Gowans retire on high note

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General John Gowans

November 2 was a very special day as over 2,000 Salvation-ists from the UK Territory said farewell to their beloved international leaders of the Army, General John Gowans and Commissioner Gisèle Gowans.

The all-day event, held at the London Arena, began with a morning session which was the official welcome to General-elect John Larsson and Commissioner Freda Larsson, and the installation of the new Chief of the Staff Commissioner Israel Gaither and Commissioner Eva Gaither, world secretary for Women’s Organizations.

In his invitation for the day’s events, the General commented, “Today Gisèle and myself are celebrating our 47 happy and fulfilling years of service for God as officers in his Salvation Army. It is our pleasure to invite you to the party!”

The afternoon program was a celebration of “Gowans and Larsson in Concert,” and included the duo on stage performing well-known songs and giving an historical perspective of their musicals. During the evening session, the Gowans were presented their certificates of retirement and were paid special tributes in word and song.

Tenure in the Western Territory

The Gowans have been officers for 47 years. Although many soldiers were familiar with his name from the many musicals written by the Gowans-Larsson team of the late ’70’s and ’80’s, he really became known here as he served two appointments in the Western Territory. In the 1980’s, the Gowans were appointed to the Western THQ where John served as the program secretary. He was then appointed as the divisional commander to Southern California, and served there for several years.

Before being elected as the international leaders of the Army about three years ago, the Gowans served as territorial leaders in France, Australia, and the UK. In every appointment, they have brought a message of challenge and growth, while holding true to the deep spiritual roots of our evangelical faith.

Warm tribute

Not looking ready for retirement, Gowans spoke frequently and personally throughout the day of celebration. During the evening meeting of November 2, General-elect John Larsson presided. Following an entourage of flag bearers representing the territories from around the globe, the Gowans made their way to the platform to a standing ovation.

John and Gisèle were honored with musical performances by the International Staff Band and Songsters, a Salvationist vocal quartet from France (Véo), the Clacton Singing Company, and the London South-East Youth Chorus.

Major Joy Webb gave a tribute to Gisèle, highlighting her strength, consistent dedication, and leadership during ministry. In particular, Webb pointed out that Gisèle has never devalued her own worth or work, or felt diminished in any way through the years of working next to the General. Commissioner Gowans then responded with her own testimony, referring to John 14:23, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Gisèle expressed appreciation to her parents, officers in France, her family and friends, and gave glory to God for the opportunities of service they have had. She is a gracious and special woman of God.

Next on the program, Captain Charles King gave words of appreciation to General Gowans. He was particularly captured with the leadership of the General in areas of our Army that need change. He commented that this has made some people uncomfortable at times, but the attempt has been to challenge our ways of doing things that no longer work. He lauded the General for being a man of courage and love, and always responsive to human need.

During the General’s message that evening, and throughout the day, he had many very personal commentaries to make. He captured the audience as he reflected on his love for Gisèle, and went into some detail about their courtship. They were cadets at the time at the International Training College. As was the custom of the day, they needed to get permission from the college in order to correspond and pursue a relationship. His superior was quite supportive that he had developed a fondness for the “pretty French cadet,” but hers was a little less certain. A problem developed after they were commissioned, however, because John was stationed in England, and Gisèle returned to her homeland. There was no e-mail in those days. In fact, there were no phones in their appointments. That would have been a luxury. So they continued their relationship through correspondence. Gisèle’s letters came several times a week across the channel. John’s letters, however, were once or twice a month. To his defense and the approval of the audience, what he lacked in frequency he compensated for in eloquence!

Writing musicals

The period of service during which he and John Larsson wrote their musicals was very rewarding, but challenging. They never had an appointment specifically designated for this work, and so it was difficult to find the time needed to produce exactly what they wanted. Often, Gowans would call Larsson on the phone to discuss a particular song and coordinate their efforts. Gowans is a confessed “non-musician.” There were times of debate in which Larsson would recommend changes to the lyrics in order to conform to the music, and to Gowans’ shock, it actually made the song better.

In reflecting on his years of service as a Salvation Army Officer, Gowans affirmed that he has never regretted being obedient to his call. Officership has been more rewarding to him than he ever imagined as a young man. And this was the topic of his message that evening, based on the story of the loaves and fish in John 14. “Where are we going to buy bread?” the disciples asked when the crowd was gathered to hear Jesus. Gowans referred to this as the “What’s the use?” approach to life. Everyone finds themselves in circumstances where there own resources and energy are not adequate for the job. This, in return can cause one to get depressed. “Depression,” said Gowans, “is the forerunner of defeat.”

The General went on to explain that even the most talented best-equipped individual will eventually meet a challenge for which he is not capable. It is part of the human condition that we are not adequate. The liberating message of Jesus is this. “Don’t dwell on your limitations. When you put your little everything into the basket, he blesses it and multiplies it until it is adequate.”

Challenge to audience

His challenge to the audience was very direct. “Stop talking about what you haven’t got or what you can’t do, and put what you have into the basket. All I’ve ever done in my life is put the fish and loaves into his hands.”

The congregation was stirred by the message, and spent a time for prayer and reflection. The General then led his people in singing “His Provision.”

At the moment of my weakness, when my need for power is plain,

And my own strength is exhausted once again,

Then my Lord has made provision for the day of my despair

And his precious Holy Spirit hears my prayer.

We thank God for the courageous and spirit-filled leadership of John and Gisèle Gowans, and pray that they will find rest, enjoyment and new challenges as they enter retirement.

Anderson offers prayer at farewell

Dr. Jack Anderson, USA Western Territory consultant for personnel development, gave the opening prayer during the evening farewell ceremony. Within the prayer, he offered thanks to God for giving the Army such a wonderful leader in John Gowans–a specific man for this specific time in our history. He thanked God for the challenges Gowans brought–challenging us to hold true to our identity as an Army of God, while facing the new difficulties of our day. He also prayed that God would continue to bless Gowans’ work, that it would bear fruit long after his time as General had passed. And finally, that God would give John and Gisèle a very satisfying time of rest and peace over the coming months, and that they would find new opportunities of service.

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