First-ever Sunbeam Gala honors awardees past and present

Generations of Salvation Army women and girls joined together June 8 at the first-ever Commissioner’s Sunbeam Gala at the Sheraton Cerritos (California) Hotel as part of the Western Territory’s 2019 Commissioning weekend.

Sunbeams—a Salvation Army program for girls in elementary school—was founded in 1921 as an offshoot of Girl Guards, which focuses on girls in middle and high school. Members do not have to be part of a local corps to join a troop.

“I know you’re like me and found out about this event, went home and pulled out your Sunbeams box with your sash and other goodies,” said Territorial President of Women’s Ministries Commissioner Jolene K. Hodder, welcoming more than 110 women and girls, who sat in gold chairs at tables draped in black linen with centerpieces overflowing with white flower bouquets.

The gala honored those past and present who achieved the prestigious Commissioner’s Sunbeam High Award, having earned 10 emblems and passed a rigorous application and interview process.

Like the Girl Scouts, Sunbeams brings girls of similar ages together in local troops and teaches them life skills as they pursue emblems they can attach to their Sunbeam sash. These emblems cover a variety of skills such as swimming, cooking, patriotism and drug awareness.

Nearly 3,500 girls in the Western Territory have earned the Commissioner’s Sunbeam High Award since its inception, according to Territorial Youth Department statistics.  

Hodder shared a devotional, recounting her own desire to do right as a young girl. When she grew to be a teenager, however, she said she came to feel as though Christian life was “a bunch of rules.”

“I simply couldn’t keep them all,” she said, noting her favorite Scripture verse at the time, Romans 7:21: So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.

“As life got more complicated and I broke the rules, I was certain God was disappointed with me and figured he would give up on me,” Hodder said.

It was at a Girl Guard retreat, she said, where she knelt at the altar and told God she couldn’t keep all the rules. That’s when she found a new Scripture, Romans 5:6-11, including the words from verse eight: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

“Girls, if you don’t remember anything else tonight, remember that God does not want to be our judge; he wants to be our friend,” Hodder said. “He wants a relationship with you and with me because he is our heavenly father.

“If you want to be on the right path and do something amazing with your life, I would suggest you make Jesus Christ your friend and always try to do right,” she said. “And when you mess up—and you are going to mess up—it’s ok. Go talk to your friend Jesus Christ and he will put you back on the right path.”

Eunice Chen, Social Justice Sergeant at the San Gabriel (California) Corps and a social work graduate student at Azusa Pacific University, shared her testimony following a recent missions trip to Athens, Greece.  

“How can we practice the Great Commission? Love your neighbor as yourself,” Chen said. “[While on the mission,] I thought about Jesus and how willing he was to help others no matter who they were…The officers didn’t just pray for them and tell them everything would be fine, but took action and showed people love.”

Attendees took action at the gala with the chance for everyone present to earn a badge created especially for the event, the World Missions badge.

Worksheets distributed in a gold folder led the Sunbeams past and present through five exercises. As a table, they read Matthew 28:18-20 and listed three instructions Jesus gave to the disciples and four ways mission work can help improve people’s lives. A table card with more information about an international Salvation Army program helped attendees learn more about that place and work before the group shared a prayer for the facility and women and girls there. Next, the girls learned more about one of the 40 Salvation Army officers currently serving overseas and signed a greeting card to be sent to each.

Finally, Hodder awarded girls from across the territory who have recently completed the requirements with the Commissioner’s Sunbeam High Award before offering a closing prayer.

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