Thursday, August 31, 2017

Stop Returning Christians to Certain Persecution!

 “Just how many true believers do we send back home to face persecution and death because our authorities believe they are not genuine in their new found faith?” asks Hanna Smedjegård.
         "Holy Spirit, it's time to help me." Those were his words before we went into the courtroom together. Two rejections and only one chance left in the struggle for a residence permit in Sweden was the reality facing the young Afghan, a former Muslim who had become Christian one year earlier. A true Christian. And that’s where I differ from the Migration Board and the Court.
         This young Afghan man's life made an ominous turn when he received the final rejection in his quest for a residence permit a few weeks ago. Rejection - despite his asylum arguments. He, Helal, has converted from a Muslim faith to a Christian faith and has the right to obtain a residence permit (to reside in Sweden). Despite this, he received a negative response. And we, who are his pastoral leaders in The Salvation Army in Borlänge, are trapped.
         Helal became a Christian a year ago in the corps (church) of which I am a leader. Over the course of the year, he deepened his knowledge of the Christian faith, relied on God when storms surrounded him, had been a model of commitment and service, helped in worship, translated worship songs, was baptized, and become a member and conducted prayer sessions.
         At the same time, there has been a period of anxiety, fear and great emotional pain - going through an asylum process is a terrible strain for a young person. But he has kept the courage and hopes alive; He has met Jesus in his new faith, the God of hope! And we have seen the transformation in his life.
         But Swedish authorities do not believe that his religious conversion is genuine. What they base that view on is difficult to understand. To judge faith is difficult, how do you know if someone’s belief is real?
         I do not want to appoint myself as an expert in the field, but I am a trained officer (minister) in the Salvation Army and my work is to convey faith to other people so that God can become a reality in their lives, just as God is a reality in my life.
         Together with my colleague in the congregation I serve, and a number of members, we have tried to convey our view of Helal's conversion in every way possible. But admit that we throw up our hands in despair.
         As officers and leaders in the Church, we wonder at the lack of confidence in our knowledge to judge authenticity in faith - and wonder what other authority in the society that Swedish authorities prefer to trust.
         In Helal's case, and there are countless stories about others in the same situation, the congregation and leaders of which he is a member has submitted documents that strengthen his membership. Photographs and a dossier have been submitted to the Swedish Migration Board. Declarations and signatures have been submitted from fifty church members who describe and certify the authenticity of his faith and confirm his active participation in the life of the  church community.
         And at the last court hearing, we were five people from the corps present in the courtroom - all to publicly witness that we are convinced that Helal's conversion is genuine and real.
         Helal himself has confessed his faith in Jesus in our congregation, in worship, in town, at a large Christian conference, and he chose to be baptized (which was filmed). He chose to become a member of our congregation and he has studied the Christian faith in our denomination with us, but also with other Afghans in their own language
         He has submitted a written account of his spiritual journey to God and he has told people in his presence, both in Sweden and in Afghanistan, that he is now a Christian. Helal has thus assumed his new life as a Christian with great devotion and dedication and he has done everything possible to present this to the Swedish authorities.
         And the question echoes: How many true believers do we send back to face persecution and death because our authorities believe they are not genuine in their newly found faith?
         In the long run, the church needs to be informed of what the Swedish authorities require as proof of a convert, which, in their conversion, has a cause for asylum and therefore a right to a residence permit in Sweden.
         We understand that trust in us as a professional group and our ability to assess the authenticity of people's faith is not particularly great. This makes us ask the question: Who does Swedish authorities consider to be better suited to making that assessment than we?
         There is a voice in me that screams that now, it’s enough! How do you, the relevant authorities, want us, Church leaders, to help people who actually convert into Christianity to prove that faith is genuine and authentic?
What can we do to ensure that the next convert that we encounter does not meet the same fate as our beloved Helal?

Hanna Smedjegård, Commanding officer of The Salvation Army, in Borlänge Sweden


Tuesday, August 22, 2017


Look for intelligence and judgement, and most critically,
a capacity to anticipate, to see around corners.
Also look for loyalty, integrity, a high energy drive,
a balanced ego and the drive to get things done. [1]
Visceral Reaction

The very best leaders seem to have a natural intuition when it comes to envisioning and handling difficult situations or deciding which direction to steer a company. Often, they have learned to listen to their inner feelings and just trust themselves during those critical periods that a new roadmap needs to be created for the company.

  The Salvation Army remains a frontier movement, even though a century ago that frontier was restricted to a Whitechapel side­walk and, at its widest, extended no farther than the boundaries of that Paradise Lost, the East End of London.
At that time William Booth could hardly have dreamed that a day would come when his soldiers—and these laymen and women account for nine-tenths of the Army's strength—would be drawn from all levels of society and be as much an accepted part of the social scene in the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea as in the suburbs of Toronto.
         In those pioneer days the frontier was plainly defined. A flap­ping sole or a greasy shawl were obvious signs that the foe was around. The unkempt children in the sleazy streets were tokens of his handiwork.
         This fact greatly aided the early day Salvationist. He did not need to be told who was responsible for the individual and col­lective misery which confronted him.    None but an enemy could have sown such ferocious tares.
         Nowadays the frontier is less clearly defined. For more miles than arc conducive to the Christian soldier's peace of mind there seem to be no boundary posts at all. But instead of wasting his time deploring the current situation, the Salvationist today makes his front line where he is. Thus the new frontier may run through a Clydeside shipyard, or by Leicbhardt River at Mount Isa, or through Transport House or Times Square, along the Pasir Panjang goad in Singapore or across the University quad in Auckland. In this holy war the twentieth century Salvation­ist knows that the best means of defence is attack, so he is ever on the Christian offensive without being offensive. General Frederick Coutts

General Eva Burrows declared, "We need an agenda for the future, to make us aware of what we stand for, to direct our thoughts as to where we are heading, to set out our priorities and the issues we really feel strongly about, and to be a means by which we can evaluate our efforts."
         The agenda embraced the following declarations: To emphasize the supremacy of evangelism in fulfillment of the Lord's great commission—"Go therefore and make all nations my disciples".


[1] General Gordon Powell’s rules for selecting leaders

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

RETURN TO BATTLE VolumeTwo Intro 1

1918  Petrograd, Russia
         The circumstances were insufferable. Officials in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) reported that there were up to 980 cholera cases daily, to which were added small pox, typhoid fever, and typhus. Hundreds of people died of starvation. The deaths were so numerous that we had to abstain from conducting all funeral ceremonies. Our Salvation Army children’s home staff are having to wait at the church graveyard from early morning to late at night in order to bury a child who died.
         Horses that starved to death would remain on streets for up to ten days before they were transported away. During that period starving dogs would tear large chunks from the carcasses. Many of Petrograd’s poor and homeless competed with animals for the not yet putrid meat of the horses lying emaciated and dead on the city streets. Petrograd was experiencing its worst food shortage in two hundred years.
We’d just buried the Army’s first martyr, Captain Emma Olsson, a member of the Swedish SA pioneer party who was Promoted to Glory, suffering with cholera.[1]
         Karl Larsson, in his book, Ten Years in Russia, said:
1918 was in every respect a dark year for our work. Despite all our hopes, all our strivings, after triumphant faith, in spite even of our occasional successes, it was becoming clear that the tide was on the ebb.” 

         Petrograd is a city of striking contrasts. It's the political, economic and cultural capital modeling itself along Parisian lines. It rivals our own Swedish capital's beauty with many well-heeled sophisticates and bon vivant labeling both Stockholm and Petrograd ‘the Venice of the north'. A major and noteworthy difference is that Petrograd, in less than twelve months, has become the symbol of Tsarist excess power and popular revolution.
         Along the avenues and canals of the city center stand palaces and grand manor houses. But less than a mile away, across the Neva River is a city in contrast. Among the bleak tenements and teeming factories live thousands of people in appalling ignorance and squalor, the focus in large part of our Salvation Army mission.
         Lt. Elsa Olsoni describes the house in which the Army settled as an elegant four-story Petrograd mansion at the aristocratic end of Bolshoi Prospekt on Vasilevsky Island owned by the Tschertkoffs who added tenants in the spring including The Salvation Army War College and the Army’s Number Seven Corps. The mansion offered a spacious hall, broad staircase decorated with busts, urns and mirrors, a secluded courtyard and garden. The War College occupied the first and the third floors.
Of the eighteen cadets being trained at the War College in Petrograd several were steeped in Russian culture and possessed native Russian language skills having been born or brought up in Russia. Russia’s first and only War College session lasted only four months.
         The Petrograd number Seven Corps utilized the parquet-floored salon for its religious meetings.
       But, the grandeur of the house belied
reality. The overwhelming dissimilarity in living conditions was evident the moment the Salvationists departed their residence and entered their mission field.
The occupants were not from an aristocratic lineage, although they were in the service of a King. Their bill of fare wasn’t delivered from Petrograd’s finest delicatessen or confectionary, although on occasion the fare brought jubilation. A triumph was achieved when Staff Captain Hacklin was able to acquire some five-kilo packs of horse-meat which when added to the pickled cabbage, a daily menu item, made for a feast.
                  “The summer of 1918 will never be forgotten by our officers. The food situation was miserable. For weeks on end the cadets had to exist on cabbage morning, lunch and dinner. Almost no bread. One didn’t dare dream of things like flour, butter or sugar. Our main meal consisted of soup cooked on dried vegetables.” Sometimes the soup was supplemented by fresh bread gifted by the official Swedish delegation to Russia. Visits there would always include an invitation to join them for ‘fika,’ coffee and cinnamon rolls.
Regular visits were made to the station to travel with or to negotiate purchases on our behalf by the ‘food traders.’
         They travelled by 4th class train into the countryside each night to bargain with the farmers and others trading on the black market. Vladimir Lenin spared no words on who was to blame for the shortage of bread and other staples – “the bourgeoisie and the rich, such as those living on Petrograd’s fashionable Vasilevsky Island.”

V. I. Lenin - On The Famine
A Letter To The Workers Of Petrograd
         Comrades, the other day your delegate, a Party comrade in the Putilov Works, called on me. This comrade drew a detailed and extremely harrowing picture of the famine in Petrograd . . . And side by side with this we observe an orgy of profiteering in grain and other food products.
         The famine is not due to the fact that there is no grain in Russia, but to the fact that the bourgeoisie and the rich generally are putting up a last decisive fight against the rule of the toilers (workers). They rise against the state of the workers, against Soviet power, on this most important and acute of issues, the issue of bread…. “He who does not work, neither shall he eat.” Every toiler understands that. Every worker, every poor and even middle peasant, everybody who has suffered need in his lifetime, everybody who has ever lived by his own labour, is in agreement with this. Nine-tenths of the population of Russia are in agreement with this truth. In this simple, elementary and perfectly obvious truth lies the basis of socialism, the indefeasible source of its strength, the indestructible pledge of its final victory.[2]
         One in four babies born in the capital dies before the age of one. And for those that live, it's in the shadowy threat of the killers: tuberculosis, pneumonia, epidemics of typhoid, spotted fever and smallpox. This region of sickness and death was to be our mission field where the death rate is double that of the capital's wealthier districts. It was but one example of the Russian Salvationists' courage and willingness to serve, indeed the willingness to suffer- so readily offered and witnessed in serving these poor Russians.
                  Ours was a visible life, a running narrative of misery, suffering, and cruel, predictable deaths. All the days ran into one; neither morning, afternoon or evening ever brought a glimpse of hope or sliver of encouragement.
         There is an old Swedish adage: “God can only bless a man greatly after He has hurt him deeply.”  We hurt deeply – we grieved immensely. God's blessing, His all consoling peace flowed over and through us when Gerda and I opened our hearts and divided the grief. Bed time often came at the midnight hour or beyond and we opened God's word and after reading the evening selection declared our love for each other and on bended knees prayed, vowed our committed love for Christ, individually and in union. And we lay down with our joy doubled. – He made it bearable – all our joys and grief was shared.
         Gerda and Otto Ljungholm ended each day in the late evening on their knees; ‘Lord, help us to serve, seeing others as more worthy than ourselves!’[3]

[1] Larsson, Karl Stridsropet (The War Cry in English). Swedish Salvation Army publication, Stockholm
[2] PRAVDA  (TheTruth) No. 101, May 22, 1918 
[3] Ljungholm, Otto Dagbok (Diary) November 1918

Thursday, August 3, 2017

rupebabloggen: Vart är Frälsningsarmén på väg?

Where is the Army heading?
         It is interesting to analyze Christian denominations and their movements, to observe how the pendulum swings in different directions. An interesting phenomenon is the Evangelical Free Church, and its genesis, the Örebro Mission, the Holiness Alliance, and not to forget, the Free Baptists.
            The denomination has maintained a position aligning itself at a free-church mid point, which has always been the case in the Örebro Mission tradition. A bit less radical and fundamentalist than the Pentecostals, but a clear anti-response to older denominations and the Swedish church in particular; more pentecostal-sensitive and with conservative Bible believers, and notably more evangelistic than the Missionary Alliance and Swedish churches. 
            The traditional denominational maps are somewhat overshadowed, but still exist in the culture and on the walls. 
            Within the EFK in the last 15 years, the following tensions have been noted: Bible vision - more liberally oriented, evangelical openess versus a more conservative bible vision, more obvious  and consistently evangelical. 
            The view of charismaticism - more problematic towards charismatic Christianity, versus more openness and positive faith focusing on the indwelling of the Spirit and gifts of the Spirit, more receptive to new movements such as the faith movement, Vineyard, Hillsong, etc. 
            A third tension concerns the vision of mission and evangelism; more focus on social impact versus the view on the effect of salvation, repentance and congregational foundations. 
            A fourth area could be more focus on established activities, traditional liturgy, versus focus on establishing parishes, and finding new radical forms for founding congregations. 
            This could be classified as a kind of left vs. right comparison. To the left is a more liberal Bible view, more problematic towards charismaticism, a focus on Christian social work.
            These echelons are always simplifications. One can be a very social radical and believe in and practice conservative biblical views and charismatic Christianity. However, the point is there are those who emphasize the social action at the expense of charismatic and conservative bible views. 
            If you are to survive in a leadership position in the denomination as mission director or chairman of the board, you should place yourself  somewhere in the middle of these fractions, and alternatively be very low-key so that you can not be ascribed to one or more compartments. Otherwise you will be in the hot seat!. I have some experience in this area. 
            These debates have barely caught public interest, they are too subtle for this. The debate about the Gothenburg Assembly Saron's more liberal attitude to lifestyle and community membership issues that surfaced in the newspapere Day about 4 years ago, clearly expressed this polarization. (Supplement: The inflamed so-called Fourth Battles a few years ago brought this to the surface in a tangible way)
            I belong to those who have expressed concern that EFK has slowly moved to the left according to these criteria. I have probably expressed myself more clearly internally in this debate than I have made public on blogs and in articles.      However, I am very pleased with this year's Torp conference. It appears that charismatic openness has become clearer. Not least, I am pleased that Joakim Lundqvist, the new Pastor at Word of Life is highlighted as one of the main speakers. It demonstrates again the importance of the ready fondness to new charismatic movements is not taking over.
            Now it is important that the selection of the Principal of the Mission School and the new missions director also move in the same direction.

Thank you Anders Blåberg and Torps Conference Management for a job well done.