Africa – War-Riots-Genocide
While statistics show the Army’s largest expression is in the continent of Africa–where active Salvationists number in the hundreds of thousands–numbers alone don’t begin to convey the depth and breadth of The Salvation Army’s ministry.
The following reports from a New Frontier interview at International Headquarters with the International Secretary for Africa Commissioner John Swinfen–who has spent most of his life in East and Central Africa–provide a brief update.
Just coming out of a protracted civil war, The Salvation Army is providing much needed spiritual and physical assistance in the midst of the country’s continuing chaos. The Army established a presence in Liberia during “the troubles” in 1988, when Salvationists from Ghana began relief work there. Today, the Army is booming, with more than 600 uniformed Salvationists and eight corps.
“There is a great spirit of the Army there,” says Swinfen. “Its basis is sound. It’s setting up its own corps with its own resources, which means the people are growing. I’m very encouraged.”
During the war the capital, Monrovia, was essentially gutted. With an unreliable government system, no schools and no hospitals, the country was to a large degree stripped of the very basics of society.
In a simple fashion, The Salvation Army began to establish or reestablish schools for children ages 6-19. Today, there are close to 1,000 students in the schools. The Army is also building a large high school with the help of the Salvation Army in Norway and NORAD. In addition, it has established hostels for homeless kids, some of whom had fought as boy soldiers.
Both countries are beset with continuing unrest. According to Swinfen, Nigeria is a potential powder keg. “So far, The Salvation Army is keeping clear and above it,” he says. The country has a strong Muslim influence, and the Army has opened some work in the Muslim north country.
Republic of Congo
The recent fighting in Brazzaville caused major damage to The Salvation Army’s headquarters and necessitated the evacuation of expatriate personnel, including Western Salvationist Eleanor Jones, by the French Foreign Legion. While the building is standing, it sustained damage and suffered looting of all office equipment.
According to Major Elizabeth Johnson, assistant chief secretary, in an interview at International Headquarters, the fighting was so close to headquarters–which was on the front lines of the civil war–that the building shook each time artillery was fired. It continued throughout the evacuation, with snipers firing at them as they crossed the river to the safety of the French Embassy. Prior to the evacuation, soldiers demanded an Army car from Johnson and Jones. “I gave them the one that ran the worst,” Johnson recalled.
Outside of Brazzaville, the country is still functioning normally. Two percent of the two million population are Salvationists. “The Congo is a marvelous Army–it’s good, enthusiastic, and has a wonderful women’s work,” she says.
Democratic Republic of Congo/Angola
After this spring’s ouster of President Mobutu Sese-Seko by Laurent Kabila, the former nation of Zaire has settled down, with the capital of Kinshasa achieving a degree of law and order. Although economic and political recovery will take a long time, the city is getting back economically.
“Captain Kelly Pontsler (now Western Territory assistant finance secretary), who was the territorial financial secretary, did a lot to straighten out the (territory’s) books and finances,” says Swinfen, who adds that for The Salvation Army to operate in a depressed, confused economy in the midst of civil disorder is a testimony.
In Angola, The Salvation Army “is small and struggling, but at least it’s there.”
In this country also smashed by civil war, the Army is developing a growing presence. More than 6,000 Salvationists are “reemerging” after being underground during the war. Under Communism, religion was ruthlessly suppressed by the Marxist government. They are now training their own cadets.
“This is the brightest and shiningest African country at the moment,” remarks the Commissioner. “The Salvation Army is phenomenal, with 70,000 Senior soldiers and 200,000 active Salvationists. The quality of it is terrific.”
Much of this quality, he feels, is due to the the linkage of Salvation Army evangelism with schools, creating a blend of Christianity and education.
Two distinct works and countries comprise this territory. In Zambia, the Army’s evangelistic work is growing, as is the AIDS work/community education. The Army’s approach to the AIDS crisis is twofold: belief that the AIDS solution is not a medical one but lies within behavioral change; and that the solution is linked to mission–relationships, community and society. For many years, the Army’s work had centered on the medical ministry at Chikankata.
In Malawi, the Army has more than 40 centers. Especially effective in rural areas, it is growing quietly, steadily and naturally.
Home to the largest Salvation Army in the world, with 350,000 active Salvationists and around 160,000 Senior soldiers, this region is composed of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The Army’s presence in this troubled nation began when it went in to deal with the genocide chaos and help rehabilitate communities devastated by the war between the Hutus and the Tutsis. Since then, a corps has grown out of the work in Kayenzie. “The Army came to give help and spiritual comfort along with relief work,” remarks Swinfen, ” and it all grew from there.”
While uncertainty remains in the country in the aftermath of the war, potential for Army expansion is tremendous. An AIDS program has been launched in six other villages, which will provide evangelistic opportunities.
The Army has had a presence for 100 years in South Africa; now that apartheid has broken down, it has in recent years become more unified. “The Truth and Reconciliation Statement is a remarkable statement by our colleagues there,” says Swinfen. “It is a leadership initiative other churches could follow.”
As a church, the Army isn’t a large body in the white community, but it has expanded among the blacks, growing faster among rural blacks. It does do significant work in the social field, with homes for children and the elderly and day care centers. In addition, it ministers in Soweto among the “roughest of the rough,” where it has a maternity hospital and other services.
Here is an extract from the submission. The document outlines the Army’s many positive contributions to South African society, but continues:There are ways in which we know we have failed–a growing consciousness brought about in our collective mind by the Holy Spirit. All Salvation Army gatherings since our 1883 beginnings have been open to all races. Our failure has been in allowing the recognition of separate ethnic groupings, seen as normal at the time, but which fostered the idea of separate development. We did not see God’s justice as being grounded in God’s love and some of our people have been morally violated by the inequitable distribution of resources available to us. We did not, as Moses enjoins, “follow justice and justice alone” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
Part of the heritage of many English-speaking churches has been pietistic and we are no exception.
While we did care for body and soul, we ought more strongly to have attacked the evil which wrecked both bodies and souls in the first place. Professing an apolitical stance, we used this to avoid the kind of protest for which the early Salvation Army was known. We became self-satisfied and paternal, introspective about our own affairs and insensitive to what was happening around us. Though there is a sense in which such a stance enabled us to continue to minister more freely, today we must confess it to be sinful–an affront to God and humankind
As an Army we did not willfully commit racial acts. Indeed we were able to bring healing and help in some of the worst affected areas simply because we were trusted not to become embroiled in party politics. Still, we failed to “stand up and be counted” when it mattered most–and that is painful for us.
We are committed to the further development of programs and policies which will combat racism and strengthen what reconciliation has already taken place while aggressively partaking in our mission to reach the world for Jesus Christ.
We make this submission without accusation of any one person but rather as an explanation of how The Salvation Army acted within the light of its understanding at that time.
The Salvation Army would want to uphold the principle of not being involved in party political issues. We will endeavor, however, not to hide under this umbrella as an excuse for silence when we should be prepared to speak prophetically and fearlessly on matters of injustice.