By Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief
On pages six and seven, we explored characteristics of The Salvation Army as presented through our own heritage. Let’s now explore how we are doing today in each of the same areas.
Loving the poor
Love is a very individual response. It cannot be imposed. Feelings of obligation inhibit it, but can lead to its beginning. Today, much of the complexity of social work demands caring professionals. Therefore, we delegate that work to hired professionals. Others who provide hands-on assistance are often volunteers in corps settings. They are often the “front line” of our work. Army corps have always grown though social work contacts one person at a time.
A vital part of the Army’s mission directs us “to serve suffering humanity.” I assume this means we address issues of poverty, and that the role we’ve assumed is to do this one person at a time—providing food, housing, clothing or other necessities.
We also operate large programs like the adult rehabilitation centers (ARC), Silvercrest residences, and summer camping programs that also employ young people from different cultures. In those programs we see vestiges of Booth’s City Colony, Farm Colony, and Overseas Colony.
These programs are all expensive, and too often we are prone to close a program due to financial restraints.
A significant number of the poor live on what is called Skid Row. In my town, Los Angeles, we used to have a large ARC program and a large Harbor Light program that provided food and shelter for the indigent who wanted to get straight. These programs no longer exist. The poor need the Cab Horse Charter—food, shelter and work. For two years we ran a SALWORKS program which assisted the indigent in finding jobs. The grant expired and funding was no longer available. The program was dropped.
We are good at emergency/disaster work, yet many more of the poor face disaster daily. We need to “do something.”
I have regrets: that we are not active with community and state leadership to address issues of the poor; that our shelter and meal service program is so negligible; and that we have no job finding programs for the unemployed—the largest such program is Australia is an Army program.
This leaves us with opportunites; these gaps are openings through which we can broaden our ministry and reach more people with a helping hand and the love of Jesus.
Expand the mission response
We have expanded the locations of our ministry and are making progress in recognizing the need for cultural sensitivity. This area of the country is one of the most multicultural settings in the world; however, we don’t have local “reach-out plans.” We need material to understand the value differences of various cultures. Territorial leadership has focused on officers using multi-languages. We need to expand cross-cultural programming with free English language instruction.
Adaptable means with spiritual focus
I believe we are doing an excellent job with most of our programs, but we have little idea how good it is in terms of hard data. Meaningful data is needed prior to decision making. Research and development could assist us in developing and gathering data that would actually be able to inform on what works and what does not.
In terms of our corps programs, I’m reluctant to call us rigid, but we have that potential. There are, however, many bright spots of creativity in Army work. Our church services are somewhat similar to other evangelical churches. We sing many “worship” songs like they do. We have more guitars. We have considerable flexibility in music. Traditional brass banding is struggling, but may be on the way back. Our corps grow commensurate with the competence of officer and lay leadership.
Actually, we’re pretty fortunate with territorial leadership these days. Why? Because there’s a climate of willingness to address change. You see…along came Jim, and only he and God know what may come next. Yes, there are some changes coming. We’ve already seen some of them and a big one is developing involving ARC and corps programming that may require considerable creativity.
Attract attention and involve the media
We are the best kept secret in town. People see us in uniform and ask what airline we fly for. We become visible only when there is a nearby disaster or at Christmas. People seem to like us, but haven’t got the slightest idea what we’re all about. We are not visible and are perceived by others as “insular,” an island unto ourselves. The word “open-air” doesn’t exist. These over-statements reflect my feelings, hunches and perceptions. I have limited hard data. It’s not available. Booth would have owned a national radio network and television stations in every major city. He was well on his way to having a movie studio, and probably would have endorsed savn.tv.
Have a plan, work the plan and evaluate the outcome
If we choose to develop adaptable means to meet our mission obligations we desperately need some kind of research and development (R and D) department at THQ. Its role would be to anticipate need, determine how that need fits our mission, explore a series of possible options, determine cost implications and develop a trial run for purposes of testing specific hypotheses. Then, we would implement the program.