National Commander visits West
Commissioner Israel Gaither ‘absolutely impressed’ with Southern California Division.
by Janet Chismar –
Commissioner Israel L. Gaither speaks during the weekly “Hour of Power” services at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. The Canadian Staff Band and Songsters also participated in the services.
Time raced by as national leaders Commissioners Israel and Eva Gaither toured Southern California over New Year’s weekend, but each step along the way was more memorable than the last. From meeting Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to visiting the Alegria and Bell Shelter programs, Gaither came away “absolutely impressed” with the division. “It’s a very impressive area and we just barely scratched the surface,” he stated.
In a New Year’s Eve interview at Tustin Ranch, Gaither reflected on his visit and shared that he has high expectations for 2007: “There are some innovative and creative things that I know the divisional commander has in mind—some new initiatives that will press the mission forward even further.”
Gaither pointed out that the Southern California Division has “a lot of transforming work going on. Alegria and Bell Shelter are phenomenal programs that are making an impact.” He believes the two model programs can be replicated in other areas of the country.
Alegria is a residential facility housing low-income families affected by HIV/AIDS. Opened in 2001, it is one of the largest facilities of its kind in the US. Bell Shelter is one of the largest homeless care facilities in the nation. In addition to housing, Bell Shelter provides meals, counseling, health care, ESL classes and job training for men and women who are mentally ill or dual diagnosed with mental illness and substance abuse.
Another strength in this division, said Gaither, “is the relationship you have with City Hall.” In a meeting that included Commissioners Israel and Eva Gaither, Southern California divisional leaders Lt. Colonels Paul and Ronda Bollwahn and Chief Secretary Lt. Colonel Donald Bell, Villaraigosa expressed his appreciation to The Salvation Army “for all the work you do and the safety net of services you provide.” After discussing issues of poverty, homelessness and servant leadership, Villaraigosa concluded the meeting by suggesting that the city and the Army “work on something concrete together.”
From City Hall, the Gaithers traveled a few blocks to divisional headquarters for a special devotional coffee break. He reminded staff that “you need to be passionate from the heart in what you do” and said, “May your belief in God propel you to do what you do. We all are key players in turning America around,” he added.
When asked what he considered to be personal highlights of the visit, Gaither said each component was special, but that he especially enjoyed a concert at Bell Shelter featuring the Canadian Staff Band (CSB). “That evening is certainly one of the memories that we will take back with us,” said Gaither. “The response of the folks there was unbelievable—it was amazing.” He also enjoyed hearing the Pasadena Tabernacle Youth Chorus who joined the CSB for a Dec. 30 concert at the Tabernacle.
“This morning’s (Dec. 31) participation at the Crystal Cathedral service was yet another remarkable event,” Gaither shared. “I was so proud of the Pasadena Songsters and the Canadian Staff Band—they were just absolutely superb.” Gaither read a Scripture selection and the CSB and Songsters performed one selection at both “Hour of Power” Sunday services.
Although he had yet to march in the Tournament of Roses Parade when this interview was conducted, Gaither said he was “looking forward” to leading The Salvation Army Band in the annual New Year’s Day event.
But on this last night of 2006, Gaither was looking even further ahead—to the promise and challenge of the coming year: “I believe strongly that The Salvation Army has a role to play in calling America back to its spiritual roots. We have a platform, a ministry that allows us to do that. Every Salvation Army facility is a mission station. Every congregation is vital for the fulfilling of the Great Commission.”
The National Commander concluded: “The Salvation Army has made a promise to America with the motto, ‘Doing the Most Good.’ So, we’re going to do what we say we do and believe what we say we are. That’s a promise we’re going to keep.
“It is an exciting time to be here in America,” he added. “I think some unique challenges await us but I think we are up for it and I think we can make our vision happen.”