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Reflections on ‘Serve a suffering humanity’

By Dana Libby, Captain

I am grateful for all that The Salvation Army is and the good that we have been able to extend for the well-being of the spiritual and physical lives of our neighbors.

Conversely, I am grieved by the missed opportunities and willingness to settle for what looks good on the surface, but lacks substance and life-changing capacity.

In my brief 10 years as a soldier and officer in the Army, I have struggled with the inner-focused perspectives and entitlement attitudes that are encountered at too great a frequency in corps and among officers. There are many shining stars that the Founder would say of their work: “That and better will do!”—our comrades who understand the importance of a truly holistic engagement with the body, mind and spirit of those we are called to serve.

We have too many corps and officers that are not comfortable with “those people,” who have forgotten (or never knew?) that “those people” are indeed God’s people.

Several months ago, I had two newly created positions at Seattle Social Services with the primary responsibility of community outreach through the food bank, on the streets and in the tent cities. I made area corps officers aware of the openings. I made the divisional youth secretary aware of the openings. Not a single Salvationist applied. Eventually we filled the position with two local community members who are doing a fine job—but they are not (yet) Salvationists.

When we arrived in Seattle Social Services, God was not welcome in a number of the programs that had been relinquished to our highly educated social services professionals. I spoke in Occidental Park last summer, at an open-air event to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the first Holiness Meeting in Pioneer Square. The prepared remarks provided by our development department carefully left out any reference to our spiritual calling, to avoid giving any offense to the government officials present—an “error” that I corrected with a clear proclamation of the gospel and a reminder that we were called by God to our mission.

Bob Docter, in his New Frontier “On the Corner” column entitled “Serve a suffering humanity” (vol. 31, no. 5), wrote: “Who speaks for the poor? Whose voice will be most trusted? It is the voice that speaks with accurate authority and has assembled the facts, understands how they are misused or kept secret, a voice without any gain other than serving a suffering humanity—one of our missions.

“In this nation, the Army needs some kind of data-gathering agency whose responsibility will be to keep us apprised of issues we face in the present and the near future. We need a think tank.”

If the Army moves ahead with such an endeavor, it must not be simply a sterile analysis of statistical information. Like Darkest England, such a modern-day effort must cloak those cold numbers in the rags and tears of poverty, in the pain of untreated PTSD and TBI, in the anguish of a family watching a child whither away from addiction. It needs to be an impolite, politically incorrect advocacy arm that can unflinchingly hold a mirror up to society and help us understand painful truth—and the reason for hope.

Until we as individuals and we as an Army consistently live and breathe our mission, our message will remain unheard.

Thanks, Bob, for continuing to shout from the corner!

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