Of bell ringing and seed sowing

by Lawrence Shiroma, Major –

Cadet Mark Cyr helps a youngser with a kettle donation.

What does it profit a person to gain the whole world but forfeit the soul? (Mark 8:36)

Pastor Bill Hybels in his book, Just Walk Across the Room, encourages us to be intentional, “seed-sowing fools.” Jesus knew that as Christ-followers, we would be sowing seeds of faith that would fall on hard ground that would not take the seed. But we are to persevere, to leave our comfort zone and enter the “Zone of the Unknown.” These are places and circumstances in which you have no clue what is going to happen, where the conversation is going to lead or whether there will be any conversation at all.

By this definition, the ubiquitous bell-ringer is in the Zone of the Unknown. Persons of every religious or non-religious persuasion and ideology, of every ethnicity and culture, from every walk of life, pass by this representative of The Salvation Army on the sidewalks of every major city in America. So how does this translate to getting the true message of the Army out to the public?

Just before the Christmas intensive, I was discussing this question with a group of cadets at the College for Officer Training—they happened to be four of the top five cadet bell ringers from last Christmas: Cadets Paul Swain, Willie Bland, Jeff Josephson and Michelle Josephson. (Cadet Mark Stearns was not present.) These five Prayer Warriors between them raised $23,117 for local corps. Swain was top bell ringer, at $6,228, thus throwing down the gauntlet for the Ambassadors of Holiness cadets.

The group agreed: “You can’t expect a paid worker or community volunteer who does not attend the Army to invite people to the corps on Sundays to learn more about Jesus.” How about using corps soldiers as bell ringers? Josephson laughed, “It’s easier said than done; they know how hard it is to be one!”

Nevertheless, most corps officers would agree that the most effective bell ringer—service club member and big-name celebrity notwithstanding—is the faithful, uniformed corps soldier. Dedicated corps soldiers have the dual capability to bring in donations as well as invite others to the corps. The daunting challenge thus facing second-year cadets like Swain, Bland, Josephson and Stearns—soon to be commissioned next June as Salvation Army officers—is to learn how to transform corps soldiers into bell ringers and seed-sowing fools.

Christmas 2009
Results are in, and the top five bell-ringing cadets for this Christmas, from the Ambassadors of Holiness Session, are Ashley Aspeitia, Alexander Williams, Mark Cyr, Joseph Alvarez and Stacy Antonovich.

All the cadets mentioned the positive contacts made with people while bell ringing. Here are a few of the comments from the Ambassadors of Holiness cadets:

Bell ringing breaks down barriers, it allows you to speak and show God’s love to all who pass by. (Cadet Bonita Kelsey, assigned to the Long Beach Corps)

The red kettles open many doors of ministry. In these difficult economic times, we need to honor those who give and be sensitive and show dignity to those who cannot. (Cadet Liane Newcomb, assigned to the Oceanside Corps)

One line that sticks in my head is: “I can feel your smile.” One of the rougher cart boys told me that on a day when he was clearly quite emotional. After standing there for a while with a lot of the Wal-Mart staff, that’s what he said. I realized that a tiny act like a steady smile could have a positive impact on someone’s day. (Cadet Ashley Aspeitia, assigned to the Oceanside Corps)

One thing I learned while standing at the kettle: No matter how many years have passed, people never forget what The Salvation Army has done for them. One old gentleman recalled what The Salvation Army had done for him while wounded in a hospital during WWII…what a blessing to share his memories! (Cadet Kim K. Warriner, assigned to the Tustin Ranch Corps)

I have learned many things while standing kettles this season. Most often people talk about what the Army has done for them in the past. One woman said that her grandma has been a lifelong soldier and had a strong impact on her. When she was young she was separated from her mom while shopping and it was the bell ringer who helped her find her mom. (Cadet Stacy Antonovich, assigned to the Oceanside Corps)

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