Salvationist describes experience of first event of its kind in the West
By Thandiwe Gregory –
When I first heard about the Territorial African Heritage Conference, “Empowerment West,” I knew I was going to attend. I was most excited to worship with Salvationists from all walks of life who look like me, and was instantly reminded of my time visiting “black churches” and Salvationists in Johannesburg, South Africa. I envisioned an infusion of worship between the two that made my heart jump for joy.
In addition, I was eager to learn what The Salvation Army is doing, or would like to do, to attract more individuals of African Heritage. And I was honored to be part of the conversation.
The Doubletree by Hilton Phoenix-Tempe was the perfect venue for an intimate encounter with God and one another during the Nov. 6-8 conference, the first event of its kind in the West.
The Friday evening welcome service greeted attendees from the Western Territory, two from the Central Territory and special guests: Majors David and Margaret Davis and Bandmaster Bill Rollins and Valencia Rollins from the Eastern Territory.
As I looked around the room, to my pleasant surprise there were many faces that didn’t look like mine. Over 250 Salvationists from all walks of life were ready to learn and teach effective ways to incorporate culture and values of the African Heritage into all aspects of worship.
In one of the workshops I attended, Skittles were used to demonstrate diversity. In reflection, this can also describe everyone who attended Empowerment West: Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic. I met Salvationists of African Heritage from Africa (Liberia and Zimbabwe), The Caribbean (Jamaica and Belize), and Central America (Panama and Costa Rica). Given the melting pot of African Heritage gathered in one place, the exuberant energy afforded a phenomenal weekend of encouragement, enlightenment, praise and love.
I have been left with many memories, but a few highlights were from Saturday. We had an opportunity to meet our leaders and have open dialogue about issues pertaining to the African Heritage. The Festival of Praise evening featured The Southwest Divisional Gospel Choir, a jazz band, African Praise Dancers, Zimbabwe Marimba and a Caribbean Flavor “Hallelujah Windup” that ushered in a Holy Ghost dance party lasting way after the service ended.
A spirit filled Sunday morning worship service was supported by the Empowerment West Brass Band and Songster Brigade. The sermon equipped us to share what we have learned with our corps and loved ones. We were challenged and empowered to expand the number of individuals of African Heritage in the corps and as Salvation Army officers. Several in attendance accepted the call to officership. I’m sure others, like myself, committed to doing our part to be active change agents and make a difference in our corps and communities to expand the presence of African Heritage in The Salvation Army while ultimately growing the Kingdom of God.
Empowerment West was the breath of fresh air I needed to continue embracing my African Heritage while suffusing it with the embodiment of Salvationism.