Corps 393 in Stockholm, Sweden
Swedish corps blends cultures to reach youth.
by Eva Kleman –
Corps 393, in the midst of Stockholm’s throbbing city life, is a spiritual oasis—a place tangibly filled with God’s presence.
Standing in the hall is a large globe-shaped candleholder where anyone who wishes may place a lighted candle in thanksgiving or intercessory prayer. The candle flames are reflected in a disco ball that hangs from the ceiling, and can be clearly seen as they dance over the soft material covering the mercy seat. At The Salvation Army Corps 393 in Stockholm, different cultures and forms of expression are blended. It is place full of life, worship, conversation, love and the presence of God.
Prams are packed together immediately inside the doors in the foyer. Parents and children squeeze together on a three-piece suite. There are beautiful paintings on the walls and graffiti in the dance room. The second floor houses a café with a real café feeling, while a TV games room is in the basement; there is also a prayer room with a camouflage net and a table where one can paint. In the midst of Stockholm’s throbbing city life, Corps 393 is a spiritual oasis. It is a place for recuperation, conversation and rest, happy laughter, love and initiative—but above all a place tangibly filled with God’s presence. No one is left untouched.
The Salvation Army has been working in the south of Stockholm for a long time, but Corps 393 was born in the middle of the ’90s when a longing to reach outside the established Christian church gradually grew within some fervent souls, who were on fire for the youth of Sweden. They wanted to make a greater effort to find ways of reaching the younger generation. As a result, The Salvation Army became one of the churches involved in “The Cold Store,” a well-known culture center for young people. The media became interested, and even within the Army a few eyebrows were raised. But The Salvation Army had established confidence with the social authorities and other groups, and also had found ways to build relationships with many young people. Therefore in 1998 a “new” corps was introduced with an extremely old Salvation Army vision: to make a big difference in the lives of others—in this instance primarily in the lives of young people. The work was based then, just as today, on building relationships between people.
Many of the young people the corps came into contact with were without adult support and security. Frequently they needed practical help with finding a safe place to live. In cooperation with The Salvation Army’s social services, the idea of a group home for adolescents developed. Today “Locus” is a meaningful part of the corps’ social involvement. Three adult “examples” live together with the young people. Karin, Kristian and Robert are soldiers at 393, and each gives two nights a week to help the young people with their homework, to sit and talk with them, play games and simply be there for them. They are also a natural link to the corps. Christian faith is the foundation of everything that happens in the house, and because the activities are connected to Corps 393, the young people have the possibility of taking part in the network if they want to. Everything happens as a result of the young people’s own initiative.
Activities at Corps 393 develop out of the needs of the day and change to suit the people who are involved. It’s all about speaking a language that people understand, and being sensitive to the needs of the moment.
Some programs are: Cooperation with the organization “Farsor och Morsor på Stan” (Moms and Dads on the town) who wander the streets of Stockholm at night to help young people; a counselling course where families can learn to communicate with one another; the ex-skinheads who help other young men to abandon racism and find their place in society; teenagers who need a recreation center where they are seen and cared about; single mothers of infants who need another adult to talk to; radical young people who want to work to establish fair trade and counteract the exploitation of underdeveloped countries. All these have found a platform for their vision or a meeting place for their longings at 393.
“There are any amount of possibilities, but you have to know why you do things,” says corps leader Captain Mattias Nordenberg. “It is important with creativity and sometimes it has been like a laboratory here,” he continues with a smile. Together with Mattias and his wife, Torve, there are two other officers on the team, along with many volunteer workers. “Contributing with what you can do and are willing to do” is a catchword at the corps.
“Being part of what happens here gives an increased sense of self confidence,” says Ewa Nordenberg, who works as a family consultant at the corps. Baking buns and treating others to them is also a way of developing. Ewa works most of the time with single moms, or “amazing women” as she likes to call them, and has an extensive contact net of women who find their way to the corps. On a personal level she is also a mom and a grandma and often functions as a mentor for younger women.
Using different words, varying expressions and through different relationships, many today say, “This is my church.” Babies say it at the Baby-Song group by happily trying to gurgle along; the cool teenagers say it by dropping in on Friday nights just to “hang out” for a while. They are there at culture evenings, women’s breakfasts, dance classes, tranquility services, alpha courses, cell groups, music cafés—the people who count The Salvation Army as their church! And it all began when God placed a vision in the hearts of those who dared to believe in his possibilities! Corps 393 has taken many steps, but the biggest and most difficult for us all is the continuing step out of comfort and safety into the nearness of God.