Close to 1,200 Southwest Salvationists matched the Phoenix outside warmth inside the city’s Orpheum Theater in greeting General John Larsson, Commissioner Freda Larsson, national, and territorial leaders during a historic “first-time” trip by any international Army leader to the Phoenix area.
With a mix of fluent Spanish and flowing English plus a little bit of Swedish thrown in, Larsson charmed the excited and highly responsive crowd with his warmth, wit and wisdom as he enrolled 70 new junior and 37 senior soldiers, with Commissioner Linda Bond, territorial commander; received six accepted Southwest candidates for the Visionaries Session of cadets; and challenged all in attendance with a dynamic message from God’s word.
Commissioner W. Todd Bassett, national commander, introduced the Larssons and commented on their personal integrity—a sense of “completeness” about them; on their ability to inspire—causing those around them to feel positive about what they were doing and about themselves; and about the obvious intellect they brought to their positions—the skill with which they led the Army during this difficult period of world history.
Commissioner Freda Larsson responded with appreciation for the friendly and joyful spirit she felt among Western Salvationists and noted that this was the first visit to Phoenix by any of the Army’s international leaders. She also brought the scripture passages chosen by the General for his message. They were found in Ephesians 19:5 and Psalm 100—both expressing that same joy she felt in them.
Larsson’s first words were in Spanish. “It is lovely to greet you in the language of heaven,” Larsson said. The audience responded immediately with loud applause and cheers that were duplicated on several occasions during his remarks. To the newly enrolled soldiers he continued the commitment to action expressed throughout his visit when he said: “We become Salvation Army soldiers to do something for the Lord.”
In remarks to all assembled he commented on the scripture that called upon us to ‘serve the Lord with gladness.’
“This is a special gift of The Salvation Army. We sing of it in the old chorus—Joy, Joy, Joy—there is joy in the Salvation Army. We are hallelujah people.” At this point he taught the audience how to say ‘hallelu-u-u-u-jah’ like they do in Sweden.
“God loves all expressions of joy,” he said. “We serve the Lord with gladness through our witness. And when we simply share our faith with even a single person, a powerful web spreads from it—and that one witness reaches out and compounds itself over and over again.
“We serve the Lord with gladness through our caring.” The word ‘compassion’ means ‘with suffering.’ When we care we demonstrate the dimensions of our compassion. We feel the pain of those in distress.
“We serve the Lord with gladness.” Here, Larsson focused on the word ‘serve.’ “It means saying ‘yes,’” he said, and then commented that the story of the rich young ruler is one of the saddest stories in the Bible. “‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God,’” he quoted. “Too many of us seem to say: ‘I will follow you—BUT’ … We have a mañana attitude—a ‘not yet’ spirit. We place limits on our willingness to serve—‘I can give some, but not my all.’ We minimize the quality of our abilities—‘don’t expect much,’ we say.
“Our problem is ‘powerlessness.’ It says in the first chapter of The Acts of the Apostles—the eighth verse—the most dynamic words in the Bible—You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”
With the singing of Holy Spirit Come oh Come/ Let thy work in me be done—the altar was open to an overflowing response.
Divisional Bandmaster Ralph Pearce led the divisional band and the Southwest Chorus during the service, and Commissioner Carol Bassett pronounced the benediction.
The General’s visit is best expressed by an advisory board member from Glendale, Ariz.: “The program was excellent! I continue to be so impressed with the Larssons and others. The many children were so good. The energy was electric!”