Why a General?

During General John Larsson’s (Ret.) term of office, the UK Territory arranged for the filming of an interview between him and a junior soldier—13-year-old Gary Pitt from Northampton. The following excerpt from Larsson’s autobiography, Saying Yes to Life, relates what happened when Gary asked his toughest question.

Gary’s questions were delightfully pointed and uninhibited. And in his first question he went with effortless charm straight for the jugular. “What’s the General for?” he asked. I smiled, and to give myself a couple of seconds to gather my thoughts I repeated the question out loud, “What’s the General for?” But my mind was yelling: “Everyone knows what a general is for! Did anyone ever ask Napoleon what he was for?” Yet here I was being pressed to say exactly why The Salvation Army has a General!

In my response I focused on the responsibility of leading an Army at work in [then] 111 countries [now 123], and how it is the General’s task to set the strategic direction and enable resources to be shared so that the Army can accomplish its mission. I also spoke to Gary about the awesome responsibility of being the Army’s spiritual leader.

Gary wanted to know how often I received policy advice from young people, whether our military style was a turn-off to people these days, what I thought about uniform-wearing and much more. He also asked me where I would like to take him to see the Army at work.

I told him that I would love him to come with us to Africa. I said I would like him to experience one of the great gatherings of 10,000 or more white-clad Salvationists praising the Lord together. The next day I would want to take him out to one of the villages to see the Army engaged in its practical work, providing education and health services and ministering to those in need. He would then, I said, see the full wonder of the Army at worship and at work—as happens in every country where the Army serves.

Quick as a flash, Gary dug into his pocket, produced his passport and said that he was ready to go at any time! We next met on the platform at the congress following the showing of the video. We exchanged some further words, and then, to the great amusement of the congregation, Gary again pulled out his passport and reminded me that he was ready to come with us—anywhere and at any time!

The video interview with Gary summed up for me the role that now was mine. And as I looked around International Headquarters I was reminded that, in the words of its mission statement, it “exists to support the General as he leads The Salvation Army to accomplish its God-given worldwide task to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human need without discrimination.” I had for the last three years been part of that supporting team. My task was now to lead the Army to accomplish its God-given mission.

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