National leaders complete active service in October 2010.
Since Commissioners Israel L. and Eva Gaither assumed the key executive leadership assignments of National Commander and National President of Women’s Ministries, respectively, for the United States in May 2006, the pair has driven The Salvation Army forward in America.
“The Army is one of America’s most valued anchor institutions,” Commissioner Israel L. Gaither said in a phone interview with New Frontier. “I’ve been around a long time, but until occupying this leadership position, I did not know the extreme depth of trust and belief in the Army that is held by both private and public sectors of America.”
Now, following over four years as national leaders, the Gaithers publicly retired in a ceremony led by General John Larsson (Ret.) and Commissioner Freda Larsson on Oct. 22 at the Centennial Memorial Temple in New York City.
“Looking back at my time as General, I can say without hesitation that one of the best decisions I took was to ask the Gaithers to be our partners in leading the international Army,” Larsson said of Gaither’s service as Chief of the Staff.
During his tenure, Gaither said he has developed “an even stronger belief about the need for deeper commitment of the Army’s soldiers, officers and volunteers.”
“We must raise up true Salvationists who love the Lord and who are fully available for use. And we must intentionally train soldiers to be servers of the mission,” he said. “The obvious added value in mission is the rich leadership and enormous impact of officers. I am so proud to stand with them as partners in ministry. I salute them, and thank each one for their love for the Lord and loyalty to the Army. I also thank God for our well over 3 million volunteers. I call them, ‘an army within the Army.’ We couldn’t do what we do without the support of these individuals.”
Nearly half a century of service
Ordained and commissioned from The Salvation Army’s School for Officer Training in the East in June 1964, the Gaithers have devoted over 47 years of service around the world, in corps and divisional, national and international leadership roles, including appointments in Africa and the United Kingdom.
In November 2002, Gaither was appointed as The Salvation Army’s Chief of the Staff, serving as second-in-command of the worldwide organization. During that period, Commissioner Eva Gaither served as the World Secretary for Women’s Ministries—an executive responsibility for the advancing of women in developed and developing sectors of the world.
Described as an efficient administrator and gifted speaker, the commissioner is a much sought after preacher, having addressed thousands of Salvationists and Christians worldwide.
Gaither received a Doctor of Humane Letters (May 2005) from Asbury University and a Doctor of Divinity (May 2008) from Taylor University, was named in the San Francisco Examiner as one of the “Top Ten Communicators” in 2006, and was recognized in 2008 by Dominion and the Dominion Foundation as one of nine African-American Leaders to receive the Excellence in Leadership: Strong Men and Women Award. For a fifth consecutive year, The NonProfit Times named Gaither as one of the “Power & Influence Top 50” in 2010, saying, “Gaither leads a public service/policy behemoth that commands the attention of legislators and sector leaders.”
Courageous in opportunities
“I want us to be courageous—and to see issues more as opportunities than challenges,” Gaither said. “In this shifting social environment, where many values are changing and faith is pushed to the edge of society, Salvationists must be prepared to stand firm in our biblical beliefs, standards and values. We must not move. The populous wants integrity and credibility, and I say let The Salvation Army rise up even more than in the past as a movement of committed people who can be trusted.”
Gaither said the Army is currently addressing opportunities including better utilizing technology in communication and more significantly engaging the emerging generation of young people who will impact America’s future.
“This population wants to apply their time, talent and resources in different ways than our present traditional donors,” Gaither said. “And we are continuing to explore opportunities, even as we launch new methods to capture their interest, talent and desire for a better world—for the serving of others through the Army.”
He said the Army, through its leadership, is also studying ways to “break the back of poverty.”
“We are hope givers in America and those who are struggling the most through the current economic crisis wait in desperation for us to arrive at their side,” Gaither said. “We haven’t lost our passion and vision for this mission. I see creative efforts and amazing responses to opportunities that are transforming people and places across America. It’s why Eva and I are proud to be ‘soldiers’ in an Army that makes a difference in the lives of people.”
Growing up with the times
Gaither has accomplished a number of firsts in The Salvation Army—he was the first African-American to serve as a divisional commander, be made commissioner, appointed chief of the staff and named national commander. The Gaithers’ marriage in 1967—during the turbulence of the civil rights era—marked the first racially integrated marriage of Salvation Army officers in the U.S.
“The Salvation Army has matured with the times,” Gaither said. “There are no barriers for minorities or women. Those who make themselves available for the call from the Lord to become officers will be trained and appointed to places where their gifts, skills and committed talent will make a kingdom impact in the nation and beyond.
“Eva and I have thrilled at the sight of the diversity of the Army in America,” he said. “Hopefully, our experience will serve to encourage broader diversity, and especially those coming behind us will understand that color, gender, ethnicity, heritage—does not matter. God’s call to service is an open door of opportunity in The Salvation Army.”
The next stage
“Eva and I have given retirement a great deal of thought and prayer as we entered our final months of active service,” Gaither said. “We want to continue growing together in our marriage and in our spiritual life, we are looking forward to spending more time with our children and grandchildren, and we want to continue meaningful engagement in support of the mission, absent of the high level of pressure we have known for so many years.”
The Gaithers will retire in Pittsburgh, Pa. They look forward to opportunities to support officers, provide consultation, and undertake speaking engagements both within and external to the Army.
“Returning to Pittsburgh, a region we love, is like coming home for us,” he said. “The leadership roles Eva and I were privileged to occupy are sacred gifts to us, and we pray that the Lord has, in some measurable way, been pleased to use us in blessing others. We’re just proud to be soldiers.”