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“If you’re ready for a miracle–you’re in the right place.”
These opening words from USA South Territorial Commander and Congress Coordinator, Commissioner Ray Cooper, set the stage for the five day The ArmyNEXT International Millennial Con-gress held in Atlanta, GA as springtime turned to summer and June became July. It was the first Salvation Army International Congress ever held outside the United Kingdom.
Multicolored lights spiraled through the more than 20,000 delegates assembled in the massive Phillips Arena, and the long awaited event was on.
Cooper welcomed the delegates to the United States and to Atlanta. The Hendon Band from the United Kingdom, directed by Bandmaster Stephen Cobb, captured the celebratory spirit with fanfare and rhythm. Gospel singers brought the audience to its feet in excitement and anticipation. A large square stage with ramps running from each corner dominated the center of the arena and provided a theater-in-the-round focus. Speakers and program participants were seated on the edge of the arena floor and mounted the stage by walking up the ramps. The sides of the stage and ramps were painted red and blue with a large Army eight-pointed yellow star emblazoned on the middle.
Costumed representative delegates from countries on each of the world’s continents marched or danced or filed or ran up the ramps as they were announced. Eight large television screens provided close up views of speakers and participants as well as words for congregational songs.
Simultaneous translations were provided non-English speakers in 21 languages via radio within the arena. This allowed the delegates to sit anywhere they might choose and still receive the translated broadcast.
Magnificent soloists and choirs and musicians thundered their praise from massive speakers. Commissioner Gísele Gowans, wearing the purple commissioner’s trim on her uniform, delighted the audience with her challenge and words of witness.
Zimbabwe Territorial Songsters, wearing tan uniforms and white hats and led by S/L Jonah Matswein sang The Promised Land in both English and their native African dialect. Major Eileen Colbourne of Kingston, Jamaica, was the first of a series of Congress delegates to testify during the various services. With visual pictures from the Caribbean and her videotaped testimony, she testified to a personal encounter with the Holy Spirit. Then, standing alone on the vast stage, she spoke of learning the “good and perfect will of God” and challenged the 20,000 in the audience to join with her in following it.
The Indonesia Bamboo Band, a group of charming and even somewhat seductive singers and dancers gave a dramatic contemporary lift to a composition called We’re an Army, which included portions of The Founders Song Oh Boundless Salvation. Dressed in unique, specially designed Army uniforms, the audience responded both to the message and to the presentation. The Chief of the Staff, Commissioner John Larsson mounted the platform immediately following their song and said: “I think I want to join the Army of Indonesia.” He led an especially composed Congress song: For the World and introduced a group of timbrelists and percussionists from Congo-Brazzaville. There were 21 members of the brigade, but only seven were able to obtain visas to leave their country. In their native language they sang and played a “kaleidoscope of praise” which featured the song All My Heart I Give You.
Following Scripture, the Hendon band presented a remarkably beautiful and stirring work, Renaissance, and General John Gowans mounted the stage.
With his inimitable skill of relating to an audience of any size, Gowans mesmerized the packed arena with a powerful message of unity in diversity in which he recognized that one of the devil’s primary strategies is to “divide and rule.” “There is only one Salvation Army,” he proclaimed. (This presentation is summarized on page 1 in New Frontier.)
Following the message, the great center stage became a mercy seat for the first time in the Congress. Seekers flocked forward and knelt 10 to 20 deep around the perimeter of the massive stage.
Delegates assembled early Thursday morning–especially for those traveling west to east–as the 9:00 a.m. meeting began promptly. The Sons of Salvation, a group of male Gospel singers from the Washington D.C. Adult Rehabilitation Center, demonstrated musical virtuosity in this genre which was truly of a professional nature. All beneficiaries of the program except their leader, John Graham, they inspired the audience with the tremendous trust they had in their Savior as they led a time of praise and worship.
The Southern Territorial Band captured the feeling of the morning with a bouncy and rhythmical presentation of Len Balentine’s Since Jesus Came Into My Heart, and the Korean Territorial Songsters, 40 plus strong, led by CSM Lee Chang-sup, sang Shine on Us.
The first speaker of the morning was not a Salvationist. He was the first of five in Christian service from outside the Army to commend and to confront Salvationists from around the world to actualize their identity as a Salvation Army. This first speaker, Chuck Colson, a major figure in the Richard Nixon White House, indicted for his role in the Watergate scandal, was sent to prison. Upon finding God and deepening his faith there, and upon release, he created and now leads the Prison Fellowship Ministries. He now gives his life to introduce Christ to those now incarcerated with 50,000 volunteers and 300 employees.
Colson said: “There has never been an occasion when the Army hasn’t got to a point of need before me. You have been faithful to your call over the years. You have never compromised your commitment.” (This presentation is covered in more detail on page one.)
Thursday morning session #2
During the second general session of Thursday morning, the audience was touched by the quiet, consecrated voice of CSM Michail Gavrilov as he testified to the remarkable reviving spirit of Christ. Recognizing that 20,000 pairs of eyes focused on him at that moment, he simply accepted the embarrassed feeling and said: “I focus on Christ. Tell others,” he said, “that the joy of eternal life can be theirs as well. The flame of the Holy Spirit can warm them.”
The Chicago Staff Band, led by Bandmaster William Himes, then presented the powerful Shine as the Light composed by Peter Graham. Carrying on with the same theme, the Sydney Staff Songsters, led by Graeme Press, sang Joy Webb’s beautiful Candle of the Lord.
The second “outside” speaker was Dr. Bill Hybels, senior pastor of the Willow Creek Church. In the 25 years of his leadership the congregation has grown from a beginning of less than 175 to a membership of 25,000. Hybels reported that he got to know Salvationists as they participated in his church leadership seminars and discovered they resonated positively to the vision of growing, active churches, on fire for the Lord.
His pointed and highly effective instruction brought home to the delegates the problems and solutions of building effective churches. He drew consistently on an image he found in the work of William Booth–an image of people drowning and being ignored by others on an island. Booth, in the spirit of Christ, charged the Army “to get in the water.”
(This presentation is covered in more detail on page one.)
Following the presentation, the Chicago Staff Band played The Light Has Come as delegates experienced a time of commitment.
Thursday evening was “Canada Night.” With tremendous spirit and joy in their salvation, the delegates from across our northern border belied any reserved and strait-laced image one might have held of Canadians. Just prior to the meeting’s beginning and following the “Canada Night” announcement, the group erupted with joy spontaneously and one young man raced across the stage with the red and white maple leaf flag of Canada. As the audience hushed and a video presented some of the Army’s work in Canada, a Canadian Mountie, dressed in the full splendor of their world famous uniform, marched across the stage and saluted the audience.
Interestingly, however, USA West Territorial Commander, Commissioner David Edwards led the service. With obvious pleasure in the spontaneity of our Canadian brothers, he joined them in repartee. Then, bringing the full audience together, he reminded the delegates of the tremendous confidence in Christ demonstrated by the early-day Salvationists and led them in the rousing song: We shall not lose the fight of faith for Jesus is our Lord.
Edwards then welcomed a group of Moldovan Sal-vationists attending their first Congress. The group of about 30, attired in their native costumes, took the stage dancing and singing an Army song in their native tongue.
Commissioner Freda Larsson reminded the audience of the supreme sacrifice of so many Salvationists around the world and commented on the courage of the 158 Salvationists murdered in Congo-Brazzaville simply because they were Christians.
With dramatic lighting, a group of native Salvationists from Papua, New Guinea moved onto the stage. Dressed in native costumes, some almost naked, they struck threatening postures carried spears and shields, and danced to native rhythms of their culture. Then, with a special song written specially for the Congress, the group sang of their love and devotion to God.
Songster Jude Gotrich of Atlanta joined the Canadian Staff Band, led by Bandmaster Brian Burditt, and together they presented O Boundless Salvation.
Gowans then spoke. As he mounted the stage up one of the long corner ramps he carried with him a three-legged stool which he placed on the round table raising from beneath the stage. Ignoring the stool, he captured the audience immediately with comments about the amount of mail he has received concerning the Army uniform. He recommended that we consider those worn by the Canadian Mountie–or even by the Salvationists from Papua.
He then asked: “Do you think The Salvation Army deserves a tomorrow?” He went on to note that the Holy Spirit tests the Army for: (1) its relevance; (2) its effectiveness; and (3) its commitment.
The presentation was built on a theme introduced over 100 years ago in an article by Catherine Booth concerning the need for “Adaptability.” He charged Salvationists to “get clever with your soul winning. RELATE Get your hands dirty.”
(This presentation is covered in more detail elsewhere in these pages.)
Once again, seekers flocked to the alter.
Commissioner Shaw Clifton of the Pakistan Territory led the Friday morning session which featured musical presentations by the New York Staff Band, led by B/M Ron Waiksnoris, the Zimbabwe Territorial Songsters, and the Pakistan Folk Dance Group.
Recruiting Sergeant Kate Wong delivered a powerful witness and the Dallas Temple Drama Team presented scripture in drama.
Clifton introduced the speaker of the morning, Joni Eareckson Tada, who received a standing ovation as she wheeled her motorized chair up the ramp and addressed the delegates. “I sure do love my friends from The Salvation Army,” she said, and the crowd spontaneously showed their great affection for her. She spoke with great personal self-disclosure of her own trials as a quadriplegic. “The more we lean on Jesus,” she said, “the stronger we discover him to be. God’s power shows up in weakness. God is bigger to those who need him more.”
(This presentation is covered in more detail on page 1.)
Following her presentation the delegates experienced a time of commitment.
The march of witness.
What’s a Salvation Army gathering without a march? The more than 20,000 delegates took to the streets with banner and flags as the various bands, choirs, songster brigades, dance groups and cultural bands in traditional uniforms and their native costumes and marched through the Peachtree Center of Atlanta and back to Centennial Park. Delegates from each territory marched behind their leaders with musical aggregations spread out along the route. Brilliant colors, dancing dragons, cultural costumes spoke of the diversity of the Army Next delegates and presented the Army as a worldwide organization united in the cause of Christ–willing to share his love with the lost and needy wherever they might be.
Produced by the USA Western Territory under the leadership of Steve Allen with contemporary song stylings by Barbara Allen, this session also presented the Tustin Ranch praise and worship team “Praiseworks” as well as The Southwest Gospel choir under the leadership of S/L Bill Nunes.
The program opened with a contemporary spoof of Hollywood that featured impersonations of Marilyn Monroe, Charlie Chaplin, and the Keystone Cops, as well as Lt. Colonels Carolyn and Ray Peacock in cowboy garb precariously perched on the back of a horse during a frantic “western” scene. Appropriate “underscoring” was provided by the Southern Territorial Band, led by B/M Richard Holz.
As the music ended, from a suddenly darkened arena, Barbara Allen lit a single candle and captured the feeling of the moment with the strong rhythmic pulse of the song Push Back the Dark. A video of western Salvationists displayed the multitude of ways the Army does just that–push back the darkness of destitution and despair as it works to fulfill its mission of integrated ministry.
Buenos Aires CSM Alejandro Roos testified of his ministry and commitment, and Carol Joudes of the USA Eastern Territory sang a magnificent jazz arrangement of The Burning Bush. Just before some remarks by Commissioner Gísele Gowans the Sydney Staff Songsters, led by Graeme Press, sang.
Gowans remarked that the power of God is given for specific moments to those who have the courage to work beyond their own will. “Sometimes,” she said, “we have to let go of self to let God work…” She urged the delegates to seize the opportunities available in witnessing to the power of Christ in their lives.
Meeting at the piano just off center stage John Gowans and John Larsson described the “arranged marriage” and “shotgun wedding” which brought them together as young captains in 1967. From the union came some great classics of Army musical literature which Larsson played and Gowans led. Such pieces as If Human Hands–Burning Burning, To be Like Jesus, Someone Cares, His Love Remains the Same, They Shall come from the East have been etched on the hearts of a generation and will live forever.
Larsson provided the principal message of the evening and emphasized the “fire of the Holy Spirit” as an essential requisite in today’s ministry. “The Army needs a fireball at its center,” he said. “Fire will give us the boldness and energy we need.” He contrasted the fire with the dampening effect of “ashes in people’s lives–ashes of discouragement–of complacency–of resistance–of fear. “Movements are not set on fire. It’s individuals who are set on fire.”
During the time of commitment, Captain Janet Munn led the USA East’s dance troupe, Act 2, in an interpretative dance. The meeting concluded with the singing of the beautiful hymn O God of Burning Cleansing Flame Send the Fire.
Later Friday night JOY NOIZ
The evening didn’t end with the final amen as a jam packed Markus Auditorium of the Georgia World Congress Center provided the venue for some of the loudest music ever heard. The contemporary music groups of the Congress gathered with power in their praise. “PraiseWorks,” “Source of Joy,” “The Sons of Salvation,” and the “Southwest Gospel Choir” sang and praised God under the leadership of Phil Wall from the UK.
Saturday morning Dr. Bernice A. King
With music by the Hendon Band, the Southern Territorial Songsters, led by Christopher Priest and scripture drama presented by the National Songsters of New Zealand Drama Troupe, the Saturday morning session continued the momentum in a crescendo of praise.
“The flame will spread” became the theme of the morning program and Dr. Bernice King, youth minister of the Ebenezer Baptist Church and daughter of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., confronted the assembled delegates. “Are you anointed?” she asked over and over. She communicated clearly that the flame of the Holy Spirit can only spread through anointment of believers by its purifying power.
She reminded the delegates of the story of Lazarus. His sisters had sent for his close friend Jesus to come and save his life, but Jesus tarried. When he had finally arrived, it was too late. Lazarus was dead. But Jesus cared for Lazarus and had what was needed to release him from the grave. “Do you have what is needed?” she asked. “Are you anointed?”
“I didn’t ask if you were appointed,” she thundered powerfully. “I asked if you were anointed!”
“Doing the work of God is important, but establishing a relationship with him is essential. Can you be touched? You don’t want to fool with poverty, racism and despair without anointing. The Army today is being called to be the Star Trek Army (“To boldly go where no one has gone before”).
“Like Lazarus, God needs to release you from your grave clothes to a new and different work. That’s frightening, but anointed people don’t panic. Anointed people act under God’s timing.
“You are called upon to call forth the Lazarus’ of our time and release them. Don’t be afraid. The Army of yesterday is no more. You can be more bold, more courageous, more controversial, more confrontational. We can have the same power as Jesus Christ, and that power can be life changing.
“You are not here by accident. You are here to retrieve this work. Go forth and let the flame spread.”
Thousands flocked to the mercy seat to answer the call to commitment.
Saturday afternoon Celebrate Freedom Rallies
The Congress once again moved to the out of doors as it invaded Centennial Olympic Park directly across from the Arena. With people enjoying the warm Atlanta sunshine, all of the Congress musical groups, dance groups, and soloists provided magnificent music and testimony. Two large stages provided the venues for the celebration. Gowans, along with Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie, led one of the gatherings.
“Christ is the passion of my life,” Ogilvie said. “His indwelling spirit is the power of my life. The purpose of my life is to seek to live supernaturally, totally depended on his gifts for ministry, his love for people, his vision for the future, his strength to turn life struggles into stepping stones.”
Delegates met with scores of Atlantans in informal moments and witnessed to God’s presence in their lives.
Saturday evening a spirit assembly a holiness meeting.
With Gowans reciting and Larsson providing musical underscoring, Vachel Lindsey’s great poem “General William Booth Enters Heaven” introduced the Saturday evening program. With the poem’s concluding line “Are you washed in the blood of the Lamb?” Gowans led the congregation in singing the old hymn. Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power? are you washed in the blood of the Lamb? The challenging questions from the hymn found in the “Call to Holiness” section of the Army song book opened the evening service–the Congress Holiness meeting.
Following, Commissioner Gísele Gowans gave a simple seeking prayer of need for God’s continuing presence in the lives of his people.
The flame of the Holy Spirit consuming and filling the lives of Salvationists around the world continued as a Congress theme. Mr. Joseph Volkhuma of India testified to the power of that flame and the Korea Territory United Songsters sang a beautiful arrangement of the hymn He Leadeth Me. The song Whiter than Snow set the stage for a magnificent presentation of an extended work by Bill Himes, played by the Chicago Staff Band to his original composition All that I Am.
Gowans spoke powerfully and sought to answer the question: How can it be possible that a God who made everything can have a relationship with humankind? “What is man that thou are mindful of him?” That relationship takes place “spirit to spirit,” he said.
(This is covered in more detail later in these pages)
A time of commitment followed the message, and once again, delegates took to heart the challenge of a burning, cleansing flame within their lives and sought the Holy Spirit’s presence.
The band concluded the service with The Light Has Come synchronized with a video message of compassionate outreach. Then, in a darkened auditorium, each member of the congregation lit the room with small flashlights and sang Carry the Flame.
Sunday Morning a praise meeting
Bands at each corner of the stage, a massed songster brigade, admission of five Salvationists to the Order of the Founder, dance and song, soloists and testimonies and a powerful concluding message from the General. All combined to send the delegates homeward amazed at the power available in a human life filled with the presence of God.
Admitted to the Order of the Founder were: Major Emma Zimmerman, Caribbean Territory; Major Rosa Maria Haefeli (R), Caribbean Territory; Mrs. Carolina Fedori, the Philippine Territory; Major Catherine Cox, the USA Southern Territory; and Mr. William Himes, the USA Central Territory.
Gowans spoke openly about his own conversion from a rebellious period and negativity and criticism to a transformation and a decision for officership. “What does the Spirit say to the church–to the Army?” he asked. “Let me–let me–allow me.” If we will humble ourselves and surrender to his will in our lives, he will fill our lives with exciting adventure.
(This message is covered in more detail elsewhere in these pages)
An international call to officership followed the General’s message. This concluded with a recognition of officers serving outside their home territories and the concluding song–which also opened the Congress–O Boundless Salvation.
The General offered the benediction.
Other events at the Congress
Not everything at the Congress took place in the Phillips Arena. Outstanding programs for children were also very much a part of the experience. Excellent and professional child care was provided, and slightly older children were treated to a ministry designed especially for them. General Gowans visited the service during one of the mornings.
Similarly, older youth had special nights with dynamic preaching and contemporary music.
The musical Godspell, produced by Southern Territorial Salvationists, was performed during the Monday and Tuesday evenings and Wednesday, Thursday and Friday afternoons at the Alliance Theater. Packed houses made tickets difficult to get as word-of-mouth reviews spoke highly of the quality of the production. All proceeds went to the Youth Evangelism Support Fund (Y.E.S. Fund).
The Millennium University offered workshop and training courses around a number of different topics from cross-cultural communication to the relationship between holiness and the great commission–from music ministry to a school of prayer.
Round-the-clock prayer during the entire period of the Congress was provided within the Congress Prayer Chapel.
Delegates seized opportunities to participate in the social programs of the Atlanta as volunteers for one day as “mission teams” took to the field following training and orientation by relevant staff.
Various small groups such as those involved in special ministries, past congresses, ethnic ministry specialists, sessions of officers met and celebrated past experiences together.