Sandwich, soap, salvation
Swiss Salvationists reach out to street people, teens.
by Hans Christoph Inniger –
The Salvation Army in St. Gallen, Switzerland, has been distributing food to people who live on the streets since 1999. But beside the calories, the friendly words are important.
About 20 people are waiting in front of the entrance to the St. Gallen Corps. Some of them live on the streets, while others are just happy to receive a meal. The door will open at precisely 8:00 p.m. The rules are clear: no smoking, alcohol stays outside and dogs have to be on a leash. Strict attention is paid to compliance with these rules.
Marianne Grob and Bjoern Jakob, who are distributing the food this evening, cordially welcome the people. About 14 members of The Salvation Army and the Evangelical Alliance have been providing this service in St. Gallen for six years, four evenings a week. What lunchrooms and bakeries cannot sell before closing time, The Salvation Army can pick up and pass on.
Without cooperation it doesn’t work
“With your distribution of food, people are accumulating!” This was the initial opposition that many Salvationists faced. At that time they went into the city where the people living on the streets gathered. The protest reached the city council, who then banned The Salvation Army from distributing food. But we cannot just kick these people out!” said Heidi Weisser, who, together with her husband Gottfried, serve on the team. The police were also interested in a solution to benefit the street people. They proposed to the Salvationists that they distribute the food on their own premises—that is legally a lot less problematic. And that is how it works now.
More than food
Sandwiches and cakes are only one thing. A listening ear, a kind word, a friendly conversation—do the people, who many would prefer to remain hidden, just as much good. Depending on the number of people—sometimes 60—there is not much time left over for the two volunteers to have long conversations. As a result, Bjoern Jakob, who organizes the plan, tries to be present as a third helper who has time to talk. “Sometimes we encounter situations, where we clearly see the contrast of light and darkness,” says Heidi Weisser. “But when people ask, of their own accord, to have a Bible, to attend the meetings and even manage to get out of the misery, this is a visible success. Probably, most of what happens remains hidden.”
“Alive teens” on tour
“Alive teens” is a youth project of The Salvation Army in Switzerland. Every year during one week about 70 teenagers rehearse a choir program at camp that they then perform in some of the large Swiss cities. The young people are accompanied by a professional live band and sing rock and pop songs as well as ballads. The words speak of friendship, hope and responsibility. The central message is the love of God.
The performances are addressed to youth and people who do not attend church. “Alive teens” conveys in an attractive and credible way that a life with God is worthwhile and is anything but restricting.
In contrast to The Salvation Army’s work with outcasts, “Alive teens” is prevention through a meaningful leisure activity. This helps them to deal with challenges such as peer pressure, conflicts, stress and pressure to achieve. It also demands a commitment from the teenagers, but the work toward a common goal promotes solidarity and assures them that they are important. The shared experience and the self-confidence won have a big influence.
Thus, for many participants, new perspectives open up beyond the camp—in musical and social areas as well as in attitudes toward life and faith.
—Philipp Steiner, Bern Division youth secretary