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NAOC 2003

NAOC keynote predicts ‘humanitarian catastrophe’ if Army stopped work

by Carol Seiler, Major – 

Eighteen hundred advisory board and council members, Salvationists and friends attended the recent 2003 National Advisory Organizations Conference in Philadelphia.

“It was a superb conference, offering quality workshops and inspirational sessions,” stated Commissioner Linda Bond, territorial commander. “What captured my attention was the profound respect our advisory board members have for The Salvation Army and it is with a clear understanding of our holistic ministry. How blessed we are to have such committed people supporting our work throughout the country and spurring us on in our mission.”

Keynote speaker, author and television host, Dr. Phil McGraw, known to millions as Dr. Phil, stated that if the Army stopped doing its work today, there would be a humanitarian catastrophe in this country.

General John Larsson put that in a global context in the Friday evening session. “We do what we do because of what we believe. We are people who do something; we preach not only with our lips, but with our hands.” His challenge to us, however, was that this is why soldiers need to be so vitally involved in the ministry and work.

The discussion naturally led to Partners in Mission, to the commitment of the North American Territories to contribute significantly to World Services. The General challenged those of us in the Americas to think in a reciprocal manner with our Partners, not just to see ourselves as financially independent territories (currently labeled F.I.T.) sending resources to grant aided territories (currently labeled G.A.T.). He challenged us to come up with a new answer to those names, to give the sense that needing material resources was not a sign of being “unfit.” (The West’s strategic priority to “Cast a Global Vision” might be the way to put this in perspective, suggested Lt. Colonel Kurt Burger later in discussion.)

At a wide-ranging press conference with media

representatives Larsson began with a highly optimistic slant. “It’s a wonderful time to be General right now,” he said as he smiled in the opening remarks of the press conference. The General glowed as he spoke of the spirit of renewal and evidences of passion around the world, noting that one of his main tasks was to capture the sense of “freshness” and “renewal” based on Isaiah 43:19 when the Lord said, “See, I am doing a new thing.” Not only did he mention this in the press conference, but it was key to his message on Sunday morning – to look forward and see the wonderful new things God is effecting through the work of the Army around the world.

When asked what he saw as the most significant aspect of the renewal, his response was “the passion for the Holy Spirit” to fulfill the mission of the Army. He also noted that this renewal and freshness was “patchy” both in the world and in individual towns. While it was igniting whole countries in Africa and India, where two-thirds of the Army now resides, the renewal had the tendency to “jump” over corps even in the same town.

How could territories specifically get involved or be part of this renewal? Commissioner Freda Larsson responded that it was vital that the Army rediscover the power of prayer. The General nodded. He now requires a 90/10 rule in prayer time in his major strategic sessions. Of the 15-20 minutes in prayer, only 10% of the time is spent asking for prayer and 90% is spent praying. Then the General said, there must theoretically be “no passengers in the Army, this is a fighting force, not just sheep being fed by a pastor.” Every new soldier should have his/her specific task handed to them at enrollment, he quoted General John Gowans (R) as saying. This would rekindle passion.

Commissioner Freda Larsson picked up the theme of partnering for the women’s ministries, asking everyone to find ways to reciprocally support and bless each other. She was in Zimbabwe a week before this conference, and talked of the blessed time of fasting and prayer that occurs every Friday around many parts of the world. Both the Larssons spoke positively of the tremendous hands-on approach of the advisory boards in America, saying that it works best here even though the concept is used globally. Harnessing the generosity of the Army with an opportunity for the recipients to respond with dignity was a thread woven through the discussion.

They were asked about Iraq and the Army’s response, and the General indicated that within just the past few days, the Army’s role as a provider of propane to cook the food being donated had been determined by Major Mike Olsen and his team, and trucks were to be rolling from Kuwait even as he spoke.

The persecution and presence of Christians responding in a Muslim country was handled delicately. For example, in India there were laws against “enforced conversion,” where even the promise of heaven as part of the eternal life of the Christian was interpreted as “force” and therefore proselytizing. There was a moment of silence as we reflected on the impact of those involved in the humanitarian efforts in Iraq. “We preach with our hands and not just our lips” takes on new meaning in this context.

When asked about the 2005 focus as Year for Children and Year for Youth, the General commented that he wanted a two-pronged approach. The territories need to determine how they will use this, and IHQ wants input and information so that they can be apprised of the innovation as well. He wants to see this not just as a phase, but as a permanent legacy so that the renewal is deep throughout the system. “Some of our youth programs are falling to pieces and need replacement.” Strong words for specifically mentioned junior soldiers and corps cadets – but he went on to explain that the state of decay and the type of regeneration varies in different locations, noting a particular concern in Europe and the UK.

The General wants to share what works in one area of the world with another area of the world. Most importantly, he wants to touch the heart and soul of children and youth for Christ and the Army. The role of youth mission teams for short trips is “wide open.” He would like to encourage practical teams that can make a lasting impact and impression, capturing the desire of young people to do “more.”

The importance of global vision and impact was shared by the General during the Friday evening dinner with all the delegates. He told story after story from around the world – Bangladesh, Africa, Norway, Congo, Malawi, Moscow and China – of effective holistic ministry that shared impetus from our support. He gave the advisory board members the “session name” of Enablers in the absolute best sense of the word, as those who support and enable the work of the Army ministries in each community and around the world, noting that there are plaques in the jungle with the name of corps and towns in America who have enabled the building of a resource. With two thirds of the need in Africa and India and two thirds of the resources in the Western countries, he posed the challenge of how to move those around so that mission is served around the world.

A last question in the press conference gave the General pause for reflection, when The War Cry (Lt. Col. Marlene Chase, editor in chief) asked about any concerns of loss of integrity and Army distinctives.

Larsson mused…“Did we try early on to impose the British Army rather than adapt to the local culture? Would we have grown better if we’d been culturally sensitive?” He was very emphatic that in many ways there is more unity in The Salvation Army now than ever, but it is for the sake of mission, and that may mean we need to accept some untidiness.

“If international tidiness is impeding the mission, then the mission must come first,” he said.

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