Long Beach–Legacy or Litter?

By Colonel Dennis Phillips –

Boy, would I ever like to be the corps officer in Long Beach this year (or would I? Read on.) Imagine having more than 7,000 Salvationists coming to your city for a long weekend. I can remember when, as a corps officer in Sturgis, Mich., in 1965, what an impact a brigade of just seven women cadets had on that little city. I get almost agog pondering all the possibilities of what 7,000 Sallies could do for a corps town. Yet, history, experience and reality do not support my hopeful notion that a territorial gathering such as our own imminent Great Victory Congress has had any dramatic residual effect upon the city where it was held.

For years, the Central Territory has held an annual congress/commissioning weekend in the little town of Merrillville, Ind., yet that corps remains virtually unimpacted by such events. Last year the Eastern Territory conducted a history-making, record smashing congress in Niagara Falls, but that corps has not seen any great results of having had several thousand Salvationists fill their city, eat in their restaurants, sleep in their hotels, walk their streets, see their sights and conduct incredibly fine meetings inside their convention center. And I am both disappointed and beguiled by this fact.

When a congress is over it ought not be over. Not only should there be profound results in the life of each person who attends, but there ought also to be an unmistakable legacy left to the corps in the town where the congress is held. Why has this not been so? And what can we do to make the Great Victory Congress the great exception to our past experience?

First of all, a Salvation Army Congress is unlike any other convention, conference or congress in the whole world. And that is because of the uniqueness and rarity of the Army itself. What other organization or denomination can bring thousands of people from a dozen or more states and yet, it seems, everyone already knows everyone else? A waitress at Denny’s Restaurant in Merrillville (pardon this second reference to my Central Territory experience) once commented to me how she looked forward to the Army convention each year. She went on to describe people jumping up from their booths or table and running through the aisles as they spotted someone they might not have seen since the year before, and the waitress was enthralled as Salvationist friends hugged, kissed, giggled and talked (on and on, she volunteered) together.

Yes, indeed, there is nothing like an Army gathering. What an extraordinary opportunity we have, thousands of us, to witness to the company of waitresses, hotel staff and passersby during our three or four day invasion of their city. Now, it ought to be a spiritual invasion, but I wonder what kind of impression we are actually making. After all, there are few, if any phone calls on Monday morning asking the local captain, “How can I join your Army?” Something is wrong with this picture. Let’s examine it more closely.

Actually, hardly anyone will ever really know The Salvation Army better than the people who serve us in the restaurants of Long Beach or the dear folk who clean our rooms each of those four days. These are hard-working people, most of them in minimum wage jobs, some of them barely eking out a living to support their families. My, oh my, can you just imagine what it will do for their lives if, when the Army comes to town, they are treated with love, dignity and respect, the likes of which they have never seen, heard, nor experienced? Come on, let’s overwhelm them with Christian kindness. Let’s be patient with them.

Have you ever really watched a waiter or waitress work, taking orders, delivering large, heavy trays of food, sometimes busing their own tables, handling complaints and, at times, putting up with insulting, even rude guests? What will happen in their hearts when a few thousand Salvationists, most of them uniformed, come into their restaurants and are polite, say “thank you” and “please,” do not make any demands, and make their reasonable requests with a smile? What will they think of the Army when we take time to express our appreciation for their fine service, and maybe even inquire about their lives? We can ask about their families and their children, and maybe, if our prayers are right and our behavior good, the subject of what church, if any, they might attend. And that is when we can invite them to the local Salvation Army. But we dare not broach the serious subject of religion or faith in Christ if we have been rude, demanding or insulting. It is best that they will see Christ in our lives before we bring up his name in conversation.

And then think, too, about the quiet little women who faithfully clean our hotel rooms. (At least it seems to me they are always quiet and little, and rarely have I seen a man working as a hotel housekeeper.) How do we witness to them? We witness to them by tidying up the room as much as possible before we evacuate it each morning. Put things away. Hang up the towels. Clean out the sink. Hang up our clothes. Do some of you hear your mother talking? Well, just take a moment and realize that some of these quiet little women are someone’s mother, sister or wife. See them as the real people they are and show them the respect they deserve by making their lives and their work just a little bit easier that weekend. Then, when you see them in the hallway and you say, “Good morning. God bless you,” your words will have a special ring.

You might even be gracious enough to leave them a note at the end of your stay, thanking them for providing such good service. Of course, a $5 or $10 tip would make the note even more meaningful. If you have been a good guest, might I suggest you leave them the names of the corps officers, along with the corps phone number and address? If you have been good enough, they may just want to see what this Salvation Army is all about, after all.

Now, let’s get to the real crux of the matter. We are not there to impress the waiters, the servers or the housekeepers as to how wonderful Salvation Army people are. Hardly. But make no mistake about this: we are there to witness for Jesus Christ. The waitresses will observe us praying for our meals, and the housekeepers will see the Bibles and Congress program in our rooms. They will know what it is we are supposed to be about. But they will pay scant attention to our prayers or our Bibles unless they see the reflection of Christ in our demeanor and our behavior.

Join me in giving new meaning to the words “Great Victory Congress.” While we anticipate great victories in our own lives, let us extend our expectations beyond the walls of the convention centers. May every person in Long Beach who has anything whatsoever to do with this Congress have a great victory in their own lives, because they have seen a company of believers who live what they preach.

By the way, the names of the Long Beach Corps officers at are Majors James and (Dr.) Sallyann Hood; the phone number is (310) 426-7637. They meet every Sunday at 10:45 a.m. and have an evening worship service at 6:00.

Yeah, I would really like to have been the corps officer at Long Beach!

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