists) love one another...

May God’s love and peace sustain and keep all of you,

Shelley Meyers
Former Officer
USA East

Friday, November 28, 2008

SET UP FOR A FALL (part one)

It seems that I should have known something was wrong from day one as an officer. Actually, let me start with training school. I was married, and my husband and I felt very strongly that God had indeed called us to this exciting venture. We thoroughly enjoyed training…the friendships, the Bible teaching, the field work that forced us (well, definitely me) to step out of our comfort zones. Things seemed to go well, although we had some differences of opinion with school administration. Nothing major, or so I thought until one day we were told that my husband was too “autonomous” and that he should seek counseling. Hmmm….I never thought autonomy was a condition warranting treatment, but like good cadets we did what we were told. I don't really remember any specific issue that we had, either of us for that matter, that would have precipitated the counseling recommendation that came while we were still Cadets in school. My husband always had a tendency to speak his mind, so he probably was just very vocal about things that he might have disagreed with as it concerned leaders. Shortly before commissioning we were once again called in to speak to school officials. This time, however, we were asked if we would be interested in corps planting. We were intrigued and excited and answered with a definite yes. Most would see this as leadership’s confidence in our capabilities; visionary and capable of working without direct oversight and constant supervision.

After commissioning, hubby and I loaded our belongings as well as those of another family and headed for Vermont, our first appointment.. We would all travel together, planning to spend the evening at our new quarters as we were scheduled to travel to DHQ in Portland the next morning for a meeting with our new Divisional Commander, as well as another officer slated to open a new corps in the division. And this is where reality set in.

We arrived at our quarters at about 1 a.m. Our traveling companions had a young daughter, about 5 years old, who had to endure this grueling schedule with us. We walked in to the house; a duplex actually. It was a house with no furniture and with absolutely no food in the cupboards or refrigerator. A house with, we would soon find out, no hot water. Surely this is just a little setback we thought. Praise God that we had an air mattress! So, after a few hours sleep and the world’s briefest showers, we headed for DHQ. I don’t remember everything about that meeting, I do remember one thing, however. As we sat in the conference room discussing the particulars of our new appointment, our DC stated; “I know you learned a lot of things in training school. But this is Northern New England…and we do things the Northern New England way.” Uh oh, I thought. We are in for a bumpy ride. My husband and I had taken Corps Planting class in training and expressed interest in that area of ministry. I believed that the Army saw our "mission" spirit and creativeness as an asset for that particular type of mission.

No doubt part of the problem was that the leadership of our new division was very "old school" and really did not embrace that creativity Hadn’t the CS and other shared with the DC that we were well trained, disciplined and were officers to be trusted and that they could work without being hand-led?

And it was a bumpy ride. We were frustrated and disappointed. It was difficult to talk to officer friends living in beautiful quarters and having corps facilities (with actual offices!) and then look around at our “beg, borrow and steal” furniture and the tiny offices we rented to serve as a corps. We consoled each other by thinking of ourselves as missionaries doing God’s work in the wilds of Vermont and New Hampshire. Surely He would bless us in other ways.

We continued to struggle with our “autonomous” ways. We were in a small town with several social service agencies that were already being supported, therefore fundraising was difficult. There had been no real Army presence previously to speak of. As we attempted to rectify this and educate the townsfolk that “Yes, we really are a church”, we played tug of war with Army leadership. We wanted to do things “Willie Booth” style…meet people where they were and use innovative and creative ways to spread the Gospel. On the other end of the rope were leaders who seemed more concerned with whether or not I was wearing my hat on Sunday and making sure we used enough songs from the Song Book.

Little by little, life as an officer…and life in general…began to wear me down. I remember sitting in the middle of our living room not long after our move, crying, wondering what in the world I had done to deserve this. I began to have those crying spells more and more often. I began to see myself as a bookkeeper, and not the best one, at that. For me it was more a matter of despairing: seeking self esteem, and to know, what, if any, personal impact I was having relative to my defined SA role...I wondered what effect I was really having on anyone. I questioned my calling. I questioned my marriage… I questioned my life.

Although I have yet to share this with very many people outside of a very close circle of family and friends, I will tell you that my depth of despair landed me in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. A year later, I had somewhat of a relapse and found myself in an emergency room with a tube in my throat as they attempted to remove the last vestiges of the sleeping pills that I had taken.

We finally requested a transfer. We asked to be sent to an established corps to work as assistants. Our plea came too late. Our history of “bucking the system”, my mental health issues, our precarious marital situation, and my own failings and shortcomings weighed too heavily against us and we were, again, called in to speak with the DC about our future. I remember how uncomfortable I felt as this man, who had spent little time “pastoring” either of us during our three years in the division attempted…now…to talk about our troubles. He looked at me, and told me of his growing concern about me. He then asked me if there was anything I wanted to tell him. I coldly told him “no”. His “fatherly” expression seemed to change. Then he said something I will never forget: “I hear you tried to commit suicide not too long ago?! So, what was THAT about?” At that point, I gave up on the Army. A few minutes later, the Army officially gave up on me.

We were handed the “without appointment” paperwork and told we had approximately one month to leave the corps and the quarters. Part of me wondered… if we had come from an “Army family” would it have altered our fate? We were first generation Salvationists…a rare breed of individuals that seems to cause confusion among the ranks. There is almost a “we want new blood and ideas as long as we can change you to look and think like the old blood and old ideas”. Was that part of the problem? I can’t say for sure. Now, by no means am I trying to imply that I had no culpability in this process. I admit that I made many mistakes, some serious ones at that. . Some of the mistakes that I made were moral issues that I would expect any church leadership to take exception with. My ex-husband did some hurtful things to me and I retaliated; desperation or simply to weak emotionally to see other options.... Without sharing unnecessary specifics, suffice it to say I made some poor choices. However, it seemed that Army leadership left us in a “dry and barren land” without much support or guidance. When our situation became bleak we were offered a farewell instead of forgiveness, removal instead of restoration.

Shelley Myers

Former Officer
USA East

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

WHICH ROAD OUGHT I CHOOSE ? (Introduction from author's comment on; FSAOF on Facebook)

I really don't want to get into specifics about my departure, as there were a lot of mistakes made on both sides (mine as well as Army leadership). I believe what made things so difficult though, was that not only was I in the process of losing a marriage but the loss of a ministry/career. They were the parts that combined to make the whole package.

I love the Army and its mission, but admittedly have some resentment toward some of the leaders at the time of our resignation who really lacked the ability and necessary desire to provide pastoral care. Another issue was that my (ex)husband and I were sent to open a new corps in a very small town as our first appointment from training school. It was a difficult and stressful appointment and we never felt that we really got the necessary support we needed.

Now, if asked to answer the question, how leaving the Army has changed me...that is pretty complicated…

It has caused me to question the issue of "calling"...Was I really called as an officer? Was I called for a specific time? Did I walk away from my calling? Do I now have a different calling? (I'm currently in grad school studying marriage and family therapy.) My answers to those questions vary depending on when you ask. My current husband is interested in ministry and will occasionally ask me if I would like to work in church planting. Honestly, because of my Army experience, the question brings up a lot of unhappy memories and anxiety. So, am I allowing the past to undermine God’s plan and my and my husband's future ? I will need to continue to pray about that....

Shelley Myers
Former Officer
USA East

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

SHOULD I GO, OR SHOULD I STAY ??? (part two)

I did travel home on furlough the next day with a very heavy heart … six sermons as requested … my Bible … a copy of Warren Wiersbey’s book ‘On being a servant of God’ and Henri Nouwen’s book ‘Life of the Beloved’. I spent hours in the privacy of my bedroom, crying, praying, reading and almost begging God to speak into my situation to me. To show me very clearly and plainly what He wanted of me and to strengthen, equip and enable me for whatever was ahead.

I remember it being a very painful week and by the end of it I returned to my appointment in fear and trepidation. But with a very real sense of God saying to me, ‘Do nothing … stay with what you have got and I will be your God with you.’ Returning, as you no doubt sense, was the last thing on earth I wanted to do. Everything within me just wanted to hibernate … run away and be protected from all the pain. That wasn’t the way it was meant to be though … somehow or other I knew I had to carry on … and I know now, it was only in God’s strength and grace that I was able to do that.

I dreaded facing “my” people and one particular local officer. As I had read and re-read my sermons the more strongly I felt that I had said nothing wrong, and personally, in retrosight, would have changed nothing. I plucked up the courage to speak with the other two local officers who had found themselves involved in the situation and asked them to express their opinion. They affirmed and assured me I had no reason to change. I also arranged to meet with ‘the’ local officer, briefly before the band practice and told him the outcome of my contemplations. In my mind I was at least showing him I had taken his comments seriously. He was less than gracious and told me he was considering leaving the Army as he didn’t want to have to sit and listen to what I had to say.

It was the end of November when I returned and our caroling programme began the following Saturday. I recall standing in the shopping precinct feeling as if my heart was breaking. Wishing people a ‘Happy Christmas’ was something I just could not do, thinking at the time I had no idea what they were facing and maybe for them too it was not going to be a ‘Happy Christmas’ and so, less painfully I responded simply with: ‘God bless you’.

Life continued … I existed and that is all it seemed I was doing. Somehow or other God gave me the strength to carry on even if at that time it still was on automatic progress. I did the best I could to ‘carry on’ and I don’t think for one moment I did it successfully but I did what I could and gave all I could at the time. Although I was not alone, I felt very, very alone and it was as if no-one could console me no matter how supportive or caring they were.

January eventually arrived and one day out of the blue I answered the phone and it was the Divisional Commander. He said he wanted to see me in his office as soon as possible. My immediate question was: ‘Are we moving?’ He wouldn’t answer and simply said: ‘Please just come to DHQ immediately’. An hour later I was sitting in his office and listening to him inform me the Army had decided to move me and had got an appointment to move to at the change. He was so very sorry about this as he knew things were going so well in the present appointment and he knew the Corps would be disappointed. I almost balked in disbelief. He had no idea of some of the issues. How could he? I had not told him! As I drove away from DHQ it was as if an enormous burden was being lifted from my shoulders. God had told me to do nothing … trust Him and see He was in control. This helped me see again, He was!

February brought the beginning of Lent. Ash Wednesday was a beautiful, bright, bitterly cold day. I decided I needed to take some time out and go away for a few hours. I was still hurting, grieving and feeling dead inside. I went to one of the local beauty spots. As the day was sooo cold there was no-one around. Walking around the village I saw something I hadn’t seen for years; a coalman delivering coal. The sight made me smile, something that didn’t usually come naturally at that time. I could smell coal burning in people’s homes … the smell was comforting.
I walked a little further, into the village church, it was empty and I prayed for a while. As I walked out of the church I was looking at the ground, as was not unusual at that time … as I did, I saw one solitary snowdrop pushing its way through the solid ground. God said to me in that moment: ‘I will bring you through the hardness too’. I continued to walk along the side of the lake, I put my hand in and felt the ice cold of the water. Soon after I heard children laughing as they were returning home from school. On walking back through the village I decided to call into the coffee shop. I ordered a hot chocolate, it tasted wonderful. Still quiet and deep in thought I sensed God awakening my senses, almost as if He was bringing me back to life after a very long, hard, dark winter.

There was no flashing lights … no brass band … no huge demonstrative expressions … but the still small voice of calm. God’s voice … God’s presence and the realization He had been with me all the way through. This was just a beginning, the beginning of what was still a long journey … but a beginning and I felt I was coming back to life. The months that followed were still not easy … I still hurt … but I knew I had begun to turn a corner and was now moving in the right direction. I acknowledge my story ends differently to many of yours but I decided to write in response to what I read from a recent introduction to a promised article. I suppose what I want to say to the hurting writer is: ‘Hang on in there’ I don’t believe for one second any of you have resigned easily and I have read how a number of you have talked of regret and how now it is too late to reverse your decision. Someone wrote: ‘Don’t get out of the train while you are still in the tunnel’ maybe it is something we were taught as Cadets. I’m glad I stayed on the train when I could have so easily got off.

Hindsight tells me. Stay with God. Allow yourself to be vulnerable to others and let them minister to you whether friends, family, corps folk or whoever, some people are longing to reach out to you in love. Let them do so. Don’t cut yourself off. And whatever the outcome of your decision remember ‘God loves you … intimately … personally … irrevocably’ You are His child and you are honoured and precious in His sight. To anonymous who wrote considering resignation to all former officers the message is the same. May God bless you and may you experience His love holding you in the palm of His hand.

Oh, and by the way … would you believe on my farewell Sunday that certain local officer apologized and thanked me for my sincere platform ministry.

Monday, November 24, 2008

‘SHOULD I GO OR SHOULD I STAY???” (part 1)

After more than ten years of Officership in varied appointments, that I have to be honest brought more joy than pain, I found myself struggling in a way that I had never previously experienced. Yes, there had been times of struggle and a very strong feeling when we were in one particular appointment, of thinking, if this was an outside job I would be looking for a new one. But now things were worse than I had ever experienced before. We were in a place we had never been to before, in an area where we never really felt accepted by some because we were ‘foreigners’ … foreigners … that’s a joke it was only a colloquial thing, but nevertheless it was very real. And now, I was seriously considering ‘could I take any more’?

I had reached the point of thinking; ‘If I could give blood it would be the wrong type’
It seemed as if nothing was right, nothing was good enough. But if I am honest, it was only with a few, but those few had an unbelievable way of making me loose sight of the hundred or more others. I was tired, I was hurting, I was grieving the death of two very close relatives and I was living with cancer in the family. I had reached the point where I really felt I couldn’t take anymore and if I am honest, going to the Corps and leading worship on a Sunday was nothing more than working on automatic pilot. I hadn’t lost my faith but my senses and relationship with God at the time was certainly deadened. It really was a ‘dark night of the soul’ experience.

I was hurting, hurting like mad. Even to step out the house seemed to take enormous effort. To walk down the street was something I really had to push myself to do. I was frightened of smiling because it seemed to knock my muscles off balance and simply make me cry silently, painfully. I was screaming on the inside and couldn’t understand how others couldn’t hear or see it. Or if they could, why were they not doing something to help?

It got to the point where I dreaded leaving my quarters in uniform for fear strangers would approach me for assistance or worse yet, asking me to pray with them. I prayed God wouldn't place a needy soul or a person in need in front of me because I knew I had nothing to give.

Yes, my leaders knew the external painful situations that I was experiencing. I would even have called them 'friends' at the time, having worked with them in a previous appointment. They sent beautiful cards assuring me of their thoughts and prayers at the appropriate times, (the time of the deaths, the diagnosis of cancer) but they never came near, they never picked up the phone for six months, and eventually when they did visit they still didn’t ask me how I was and prayed the most innocuous prayer at the end of the visit. It was almost as if they didn’t know what to say; were frightened of asking me how I was in case I told them the truth, and then what would they do or say? And so I suffered alone and in silence.

Someone once said ‘You only discover Jesus is all you need, when Jesus is all you have got’ I had reached that point. Of course I had other things, other people, but nothing or no one quite reached or were able to give me what I needed.
I was the strong one … I was the rock … or so they thought … but at this time I was anything but and was desperate for someone to be strong for me. It didn’t happen and in hindsight ‘Jesus was all that I needed’.

One Sunday morning after having absolutely forced myself to go and lead the Holiness Meeting things came to a head... I learned that after the meeting two local officers had to literally hold another back from wanting to hit me because of something I had said in the meeting and had been saying in a series of meetings. The man who had wanted to hit me came up to me after the evening meeting and told me how he felt. He and those worshiping at the corps had been challenged by me to ‘be like Jesus’; holiness preaching. He sensed that I was speaking out of place; saying things I had no right to say, and placing responsibility at their feet and not mine.

I was due to go home for a week’s furlough the next day and he asked me to take with me my last six sermons and give serious thought to what I was trying to say to the Corps! I took his request seriously and responded as he wanted. (on reading the sermons, reflection and prayer I knew there was no reason to alter my direction or utter an apology) I went home with a very heavy heart, filled with despair and a wounded spirit. My very real questions were: 'Should I go or should I stay?' Should I ask for a change of appointment?' Who needs this aggravation and did I want it for the rest of my life?' I had poured my life, my very being into my calling, is this all I could expect in return?

Active, hurting and disillusioned
Europe

Friday, November 21, 2008

Who cares for the Carers?

Hello, FSAOF and thank you for having me in your company.

I have served for 20 years and found most of them very challenging and often extremely rewarding. However, I wonder if it's not time to hang up my uniform for good !

Last October I offered my resignation, but found that I could not go through with it. At that moment and more so today, I am struggling in a way that most of you will understand. I love the Lord with all my heart, and I do love the ethos of The SA but find the working practice often far removed from the stated ideal and our vision. Is my vision of the army's mission today out of focus, or has the mission altered with the years and is no longer in line with what I committed my life to?

My husband, also an officer of 16 years does not enjoy good health and there are days I simply pray for a little pastoral care just for me.


I will be sharing my story at some length in a few days. I just hope that what I may add may not just help others but be of help in my own personal healing process.

Anonymous
Active
(name on file)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Why We Answered Yes, Send Me (part two)

One of the many benefits of serving as a SA officer was tuition reimbursement. Both my under and post-graduate degrees were earned while I was stationed in New York. Trying to juggle a thriving corps, a homeless shelter with 19 GED students, conducting the Temple Chorus each Friday night, four teen age children at home, and cycling across Manhattan and through Central Park four times a week to Fordham University became a part of that ‘heady’ New York experience that only residents of the ‘Big Apple’ can ever know. But the thrill of ‘getting it done’ had accompanying risks no one knew much about; burnout. However, we officers could have shared much from our experience. Our common 'infection' to move people up and beyond their own narrow expectations was fueled by our compassion.

It was a period when names and concepts studied at Fordham University took form across town in the corps through my work. Jung’s theory of projection, lifting those we love to new levels of expectation and achievement played itself out daily in working with the homeless with whom we shared ‘home’. And Jung’s ‘psychic infection’ which was both contagious and insidious, for anyone working compassionately as we and our volunteers did, experienced ‘compassionate fatigue’, at the time a relatively new concept. Compassion Fatigue is the cumulative outcome of caring too much, too deeply and for too long with too little to celebrate for too long. One of my professors, Father Varga, a man of great compassion said, ‘ care long enough and hard enough without a genuine ongoing sense of accomplishment and success and you will be risking compassion burnout. I can hear a great many readers of this blog sighing, ‘yep, that was me…’ But even if warned, how many of us did’nt simply say ‘We’ll go in the strength of the Lord…?’

Rolo May, another writer (Univ of Chicago as I recall) whose books we read asserted that ‘we as caring professionals in an effort to be open and receptive . . . venture forth as far as we are able, and in so doing can cross the line and risk losing our own identity… ‘I don’t recall ever coming close to that, losing my identity, i.e., my commitment to my calling, but I recall on occasion seeing other professions to be as attractive and rewarding as my own, particularly teaching. But there was that assumption that other professionals didn’t have nearly the same expectations placed on them as we experienced.

Then there was the writing of Harvard guru B. F. Skinner and his theories on ‘hard determinism/, so easily accepted by many. To which I argued John Stott’s view on ‘soft’ determinism; a semblance of both with one’s free will being dominent.

Classes included some warning on the need for self-care and an awareness of professional vulnerability. Whether you attended school in addition to fulfilling your role fulltime in a corps, social work setting or HQ position you sensed the unremitting, intense hours and demand directly related to the furthering of the mission God placed you in; often feeling alone and without an adequate professional support system.

I recall yet another well known name from my school days and beyond, Victor Frankl; “That which is to give light must endure burning.”Don't you wish that warning had been shared, explained, and accompanied with regularly scheduled check-ups?

Compassion, where does it take us and to what end? Does the world recognize who we are and how much we care?

I grew up in Chicago, the son of officers, and enjoyed an active SA life, much of it focusing on banding. I was asked to join the Chicago Staff Band at the age of 15 and four years later moved to New York and there joined the New York Staff Band. While there I met a visiting Staff Bandman from ‘down under’, Melbourne. He shared that they would be looking for a trombone player for their next season and thus began my plans to move to Melbourne. The Army helped to arrange a job for me and I worked at an SA operated home just outside Melbourne. On a nearby property was a Catholic Convent. There was no regular contact between the two religious orders, however, both knew well of the existence of the other. One day the invitation came from the Mother Superior asking that the SA staff visit the convent to enjoy high tea.

A group traveled to the Convent and enjoyed the fellowship of several of the nuns and after some time the mother Superior joined the gathering. She shared the story of her calling to ministry.

‘I was a young lady of 22, engaged to be married and quite active in the Catholic Church. My fiance’ and I had just exited the theatre and there was a downpour keeping everyone under the marquee waiting to be picked up or hoping that an empty cab might come by. After a long wait we were finally able to hail a taxi and we rushed to the open doors as quickly as possible. We were somewhat slowed down by the figure of a lurching, very drunk woman who literally fell into the gutter in front of our feet; we quickly closed the taxi doors, but my heart told me to see if the lady was able to lift herself, and what I saw was an angel in black, huddled over the lady, straining to lift her out of the streaming water in that gutter. I wiped the condensation from the back window to see more clearly as we drew away and there I saw it, the black clad angel was wearing a bonnet and on it I could see the red band with white lettering ‘the Salvation Army’. In that instant God said; ‘that’s the compassion I want you to show.’ He said it distinctly three times. I knew in that instant that if I didn’t act on God’s words I might never. I said to my fiance’ “I know you are going to think this is awfully strange but I can’t marry you and I will tell you more about it tomorrow.” I gave him the engagement ring back and asked him to take me straight home. The following morning I went to see my priest and told him of my interest in training to be a nun, and at the earliest possible time.

I saw that Salvationist almost 35 years ago now. But every morning when I get up to say my morning prayers at 5.30 am I always end my prayers and have done so every day since that day with the words: ‘Lord give me the love, the compassion of a Salvationist’.

May that always be our common prayer...




Sven Ljungholm
Former
Soldier, Exeter Temple Corps

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Why We Answered Yes, Send Me (part one)

It is said of Jesus several times in the New Testament, “He was moved with compassion.”. The original word is a very remarkable one not found in classic Greek. The word was in fact coined by the evangelists themselves. Not finding a suitable word in the Greek language that suited their purpose they therefore had to make one that would be expressive of the deepest emotion of extreme care, compelling concern and what Spurgeon termed, innermost pity.

The word ‘compassion’ comes from two Latin words, ‘suffer’ and ‘with’. To show compassion means to suffer with someone, to enter into a person’s situation and become involved in that person’s suffering. Compassion is not a theoretical attitude, but a practical involvement. It involves doing, not simply piteous reflection. ‘A compassionate response to suffering requires that one be moved by the suffering of the other, act to remove the immediate effects of the suffering, and respond at length to correct the structures which may have given rise to the suffering itself.’ (New Dictionary of Christian Ethics, ed. D. J. Atkinson & D. F. Field [Downers Grove, Illinois, InterVarsity Press], p. 244).

There are two aspects of compassion. We could call them the heart and the hands of compassion. (Heart to God and Hand to Man) ‘Compassion means both the emotion experienced when a person is moved by the suffering of others, and the act of entering into the suffering of another person with the purpose of relieving it.’ (New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology, p.244). The first aspect, the emotion of compassion, expresses a desire to relieve a person’s suffering. But compassion is more than a desire. Emotion must lead to action. Compassion is an act of will - a decision to become actively involved in alleviating that person’s suffering. It’s that sense of emotional turmoil and agitation we have all felt; times when we, like Jesus, wept due the sorrow we gazed upon.

While stationed in Manhattan we often had occassion to visit the neighbouring state to the west, New Jersey. Our return was almost always in the evening. The entry back to Manhattant that was most convenient in returning to our Quarters on the Corps builiding was the Mid-town tunnel under the Hudson River. The approach to the tunnel was from a high hill where the road winds 360 degrees on the descent affording a spectatcular view of the island of Manhattan. It became a common occurance for me to have my focus blinded by tears as my mind went to the teeming, suffering masses "huddled, yearning to be free, on that crowded but for many, lonely island; more than 60 thousand homeless, seemingly hopeless, hurting, children of God. My mind always went to Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.

In my on campus MBA ethics courses I used a very simple analogy to differentiate between empathy and sympathy; entering into the experience of another person. You find yourself on a cruise ship on a balmy moonlit evening somewhere in the Caribbean and as you stroll the deck you spot a young lady behind the railing ready to make that final leap. You approach her and after sharing a few words learn that she feels she has no reason to live any longer. After hearing her list of travails the sympathizer says: 'I feel very sorry for you and your situation, I really think you should reconsider, there must be some reason you want to live.' The empathetic person would carefully crawl across the railing, and say: 'My heart goes out to you, please let me hold your hand; I'll jump with you on the count of three! One ... two ... three ... and in only a matter of seconds you have entered into the suffering of another; been moved to compassion for another.

Jesus’ whole life demonstrated compassion. The Gospel narratives show that he left his parental home in Nazareth to become an itinerant preacher to those he described as ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 10:6). Forsaking the comforts of home, having ‘nowhere to lay his head’ (Matthew 8:20), He became known as the ‘friend of publicans and sinners’ (Matthew 11:19). As He traveled throughout the towns and villages of Galilee, ‘He had compassion’ for the crowds of people who flocked to Him, ‘because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd’ (Matthew 9:36). His heart went out to them.

This morning at the corps a young Indian homeless man approached me during our feeding program. He had a list of questions all concerning the similarity in our two Gods (Hinduism vs Christianity). This concept or the idea that the differences don't matter is one many Christians seem eager to embrace; diffusing the differences. Ours is a loving God with a compelling message many dismiss, those leaning to embrace Eastern teaching. He asked again and again if we “aren’t all headed to meet the same God?” I was able to share that where we differ is illustrated in the remark of a Hindu convert to Christianity, Professor Purushotman Krishna, that Jesus ‘must have been indeed the most approachable man of all time.’ (Quoted E. M. Blaiklock, Who Was Jesus? [Chicago, Moody Press.) As we spoke the man’s brow furrowed and he looked at the immense corps insignia painted on the wall, and in the middle, the empty cross. I broke into his thoughts and shared ‘my God is a bit different than yours because He sent His Son to die for you and me – that was His primary purpose’ Although the word compassion is not used many times, even by the evangelists, we may easily use it to define the Savior's whole life and purpose.

We too were moved with compassion; our whole nature agitated and the only answer to finding peace was to commiserate and step into the suffering Jesus placed before us... We became His present day Evangelists moved by compassion and sought to spread His love to a suffering world, ordained by God, as officers of The Salvation Army. It doesn't matter today when or under what circumstances we resigned our commissions. What matters is do you, do I, still have a burning desire to seek the lost, to bring them to the Prince of caring and compassion.

'EXCEPT I BE MOVED WITH COMPASSION,
HOW DWELLETH THY SPIRIT IN ME.
IN WORD AND IN DEED
BURNING LOVE IS MY NEED
I KNOW I CAN FIND THIS IN THEE' SASB 527

General Albert Orsborn

Sven Ljungholm PhD
Exeter, UK
(part one)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I WONDER, IF ONLY... (part two)

As an aside, I remember several of us Cadets saying how misguided it was to invite people to offer as Missionaries, because even then (1979) the opportunities were very limited. I now see that we were the misguided ones, and God’s purpose was in it all, as I reflect on the years of Missionary service given not only by this particular couple, but also by many others of our Session, and still continuing today.

I too, as a single girl, received a call to a specific Mission field that my husband (then fiancée) didn’t share. Our friends continued to serve God as Officers, and eventually the wife also received that ‘mission field’ call, and they were able to live it out. Like me, our friends’ call was to a place where the Army wasn’t currently working, but the opportunity opened up for them in God’s good time, a short while later. For me, it wasn’t important while we were still Officers, and even didn’t matter so much while we were working in Caring professions. However, I now work in an Office, and our health, personal circumstances, etc. are such that I really don’t have the time to do much within the Corps – certainly nothing specific, and at the back of my mind is often the thought that if I had been true to my OWN PERSONAL calling over 30 years ago, I would probably still be serving God as an Officer, to which he called me, now. And yes, I do know about single spouse Officership, but that genuinely is not possible for me/us. I also wonder now, whether, if I were in his widow’s position, I might find myself wishing I hadn’t responded to the call to the Mission field, because then they might both be still serving together ,somewhere comparatively safe & comfortable.

A recent thought after a Bible Reading in our Daily Reading Book said that you invite present defeat if you brood over past failures. So I bargained with God that if there was an Appeal in Sunday’s Meeting that was specific to me and my situation, I would respond. A thought for those of us who lead Meetings, whether active or not: - we often don’t seem to have Appeals now, and sometimes someone needs to respond, but will not have the opportunity if we don’t give out an Appeal – sometimes, perhaps more often than we assume somebody is just waiting for the invitation. That frame of mind can soon pass – next week they might not feel like it, and the moment and opportunity may be gone forever.

Anyway, it was a different kind of Meeting. There were four prayer stations, at one of which we were invited to write down something in our life which is displeasing to God, and of which we feel ashamed, then tear it up and throw it in a bin which was provided. The point was that God forgets about it – we’ve thrown it away - and He forgives. So now I need to leave it in the bin, and not take it out again.

At lunchtime, I was looking at the German SA Website. The front page is currently a changing kaleidoscope of photos of the recent German Congress/Commissioning. The one on the screen at that moment was the verse ( in German, as displayed for the Congregation to sing at their Congress) “for no matter what you do, His Love still follows you.” So it’s another message from the Lord, telling me to leave that burden behind, and move on, and - in a link to something else which has come often to me recently – do the good “little things” and not do any bad things, to all “the least of these” with whom I live and work daily, seeing Christ in them, and remembering that what I do, or don’t do, for/to them, I do – or don’t do – for/to Christ.

So every time I’ve tried to bury these thoughts again, instead of addressing them, God’s given me a nudge and MADE me hear what He wants to say to me. I felt that I should share them with all of you.

God bless you all.

Former
UKT

I WONDER, IF ONLY... (part one)

Have you ever experienced how, when you think the last word’s been said on something, God has more to say, and to do for you? Sven wrote in one of his articles how, for Formers, regrets are bound to re-surface from time to time, for some more than others, and I’m one of the “some!”

I was thinking about this, among other things, when we went to Congress in Birmingham recently. We met or saw some fourteen or so of our Session, and spoke to quite a few of them, which was lovely. We haven’t been gathered so many of us in one place since our 25 year Reunion a few years ago.

Congress itself was a time of great blessing too. One part of the Appeal on Sunday morning was “Who are those hurting people ……” with reference to things of our past. Although I’ve many times preached on not caring what other people think, I don’t want to be known as the one who always goes to the Mercy Seat at Congress, and we all know that if you wait long enough, the Appeal moves on to more general things, or things that don’t apply to you. Also, at Congress, well-meaning people have a habit of following you if you go to the Mercy Seat, never thinking that you might just want/need to be on your own. Have you ever noticed too how an Officer always rushes to you at the Mercy Seat at Congress, and wants to know your name, and you can’t be anonymous because they can read the Corps name tags on your epaulettes?

This weekend, I received the book “They Gave Their Lives”, recently published by IHQ. One of our Session features in there, as having been killed on the mission field because he stood up for what was right. I was interested to see that, as Cadets, he initially heard the Call of God to Missionary Service, but his wife –(girlfriend at that time) initially didn’t. Like me, he didn’t share that Calling with his “partner”, because he didn’t want to act on a calling which she didn’t share – again, a parallel to my own situation. We knew them all these years, and I remember that Meeting where the call was given for Missionary service, and I never knew that. How well do we REALLY KNOW each other – our relative, friends, workmates, I wonder?

(part one)
Former
UKT

Monday, November 10, 2008

YES I MISS WEARING MY SA UNIFORM (part 5)

After many years of feeling less than a part of the Army, realizing they wanted us out, we gave them what they wanted and on April 30th of this year we resigned our officership. I had served faithfully for 32 years and Randy for 25. Our love for God and subsequently the work we were given to do in the Army was so precious to us. Our children knew nothing else and are divided in what they feel they should do. One son continues to work as the Youth Pastor in our home corps, but not without difficulty.

Now, as we have removed ourselves from the situation and the Army we look back through much clearer glasses and see so much. I believe the number one problem in the Army is politics, and ‘politics as usual’. We keep thinking someone new will come along and at least attempt to fix the areas that concern us but it never seems happens. Second, the love of money is becoming rampant in the Army in the USA. Buildings are still getting bigger, budgets are still getting bigger, homes (quarters) are getting fancier and are in areas other than where we serve, and fewer and fewer people are getting saved. Fewer people are attending our Sunday meetings and activities. We were ridiculed by our leaders because we actually had a real Salvation Meeting active in our corps. We were averaging 93 people on Sunday evenings and weekly, people were getting saved, with only the Corps Sergant Major standing alongside us to help. We had taken our after-school program to an area where the children were not given any educational support whatsoever. We were fortunate enough to have the offer of a common room given to us to hold this program, at no charge, and on Fridays we held SonDay’s Cool there. What an impact that was having on that little community ! The United Way would not fund it as it wasn’t in the Army building and now the plan is to take it out of the school and bring it back to the corps’ building at the cost of those families, for money. It’s all about money. It’s all about MORE money.

I’m no longer angry, I’m no longer hurting or reeling as I was a year ago. I do feel sad at times because were not able to make the changes we felt we should. We followed our hearts, our souls and our consciences only to be hurt over and over by the leadership of the Army.

Randy is now a associate professor at a university here in our home town.
Ironically, he teaches Organizational Leadership, Faith and World Views and Human Resources. He has the respect of his leaders, his students and fellow faculty members. I am a stay-at-home mom for the time being, caring for our two adopted children, Donnie who is four and Torrie who is three. We have found a wonderful church home where we have become active in Bible studies and the children in their activities as well.

I would not be telling the truth if I said I don’t miss the Army. I miss the mission, my homeless people, the children we worked with, and my friends, but I do not miss any of the politics, the unhappy colleagues, the people who can’t find any satisfaction unless they are making someone else unhappy and the leadership who feel they have to be controlling and looking down at those who they say they are supporting and serving.

We are content to be in His service in a new place. We are pleased that He has seen fit to equip us for new work and gives us opportunities to do just that.


Former Officer
(name and contact information supplied on request)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

YES, I MISS WEARING MY SA OFFICER UNIFORM (part four)

Soon after, the Divisional Commander retired and the new one arrived; he asked to see us right away. We had hopes he had news for us but weren’t sure it would be by that time. It was not. We were told we could not adopt Donovan and not to give any thought to going forward with papers for Victoria. We asked what that meant and were told we would not receive salary compensation for them nor would they be insured medically; no benefits for the children whatsoever. The state took this in stride for Donovan and offered us a stipend and medical coverage which we took and continued the adoption process. (The mother was deemed unfit because of low mental capacity and homelessness) The process continued and we adopted Donovan.

By this time we were asked to adopt Victoria and we agreed since she had been in our home and with her brother for over a year. We knew not to ask the Army for permission as it wouldn’t be granted but we let them know she was with us. The law had changed during the year between the two and we would not be given medical coverage for Victoria. This was an issue that had to be addressed.

During this time, we were struggling with our appointment because of insubordinate staff and non supportive divisional staff. Calls were made by our corps' employees to DHQ constantly and rather than extending the courtesy of that information being given to us, we were not made aware of it until much later. The D.C. and G.S. actually appeared at a meeting with The United Way without our knowledge. It was almost as though Satan was having an unbelievable hay day at our expense and we just couldn’t find enough air to breathe. We look back and see God, in fact, calling us out of The Salvation Army. It took some very dark days to make us see clearly what He was saying to us.

For a number of years we were feeling as though we were not fitting into the mold of Salvation Army officers. The more Randy studied about leadership, the more we realized how crippled the leadership of the Army is at some levels and that the mission that we loved so much was disappearing to be replaced by money. We have always followed closely the mission statement of the Army. We were being told to put that aside for the sake of more money. Our principles were being challenged on many levels. When we were told we had to lie in a letter of recommendation regarding one of the employees who had quit our employ, and then to write a letter of apology to the same employee because she left unhappy; we simply could not do it. DHQ had finally crossed the line we had placed in the sand and we couldn’t follow leadership to the point of falsehoods.

name available on request

Friday, November 7, 2008

YES, I MISS WEARING MY SA OFFICER UNIFORM (part three)

In every appointment we came up against roadblocks from our leaders. We couldn’t understand it but still felt a call to ministry so we continued to do the best we knew how. Our last appointment was right back from where we began, our home corps. We had come full circle. We loved this corps, it was home to us in so many ways, and we looked forward to the challenge.

We arrived to find a lot of confusion, a lot of ministry opportunities and people everywhere. One young woman was in the office day after day and finally I had a minute to stop and ask her when her baby was due to be born as she was obviously pregnant. She said to me, “In August. Do you want him?” I, being the mother of five, and loving children as I did said, “Sure, I love kids” and went back to my office.

I encountered her again about a month later and she asked me if I would go to the hospital with her when the baby was born and again I said I would. I arrived at the hospital just in time for them to gown me and whisk me off to a delivery room…a C-section…where I was to be her coach. I barely knew her name but talked with her during the entire process.
When the baby was born, they wheeled him over to me. I thought that was a little peculiar but I talked to him and they asked me to keep him awake and I did, etc. After everything was stable and things seemed to be in place, I left the hospital.

Two days later, I received a frantic phone call telling me to come to the hospital right away because the authorities were taking the baby away. I went immediately and was greeted by a social worker who explained the circumstances and told me she knew this young woman wanted me to take her son and she would have someone call me on Monday. I knew I was in trouble and had to talk to Randy as soon as possible. I had no idea she was serious.

Three weeks later, paper work finished, fingerprints approved, and much prayer on our part, we brought into our home a foster baby. We had contacted our headquarters to let them know what was going on and they sent us paperwork to complete which we did immediately and returned to our Divisional Commander with our letter of intent. We heard nothing in return. Months went by and we would ask and get the same answer back…’we’re waiting to hear’. During this time there were two occasions when this same divisional leader called me on the phone and literally raised his voice at me for 15 minutes about some insignificant problem. The first time, I was alone and no one witnessed it and it was pushed off as my being a little sensitive. The second time, my husband heard the whole thing and was appalled. This was the kind of leadership we were working under.

I worked with the mother of our foster son, on a weekly basis. She came to my office to visit him and I would try to teach her parenting skills. The court had given her a list of other things she had to do before she could get him back. Meanwhile, she started another relationship and got pregnant again. Because the law is written that if you lose a child for whatever reason to the court, subsequent children are taken as well. We were asked immediately if we would take the second child. We were involved in the classes necessary to be foster parents and working hard in our corps, taking care of our handicapped son, a teenager and a baby. Our plates were quite full and we said no.

Eventually the baby was born and we were asked again because the judge wanted the children together and if we said no, he would probably take our adopted son as well. We decided to go ahead and bring home a baby girl who was born 13 months after her brother. We did not contact DHQ immediately because we still hadn’t heard one word from them about the first case. We later learned that the Divisional Commander was angry with us so he had never sent the paper work on to THQ and they refused to approved the adoption because they never got the paperwork and we were not permitted to appeal.

(part three)
name will be shared on request

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

YES, I MISS WEARING MY SA OFFICER UNIFORM (part two)

Randy felt called to the ministry from the time he was very young and so we worked to that end. He worked as a laborer for a year and during that time applied for Training. We were turned down because of my weight, even though one year before I had been an active officer and weighed the same. We had our first child and Randy went to work as the Program Director at the corps. I worked on my weight and he worked with my Dad, to prepare for the ministry of the Army. (Strangely, my father came back to his home corps, where we lived, as the Corps Officer) The following year we were accepted for training and off we went. I was labeled as a “Spouse” and worked in the office of the Assistant Principal during Randy’s training. When I was needed, mostly for my ability to play the piano, I was permitted to be among the Cadets. The rest of the time, I was just a ‘Spouse’ sitting outside the goings on of cadetship.

We were commissioned to a small corps in a heavily populated state and our quarters was a one bedroom apartment, even though we had a four year old and I was pregnant with a second child. We made the best of the situation and moved things around and made do. Although we were in a very difficult situation, we did the best we could and gave all we had to that appointment. It showed in our attendances and in the response of the community through their giving and support.

Our second appointment provided more responsibility and the General Secretary said to us, “I’ll be watching you”. And, on occasion, would drop in for Sunday services to remind us of that fact. To this day, we are not sure what he was watching for. During our time in this appointment we had another child who was born with severe handicaps. We felt very much alone during this time, even though our appointment was minutes from Divisional Headquarters. We asked for help; our son was born on November 11 and we were ready to start our Christmas campaign just a few days later. No offer of help was promised and no help provided, not even the offer to do a Sunday service for us. We struggled through this traumatic time with the eventual support of one officer who would come periodically to pray with us, and another who would help us with our children when we were in crisis.

When the new Divisional Commander took charge, the new leadership made it clear that we were expected to do everything we were told to do, no matter what our circumstance. He was very hard on Randy because of a strained finance position due to the very difficult Christmas season we had struggled through, and he sat us down in his office and told us straight out…”Don’t expect the Army to ‘carry’ Justin forever”. We are not sure of all that he meant but we did not waiver, but continued on. Over 30 surgeries, two years total in the hospital, and many months of rehabilitation later, when Justin was one month short of his 18th birthday, they finally decided to give him medical insurance through The Salvation Army. We had to beg, to borrow and beg some more from the state, the federal government and private organizations, for Justin’s care. We learned that the Colonel knew what he was talking about when he said the Army wouldn’t ‘carry’ us.

During our officership there were many circumstances that made us feel as though they wanted us out. Randy is a scholar who didn’t realize it until after his days in the training school. He started to attend classes to work toward his bachelor’s degree and fell in love with learning. He studied hard, worked hard, fathered our 5 sons with great care and teaching and was a wonderful and caring husband. The Salvation Army only saw him as a rebel. Although our corps grew steadily under our leadership, along with the many accompanying responsibilities, we were “never chosen for leadership in the Army”. I’m still not sure what they think corps officers are if we are not considered leaders. Randy continued his education through his Master’s Degree and then proposed a doctoral study to the Army and they quickly turned him down. He felt this was a strong personal goal and so we took out the educational loans and during his furlough time he attended classes and worked through to his completion of his degree. He is currently writing his PhD dissertation.


(part two)
name will be shared on request

Monday, November 3, 2008

YES, I MISS WEARING MY SA OFFICER UNIFORM ! (part one)

It is very difficult for me to begin this article because of the reason for writing it. I am a former Salvation Army officer, an organization I had been a part of for all but 6 years of my life and 32 as an officer. They let me and my husband Randy down, without any recourse.

I was born into a religious family, my father was a Wesleyan Methodist pastor and evangelist. Raised in my early years in that heritage has helped to develop who I am as a Christian. Although I was very young when we left that church, my parents and siblings did not change their core beliefs and so influenced my life. Through my father’s work as an evangelist, he came in contact with The Salvation Army and was curiously interested in the unique ministry. After visiting a service in he and my mother decided we should give thought to returning to ministry and in their home town. They were hooked and it was a short time before we moved to there and became thoroughly embroiled in the corps ministry.

Soon after, the Army leadership began to woo my parents to become officers. They were given the option to not attend the training school since Dad was 39 years of age and there were seven children. He eventually became the first Auxiliary Captain in The United States and finally was commissioned as a full officer 10 years later. His love for the Army was deep and it all revolved around the basic mission and how that could play out in the work of the Army in the community. He was a solid officer and a wonderful preacher of the Word.

Dad was promoted to glory 26 days after I resigned my officership, with his blessing. His disappointment was obvious, as he lay in his bed in the nursing home, when my husband and I told him our plans. The disappointment was not in us but in the Army, an Army to which he had given his life.

I was commissioned in 1976, the same year my mother was promoted to glory. From the very beginning it seemed, things were never settled for me. I had been given permission by my divisional commander to remain at home with my father for two weeks following the funeral. My corps officer/supervisors called me irate because I wasn’t at the corps to help decorate for a Halloween party and told me if I didn’t return the next day, they would have me moved. Unrealistically, I returned with very deep feelings of disappointment, discontent and definite disconnect from them and the appointment. I was moved that January anyway and realized for the first time how vindictive and hurtful people could be and how the politics were so prominent in The Salvation Army.

When I met my husband in my fourth appointment, I was again put in a place where the politics were able to have me moved, they thought, away from Randy and any further relationship. We were married four months later, the same day as my resignation.

(part one)
name will be shared on request