So. Calif. Programs Offer Thanks, Praise

In a festive and spiritually uplifting holiday program, residents from divisional Social Service programs joined with Commissioner David and Doreen Edwards, corps officers, soldiers and Salvation Army staff to give thanks, praise and to acknowledge God’s presence in their lives. The Thanksgiving Praise program, presented by the Social Services Department, has become a holiday tradition of the Southern California Division.

General Secretary Major Jerry Ames and Director of Social Services Steve Allen welcomed the overflowing crowd. “Look at what the Lord has done. We have the opportunity to praise the Lord tonight!” exclaimed Ames, who also sent a special greeting from Divisional Commander Lt. Colonel Alfred R. Van Cleef, who could not attend the event. After announcing elements of the evening’s exciting program, Allen shared thoughts behind the selection of the program’s theme: “Thanksgiving is simply expressing gratitude to God for what he has done. Praise is acknowledging and celebrating the person of God. Each year we come together at this time in reflection, a feeling of joy, to praise and thank God for all he is doing in our lives.”

Taking its cue, the evening’s program began with a moving testimony from a resident of the Santa Fe Springs Living Center, then launched into a dynamic performance from the South Central Dance Group, featured for the first time. Resonating with thanksgiving and celebration, the program continued with scripture readings from Booth Memorial Center residents and performances from the popular Bell Shelter, Harbor Light and The Haven gospel choirs. But, as happens each year, it was the youthful renditions of Christmas carols performed by the Los Angeles Day Care Center that brought most to their feet clapping and cheering in a standing ovation.

Woven into the evening’s program was the presentation of the Divisional Social Services Award for Excellence to the Bethesda House program, by Commissioner David Edwards and Allen. Started in 1992, Bethesda House is the only facility in the state that allows homeless families who are HIV- or AIDS-infected to stay together as a unit. The program, also this year’s recipient of the Western Territorial Award for best social services program, provides comprehensive support services and promotes self-sufficiency and independent living. Executive Director Anne Calvo said the residents of Bethesda House were involved in a fund-raising project to send money to help AIDS victims in Africa. Those who couldn’t afford to donate money were baking cookies or making small craft items to send. A video titled “Hope 10/10” was shown which chronicled the Army’s efforts to battle AIDS in Africa and profiled the Bethesda House program in Soweto, South Africa,named after the program in Los Angeles.

In bringing what was described by several as a “jubilant” service to a close, Edwards shared various biblical readings to make the point of the importance of expressing thanksgiving and seeking forgiveness from God. “It is one of the great paradoxes of life that we who should be most grateful are often lacking in thanksgiving. Until you experience the need to be forgiven you will never know what it is to be truly thankful to God. You will never really appreciate how much God loves you and how significant a price he paid on your behalf so that you might experience his “love and forgiveness.”

As the 1,000-plus audience sang “Amazing Grace,” it was a moment of acknowledging what the Lord had done in each life. The third annual Thanksgiving Praise ended as it had begun, “in reflection and a feeling of joy.”

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