Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Boundless Moments

The moment I learned of The Salvation Army’s  2015 Boundless Congress event, my heart rate accelerated. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of our founding with Salvationists from around the world in the land of the Army’s birth, seemed to me to be the ultimate “birthday party.” The fact that it would be held in London also appealed to me on a personal level. My father was born in Wales. I love the UK. I have family in England and Wales. I could combine an inspiring Salvation Army event with a Welsh family reunion – the best of both worlds! I was sold!

Since my delegate confirmation was received nearly a year in advance of the gathering, I had a good deal of time to ponder the possibilities I might encounter during the Congress. I looked forward with great eagerness to Salvation Army music in the form of bands, congregational singing, and groups expressing praise in various cultural settings. I was sure there would be stirring messages from God’s word, and I was hopeful that I would hear personal stories from Salvationists involved in some of the myriad ministries scattered across the globe.

My mind’s eye envisioned the many forms which Salvation Army “uniforms” would take – often anything but “uniform” – as African, Indian, Asian, South American, and other international comrades use customs and colors of their countries to identify themselves as part of this movement. I was also anxious to have shopkeepers, transportation providers, hotel staffers, and people on the street notice 18,000 to 20,000 of us somewhat oddly attired folk, and inquire, “What’s happening here this week?” It would be a marvelous opportunity to share our faith!

International Headquarters provided a Bible reading plan for the year, and encouraged Salvationists around the world to read the Bible as one.
And, to pray as one for the Congress and for those organizing the massive undertaking. As I prayed, I also asked God to help me examine my own life, my own commitment, and to reveal to us His vision for our future. I spent time remembering my past ministry experiences, and searching my heart and mind for ways in which I could be effective in the future.

So it was with both exhilaration and serious intent, I journeyed overnight on my transatlantic flight to London’s Heathrow Airport where SA Boundless Congress representatives met me, along with thousands of others.

The following day I arrived at the O2 arena for the opening day ceremonies. God did not disappoint! For five days, the Boundless Spirit of God hovered over London, speaking, healing, challenging, calling, refining, empowering. There was color everywhere! Colorful skin, Salvation Army wear of every description, colorful languages and dialects. There was music from every genre, dance from myriad cultures, visual and audio displays of such beauty that it was hard for the senses to take it all in.

Barriers came down as we learned more about each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. From New Zealand hakas to Hawaiian holy hulas to Japanese fan dances to classical ballet, God was praised.

God’s Word was probed and expounded. Seminars were offered on a host of topics to broaden our thinking and expand our view of methods and ministries. Our heritage was recounted.
We embraced the past as we in turn braced ourselves for the changes that this troubled world will surely bring.

There were several moments that moved me to the core of my being. A prayer technique was employed which involved one voice beginning to pray aloud, joined by another voice in another language, and then another voice in yet a different language, and so on, until a Boundless concert of prayer in many languages filled the auditorium. My mind exploded with the realization that God hears this incredible serenade moment by moment, day by day, as He receives our adoration and petitions. My prayer life was changed forever. Now, each time I breathe, “Dear Father…,” I see myself as a participant in this great omnipresent orchestra of creation before the Throne of grace. How humbling. How magnificent!

Another such moment occurred as I viewed “The Covenant,” a musical production by the Larsson brothers, which culled together stories of individual Salvationists over the years who have persevered in the face of great danger or hardship, or who have quietly performed servant ministries, or who have steadfastly believed that one person can indeed make a difference in the fabric of life.
As each vignette passed before our eyes, I sensed the Lord saying to me, “Remember this truth: You matter to the Almighty!” He had given me that powerful message many years ago, challenging me to reach out to those lost in despair with those words. He reminded me in London that there are Boundless opportunities for me – one person – to reach my neighbor – one person – in their current circumstance – one situation – with a Boundless truth. We matter! We truly matter to the Almighty!

Were there those on the streets and in places of business who inquired as to the purpose of our ubiquitous presence? Indeed! I heard again and again of friends who were able to share our Savior’s message of love and forgiveness with someone they met along the way. I had conversations with a cab driver, a stranger on the bus, the front desk clerk at my hotel, a waitress in the little diner near the park. William and Catherine would have been blessed to know that we, a host of Salvationists from more than a hundred countries, were not encapsulated in the great dome of the 02 Arena. We were spokesmen and women for Jesus as we threaded our way across the city, just as we had vowed to be when we signed our Articles of War/Soldiers Covenants at the beginning of our individual spiritual journeys.

Near the end of the final service on Sunday morning, the lights were dimmed for a time of prayer and reflection. Suddenly, bracelets we had been given, connected by a computer, began to glow in changing colors, spreading pinpoints of light across the vast arena. One light mattered to the Almighty, dispelling the darkness in each seat. 15,000 lights, all empowered by one source, just as we are empowered by One Source! It was an unforgettable panorama.

And then The Salvation Army stood as one to sing our Founder’s Song:
O boundless salvation, deep ocean of love,
O fullness of mercy Christ brought from above,
The whole world redeeming, so rich and so free,
Now flowing for all men, come roll over me!

The sound of those thousands of voices, many singing in their native language, accompanied by the magnificent brass band still echoes in my memory. A remarkable “birthday party” it surely was. But more importantly, as I had prayed along with so many others for the past year, it was a time of spiritual renewal, a time of rededication, a time of inspiration. As I expressed to friends back in America through our internet connection that day, 

“Oh, I love my Lord! And oh, I do love my Army!”  Yes, I’m sold!

Major Ruth Bartholomew, Retired
Wilmington, Delaware, USA

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was a 'virtual' delegate for the Boundless Congress, and I found it thrilling, uplifting, challenging, and motivating, too. So, it is with great excitement and anticipation that I have read your moving account. I know that the congress has renewed faith and determination to the many of us that are "Saved to Serve". May God continue to richly bless you & your ministry.

Elizabeth Hogan Hayduk
Former Officer,