New Reality and Future Hope
Majors Ted and Debbie Horwood are USA Western Territory officers who are preparing to transfer to appointments in the Angola Command as general secretary and secretary for women’s ministries, respectively.
Prior to this assignment, they served at International Headquarters in the International Projects and Development section, where their responsibilities included the management and oversight of The Salvation Army’s international projects. In his article below, Ted Horwood reflects on the impact of the Army’s international work.
Read more about the Horwoods at the Western Territory’s website: https://tiny.cc/z23r0
My wife and I have now completed our time at IHQ. We had appointments that few in America have heard about. Yet hardly another appointment in The Salvation Army allowed, indeed required, the same scope and depth of international interaction. Reflecting on the last four and half years, having traveled to most of the territories and commands in which the Army operates, I find it difficult to summarize our experiences. Perhaps the closest I can come is that, over and over again, we have witnessed the fact that The Salvation Army continues to help transform current realities and points to a future hope.
It is not unheard of to be caught out by something someone says, especially when you are mixing with hundreds of people from different cultures, as I did. Conversations ranged from the predictable requests that begin with rapturous compliments bordering on sycophancy but always conclude with a gentle plea for financial assistance, to the blush-inducing, counter-cultural (yet absolutely sincere) compliment about how fat you’ve grown since last seeing each other. But the comment I heard in India settled outside the orbit of those types of statements.
I was conducting a workshop in Southern India. The delegates and I were boarding a bus for a field visit. As I took my seat, an officer asked if he could join me and then said, “I want to thank your father for what he has done for our people.” Probing him a bit, he added, ”you know, we are Dalit people; most Salvationists here are. We were the outcasts and it was your father’s generation who brought education and health care to us.” That officer, and the 160 million Indians like him who are called “untouchables,” come from a stratified social structure that reinforces the principle that all men are created unequal.
This is such an anathema to the 21st century American sensibility. After all, as Thomas Jefferson enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” But, as this Indian officer reminded me, many countries neither have the constitution nor create a reality that accommodates the least, the lowest or the unlearned. And, as he also reminded me, The Salvation Army has been there to help create a new reality and a future hope.
New or better realities are a tremendous thing. In generations past, The Salvation Army did missionary work the traditional way—we had missions in which we built schools, clinics, hospitals and many houses for missionaries and workers. These missions are still dotting the Army maps today, although generally they are looking a bit tired now. But the motivation to be present and make a contribution to the human situation and ultimately the kingdom of God remains paramount.
Following the 2004 South Asia tsunami, we interviewed a woman who lost all three of her children as she and her husband ran to escape the brackish wave of water that swept over their village. Tears streamed down her husband’s face as they described the pain they felt. We recently interviewed her again after investing millions in Sri Lanka. With two small children at her feet, she beamed with appreciation as she showed off the new house the Army built. “We can never replace the family that we lost and our hearts break as we remember. But we thank The Salvation Army for the house that they gave us and the life that we were able to re-start.”
A transformed reality includes more than living conditions. We visited Thessalonica soon after the Army began to operate there. The primary social ministry was an outreach to those working as prostitutes. Similar to its work in Bangladesh, the Army is present to minister to the needs of the women (and girls), and diligently seeks to assist to build new lives and new vocations. Advances are tough and dangerous. The forces of evil pervade—they are palpable and press in as you accompany the officers and staff into brothels. But when victory is accomplished, the changed countenance of the women is inexpressible. It is more than a re-start on life; it is an affirmation of dignity. The Army not only addresses the issues of the physical; inherent in our ministry to people is a desire to reinforce their self-worth. In my experience this cannot be undervalued in our ministry. Two thirds of Christians (and Salvationists) in the world live in circumstances of oppression, be they economic, political or social—not to mention those in the developed world who live in abusive or addictive circumstances. Dignity is a value that transcends borders, languages and social strata, and together with a commitment to address aspects of physical well being, sits at the heart of the transformed reality facilitated by the Army around the world.
The Army doesn’t only address the existential or contemporary. As evangelicals, our ministry points to a future hope. That is what the Indian officer was also expressing to me. “My father” had not only provided education and health care for people who had no access, he had also provided a small opening for those without a future of promise to believe things didn’t need to remain the same. Whether in the Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist or secular world, The Salvation Army’s ministry resonates with the hymns of today and tomorrow.
What we have also experienced is that those associated with the ministries of the Army around the world are not only addressing the temporal, they are aligning themselves with what God is doing among the nations. In Mumbai, India, the Army operates a project in the heart of the Red Light district in a street slum. This project not only seeks to be a place of respite and skills training for those working as prostitutes, it also provides a refuge for the children, particularly the adolescent girls who are highly at risk of themselves being made into prostitutes. With the approval and support of the mothers, girls are brought to a children’s home where they are fed, educated, socialized and ministered to. Officers and staff are determined to point people to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ—Immanuel—who remains in the midst of all people in all nations. The Army’s presence is very literally a light shining in the darkness.
As I write, the Easter season is upon us. And what better ministry for today and the days to come than to work for a reconciled, forgiven world—one in which the people of God strive for beauty, justice, truth and love. Granted, these can look quite messy as they are worked out. But once unearthed from the multiple layers and heaps of bureaucracy and program, inevitably there exists the essence of our ministry: transformation. It is wonderfully encouraging to see good people bring good things out of the good stored up in their heart (Luke 6:45).