By Major Chick Yuill –
Margaret and I only recently returned from South Africa, where we had the privilege of being involved in the International Youth Forum. What an adventure that turned out to be! I could write a small book on the kaleidoscope of experiences that were ours. But for the purpose of this column, one or two anecdotes will be enough, I hope, to let you savor something of our visit.
A host of memories are lodged in my mind from the Youth Forum itself. The General was all that we could have hoped for–and then some–from our international leader. He answered questions honestly, made himself readily available to the delegates, and his preaching in the Tuesday evening public meeting was as powerful and effective a challenge to young adults as I have ever heard. The worship sessions, under the leadership of the Western Territory’s Bill Nunes, had an excitement and enthusiasm which equaled anything I have ever enjoyed anywhere in the world. Then there was the passion of the delegates as they debated the big issues facing the Army today. If I were ever in any doubt that the way forward for this movement is to be found in a recommitment to our founding vision, those 500 young people soon put that right.
But my most abiding memory of the Youth Forum is of the evening when the University of Cape Town, the venue for the whole event, was hit by a power outage before the start of one of the plenary sessions. While the technical people were trying to rig up some lighting and sound, the delegates began to dance and sing. Just a few of them at first, then more and more as the spirit of the movement swept across the hall Soon there were 200 or 300 in front of the stage–Africans, Europeans, Asians, Americans, et al–representatives of 90 nations, holding one of the most joyful praise parties you can imagine this side of eternity. I can hardly wait for either Heaven itself, or at least the next International Youth Forum, to enjoy that kind of celebration once again.
As if all of this weren’t enough, we then had a week’s vacation before conducting the meetings at Claremont Corps on our final weekend. I could tell you about the beauties of the Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth. I could tell you about the sheer pleasure of seeing herds of elephants in their natural habitat. (I would never have thought that those big, seemingly clumsy creatures could look so majestic!) I could tell you about the breathtaking beauty of the Kango Caves, where stalagmites and stalactites have formed themselves over centuries into the most fantastic formations.
I could tell you about all those things and a dozen more wonders of that great country. But I want to tell you about something quite different. I want to tell you of my personal experience of the pain and scars left on the consciousness of South Africa by decades of racial inequality and political oppression. We had stayed overnight at a bed and breakfast establishment, and when we came out in the morning to get into the car there was an elderly African gardener mowing the grass. As I passed, I wished him a good morning, and commented on how much better the lawn was looking for his efforts. He bowed his head a little, smiled at me, and said, “Hello, Massa.”
It’s not easy to describe that moment, but I felt sick and shamed that he, older and probably wiser than me, never having met me before, called me “Master” simply because the color of my skin was different from his. Later in the week, when I talked late into the night with our gracious hosts at Claremont Corps, I began to understand a little more clearly just what apartheid had meant for people of color. I wish I could have taken the old gardener to the praise party at the Youth Forum. I wish he could have seen those young people of every race and color dancing arm in arm in praise of the only one who truly deserves the title of “Master.”
And I was glad to belong to The Salvation Army, whose second General once said, “Every land is my fatherland because every land is my Father’s land. May we, the children of the Heavenly Father and the servants of the Heavenly Master, treat all men and women as brothers and sisters in order that they might come to know the one in whose service is perfect love and liberty.”