By Captain Callum McKenna and Lieutenant Sam Tomlin
There is a scene in the Lion King where Rafiki finds Simba, who has ran away from his destiny to be King and is wandering around without too much direction. Rafiki confronts Simba with a question about who he is. Simba replies, ‘I thought I knew, but now I’m not so sure.’ According to Rafiki, the main reason for this is confusion about his identity. The moment where Simba recaptures his purpose and desire to become the rightful king is when he sees a vision of his father who tells him that he has forgotten who he is.
As the parents of five children under five between us, we’re used to spotting the profound in Kid’s TV and this short clip, we think, captures something deep for The Salvation Army today. Something else we have in common is that we are officers in The Salvation Army in the UK Territory, with a deep love of the Army and its history and a conviction to serve faithfully in its ranks in the present. We also have serious worries about the future of the Army as it faces the challenges of postmodern culture in the UK. These worries aren’t new and neither are questions about the Army’s identity; Commissioner Samuel Logan Brengle wrote, in 1930, that these particular questions are ‘as old as the Army itself’. Contemporary articles calling for greater passion for Christ and a renewed disposition for risk taking join in Brengle’s tradition. Despite some of the most incredible, faithful followers of Christ we have met still leading within the Army, ever-decreasing membership within the UK territory (and similar stories across the Western world), officer burnout/resignation and record lows of cadets indicate there are serious questions that need to be considered. We don’t claim to have all the answers, or even all of the questions, but will attempt in this blog to outline some of the reasons we think might be at the heart of losing much of our historical and spiritual zeal.
Major Jonny Smith hosts a conversation on Facebook Live on 7 May 2020 with three Salvation Army corps leaders – Captain John Clifton (Ilford), Major Estelle Blake (Oldham Fitton Hill) and Major Nick Coke (Raynes Park). They explore themes related to mission, justice, community organising and the local church through stories of hope and transformation.
I saw a quote recently by Eugene Cho which said ‘The Salvation Army will die if it loses the commitment it exhibited in the past for creativity.’
My immediate reaction? Oh no! The Salvation Army cannot die! We need it! My second reaction? Well – if it’s not creative, then it’s not having the impact on the world we would desire it to have, which means it’s not The Salvation Army, which means it’s dead already.
My third reaction – admittedly after some more reflection than the first two – was to consider the phraseology.
‘The Salvation Army will die…’
‘If it loses…’
‘In the past…’
Although Cho is not (to my knowledge) a Salvationist, he has captured a mindset which seems quite common.
Walter Brueggemann explains how we can operate on the basis of two possible assumptions about the World and God’s provision: scarcity and abundance. Scarcity is a constant anxiety that there isn’t enough. I’m sure Cho did not intend his quote to come across as an example of scarcity, but it really struck a chord with a perspective that seems to have become too normal. We’re scared of the death of the institution. We haven’t got enough money. Corps are closing. We don’t have enough Officers. We haven’t got enough Soldiers. I haven’t got enough time. Fear, death, trepidation. We haven’t got enough… never enough. Brueggemann credits Pharaoh with introducing scarcity into the world economy in Genesis 47 after he dreams of there being famine throughout the land. This introduces a fear of there not being enough, leading him to try to get control of everything. The ripple effects of this are numerous as he gets into a mindset of constantly coveting what his neighbor has. Cho’s quote seems inadvertently to capture this, assuming that death is the outcome we need to fight against, fearing loss of creativity, coveting what we had in the past.
Abundance, on the other hand, is a confidence that we have more than enough for our needs. It’s like that meme that says ‘the pessimist says the cup is half empty, and the optimist says the cup is half full. the child of God says my cup runneth over.’ Brueggemann outlines how abundance runs as a theme right from Genesis 1 with the repeated refrain ‘it is good’. Matthew 25:31-46 also demonstrates an attitude of abundance. I have enough food to give to someone who is hungry, enough water to provide to someone who is thirsty, enough space to welcome a stranger, enough time to visit the sick and imprisoned. Salvationists are good at these practices of abundance. At Ilford Corps we are working on Project Malachi, based on an initial donation of £5 by a boy called Malachi (pictured below), which says ‘we have enough to be able to build accommodation for people sleeping rough with no recourse to public funds’; at Raynes Park and other Corps, Salvationists are working on community sponsorship which says ‘we have enough to be able to welcome people seeking refuge from other countries’; The Salvation Army emergency services supports Fire Brigades during crisis events which says ‘we have enough to help provide relief for the firefighters and victims’. There are too many examples of this to name in The Salvation Army. We can do abundance when we decide we want to!
Why, then, do we get into a mentality of ‘not enough’? I confess to being guilty of it as well, but I am committing now to do my utmost to view things from a perspective of abundance.
God has given us everything we need to do that to which he has called us.
So, in considering this, I wonder if we might re-phrase Cho’s quote to something such as ‘The Salvation Army will change the world and win it for Jesus by exhibiting our commitment to creativity.’
Mosques in North-East London with Churches and Christian groups are working together to sponsor a Syrian refugee family who arrive tomorrow, 26 June 2019, to start their new life in the UK.
The Redbridge Community Sponsorship project – a partnership between South Woodford Mosque, Balfour Road Mosque, Ilford Methodist Church, Ilford Salvation Army, St. Thomas of Canterbury RC Church and Wanstead Quakers – was initially formed in 2017.
I looked into his eyes and I saw why we had invested so much of ourselves into this project. “Thank you thank you thank you….”, we were at the airport and the Syrian family we will be sponsoring were with us in arrivals. The boys were beyond themselves with happiness. Jamal looks at his family and then me and whispers ‘thank you’.
Communicating through google translate Jamal reads my message, “we are looking forward to sharing life with you”, he looks up at me, tears well up. Full of emotion Jamal speaks into the phone and shows me the translation, “nothing I can say will let you know how grateful we are… we are safe”.
Out in the garden, high above an EasyJet Airbus banks and changes direction, the engines whine in protest, Jamal violently sucks in air, ducks and looks at me with eyes of terror. For a moment hope cowered. I try to reassure but sense the indelible memories of a life only seen by me on the BBC. With a sharp exhale of relief the moment is gone, and I recognise what we have done through Community Sponsorship.
Tonight a family sleep safely in a home lovingly prepared by a church I am immensely proud. Tomorrow is the first day of a new life for us all!
In her eyes…
Three years of planning, form filling, team building. Three years of fund raising, house buying, permission seeking. Three years of anticipation, emotion, excitement and the moment had arrived, suddenly our passport photograph family were stood with us. Suddenly Community Sponsorship was more than an idea, a project, more than names, this was real.
Beyond the chaos of suitcase upon suitcase upon suitcase and translated hellos was Rana. Below her perfect hijab, were mother eyes beyond tiredness, telling an unimaginable story. What does it take to choose an uncertain future, to trust her family to passport photographs? Everything for this moment risked, Gatwick her portal from a life known to a life unknown. Certainty, albeit fragmented, gone. Heavy, grey eyes reflect belongings and loved ones left behind for an unshaped dream.
Bewildered she trusts and we leave.
Not a week later she explains, “for many months I have not slept, who are these people? Only photos and names”.
We’re eating, sharing, laughing. Two cultures collide to create something new over chicken shawarma, tabbouleh, yogurt and sweet sweet coffee. The room dominated by our welcome sign, a comforting reminder, an art installation of corporate love. Her eyes now different. She laughs, her head rolls back and the room is full of joy. The faceless greyness of uncertainty replaced with the beauty and deep colours of hope.
Gordon Cotterill is the Corps Officer at Sutton Salvation Army. You can read more of Gordon’s reflections on his blog Urban Army.
This week is Refugee Week – an annual programme of events highlighting the contribution refugees make to UK communities, and countering negative and misleading narratives about those seeking sanctuary.
It wasn’t that long ago I received a stark reminder of why such a week is necessary.
‘NICK COKE IS A RACE TRAITOR’. There before my eyes was a notice stuck to a lamppost. Six words in large, bold capital letters shouting out on a white background – the word ‘RACE’ enlarged for extra emphasis. Further on up the street I could see another, fixed to a pillar at the entrance to the supermarket carpark. I drove on, got out of the car and ripped it down. Apparently there had been more up and down the high street near to the church where I was shortly to speak about the life-changing work we do with vulnerable refugees. Early arrivals had spotted and removed most of them, except as I drove away at the end of the evening I caught sight of another further on up the road. It was late, I was tired and wanted to go home, I drove on.
Why would someone do this? Was it because of my billing on the church’s publicity as the national Refugee Response Co-ordinator for The Salvation Army, and a ‘supporter of refugees’? In truth I found it pretty shocking to be named and targeted in this way. It’s never happened before, I’m not convinced it’ll happen again – but it would be foolish to pretend that it doesn’t reveal something disturbing about the precarious times in which we live.
We talk about a ‘refugee crisis’ but it seems to me that the crisis is as much about our own hearts and minds as it is anything else.
Four years I arrived at Heathrow Airport with my eight month old baby. We had travelled for six hours by plane and six hours to the airport from my home state in Nigeria. I had come to the UK to find safety after we had to leave our home because we weren’t safe there anymore and my family couldn’t keep us safe if we stayed in the country.
stepped into the airport I felt lost. I didn’t have anyone to meet me and I
didn’t have much on me. I didn’t know how expensive life in the UK was. I tried
to get a taxi but couldn’t believe how much they cost so tried to bargain about
the cost. It’s funny now but it wasn’t then.
coming days I stayed with some relatives of my mum and I started the process of
claiming asylum and found a lawyer to help me. But I couldn’t stay there
because she was hearing bits of why I’d had to leave home and she wasn’t
comfortable with us in the house. This was really hard. I didn’t know where
else to go as she was the only person I knew in the UK. I felt so alone but I
kept going because I have to be there for my child.
lawyer called the Home Office and they said they couldn’t help us and I needed
to go to the nearest police station. I was so scared. I thought they would
arrest me or take my child away. But I had nowhere else to go. Eventually, they
took us to a bed and breakfast in north London. When I got that room I was
happy because at least it was a roof over our heads and a bed to sleep in.
Everyone in the B&B was in temporary accommodation. This was the first
place where I made friends and I’m still best friends with one of the ladies I
has always been important to me and so I quickly tried attending the local
Catholic church, as I had been raised a Catholic back home. I invited a new
lady in the B&B to come with me to church but people there weren’t really
welcoming to her children and sent them away because of the children’s
disability. I didn’t feel I could go back there after that and so tried the
church across the road. This was The Salvation Army. It was a small church but
it soon became our new home. The second Sunday we walked in and everyone
greeted us by name. It meant such a lot. We were all alone and yet someone
cared enough to remember our names. They hugged us. This was the first place
that we actually felt welcome in the UK.
stayed in that area for six months. Every two weeks I had to go to London
Bridge to sign to prove I hadn’t disappeared undergound. Nobody could help me
with the application for support from the National Asylum Support Service,
known as NASS, so I was always in the library. This was hard. My child would be
screaming and I would be trying to type my application as this was the only
place I could do it. We were living on £20 a week from the council but half of
this was going on the travel to sign at London Bridge. The health visitor
helped me to get some food from the local food bank and another family in the
B&B, who were slightly better off us, would share their food with us.
my application for NASS support was accepted and they provided us with some
accommodation in another part of London and NASS subsistence allowance. Our
accommodation is a single room for us to eat, play, study and sleep in. We have
to negotiate with other families in the house for access to the shared kitchen,
laundry and bathroom facilities. We receive a total of £72 a week to provide
for all our other needs: food, clothing, medicine, travel, toiletries, study
materials and phone bills. There is little left over to save for unexpected
at the corps told me there was a Salvation Army near to my new house but we
kept going back despite the cost of travel because when you don’t have too many
connections you don’t want to let go of good relationships when you don’t know
where you’ll be next. I’d already had to leave my family and friends in
Nigeria, I didn’t want to lose my new church famiy too.
one of the ladies told me she knew the officers in my new area so I decided to
try the toddler group. I really liked it the first time I came because it was a
big room and they didn’t have to turn people away like at so many of the
children’s centre groups in the area. I got to know the people running the
group and discovered it was a Salvation Army thing to be welcoming! So I
started coming to the toddler group regularly. As the corps officer picked up a
little about my situation she made it possible for me to attend the group for
free. £2 doesn’t seem like a lot but when you only have a small amount to live
on, it is. The corps also runs a Baby Bank, which helped me with clothes, toys
and equipment for my child. They’ve also helped me with oyster costs to visit
from solicitor, food parcels and clothing for myself, as well as a nursery
deposit when my child was able to start nursery.
I began attending the local corps on a Sunday too because now I had family here
too. When my child was three I bought a birthday cake to church and wanted to
celebrate with our family at church. I was just about to go and light the
candles to bring it in when I turned round and saw that a friend had done it
for me. It made me feel like I was at home, with my family who just help
without being asked.
application for asylum was denied. I felt awful. I had hoped that soon
everything would get better and now it seemed it would get worse. The Home
Office said my case wasn’t strong enough and I should return to my country. My
solicitors were able to appeal and my corps officer wrote a letter explaining
her understanding of my situation. She also came with me so that she could look
after my child while I went into courtroom. I didn’t want to leave my child
behind with a babysitter because I was scared they would take me away and
separate me from her. You can’t imagine how much it means to have someone safe
to look after your child nearby when you’re attending court.
appeal was denied. When I first got the letter I didn’t want to tell anyone
because it hurt so much. I had been expecting to tell good news and then it was
the opposite of what I was expecting. It broke my heart and I didn’t want to
break other people’s heart. Over the past four years I have seen other people
around me – my neighbours and my friends – receiving leave to remain and being
able to move on with their lives. I am still waiting. I need to make a fresh application
and have some new evidence to add but the task of starting again and looking
for a new solicitor feels so daunting. I am tired of fighting. I am tired of
waiting. I am tired of my dreams for me and my child being put on hold.
But I am
a person of faith. Being an asylum seeker does not define me. Jesus Christ
defines me. I am using this time to learn at college and develop skills for the
future. I dream that when this is over, I can train as a midwife and care for
women in their moments of pain.
I am an adherent
member of the Salvation Army and sing in the worship group. I help in the Baby
Bank and our charity shop, and am part of the team who make Messy Church happen.
People at the corps see something in me that I can’t always see myself. They encourage
me to use my gifts, even now while I am waiting.
The first time that I helped in the Baby Bank I was really happy – and quite jealous of the family worker who gets to do this for her job! I knew the process because we’d filled out the forms before. As the lady I met told me her story, I recognized so many things. She was living through the same experiences as us. I didn’t know there were other families like mine. I thought it was just us and I felt so happy that I was able to help her. We’re not the only ones. Before I felt like I was a problem person but I know now that there are so many people like me who are bravely living through difficult times because we trust that the UK is a safe place for people who have lost everything.
Phoebe is a member of a Salvation Army Corps in London.
Thursday midday and we’re waiting on the platform at Sutton
station for a train to London Bridge. F asks me if London is left or right? It
reminds me that this is his first trip into the city centre, his first
experience of a UK train ride (and yes it was on time!) The new vocabulary we
have learnt so far today includes “platform, departs, rails, ticket barrier,
travelcard, return journey”. All very useful and all tucked away in his
incredibly agile brain. I am constantly amazed at the progress this man is
making with his English after only 7 weeks in the country after having spent 7
years in Jordan living as a refugee family from Syria. However, those are not
going to be the most important words we learn today. This is not just part of
F’s cultural orientation programme, not just part of the “To do list” we have
as a Community Sponsorship Team. This trip has come out of the blue after a
text message received from our interpreter at 11.15pm last night and a
conversation with a German school teacher at 8am this morning. The most
important words for today are going to be “my younger sister, clever,
university, pharmacist, Dortmund, more than 4 years, 18 years old.” This
description of his sister dominates our conversation as we travel to meet her
in Parliament Square.
We had known that F’s sister, now living in Germany having
been re-settled there with her parents and other younger siblings after fleeing
the Syrian conflict, was coming to England on a school visit. They hadn’t seen
each other for over 4 years. He was of course desperate to see her but we
couldn’t get any real details and there were many safeguarding issues to
consider. We didn’t even know where in England she would be or for how long. To
be honest, we thought the school would not allow her to leave the group to be
with him even if we could establish contact. But it happened. The group were
staying in Margate but having a day out in London and one of the teachers
agreed to meet us and let A spend time with F and his family as long as I was
there and could get her back to the group in 4 hours time!
After a quick photo opportunity on Westminster Bridge it was
back on the train to Sutton to see the rest of the family in their home. This
was all that mattered, to share food together, to see where they are living, to
spend time with the children – the youngest now a cheeky and endearing
almost-5- year-old as opposed to the baby she remembered.
We were back on Sutton station platform 1, now there were 3
of us. The emotions were high. How is it possible to experience happiness and
sadness simultaneously? We managed it! She was anxious that we would be late at
the meeting place (North Greenwich tube station) Florian, her teacher, had been
very clear that we HAD to be there at 5.30pm (we were!) F had a carrier bag of
food for her to take for the coach journey back to Margate, fruit, flatbreads,
the remnants of a meal lovingly prepared and eaten in haste.
I haven’t tried to describe the moment they met or the
moment they said goodbye. Both were equally heart-stopping events which were a
privilege to share, not only for me but for Florian, the teacher willing to
take me on trust and the school’s Principal too who came to express his delight
that this had been achieved. We exchanged thanks to each other, we recognised
the love that was in our presence and I experienced once more the “thin space”
when the human and the divine are both equally present and tangible despite
being with people I had only just met!
Our journey back to Sutton was quieter, thoughtful, realistic but optimistic. We reflected on the day. F was full of praise for London’s transport system, for the police presence he saw during rush hour in London Bridge station, for the way people offered seats to others on the tube, for the orderly way in which thousands of people went about their lives. It all makes him feel safe and glad that his family are now in a place where they can travel safely and trust strangers. The most frequently used words of the day? “Thank you, happy, safe, you’re welcome!” Said by both of us – over and over again!
Gill Bonner is project manager of the Community Sponsorship of Refugees scheme at Sutton Salvation Army Corps..
I have to be honest with you and declare at the beginning of this post my language inabilities! Yes, I perhaps represent many English people by declaring that I only speak my native language. So, with this in mind, it’s fair to say that whenever I go abroad I am as good as useless when it comes to understanding another language. I often find myself in restaurants not having a clue what to order, and ending up with something I really did not want!
I can laugh about this, but what about people who, through no fault of their own, have come to live the UK and do not speak or understand English? This is the position many refugees and asylum seekers find themselves in. In some areas access to language support can very limited or non-existent for particular groups. This can lead to already traumatized people becoming even more marginalized. Vulnerable people can find themselves in difficult situations simply because they are unable to understand what is being communicated to them.
When we study the bible, time and time again God makes it clear to us that we need to look after those on the margins of the community in which we reside. In response to this and also to what I see happening in so many communities, I wanted to create opportunities for corps to put on professionally run English classes. Importantly, I had a vision that these classes would be an opportunity not only for English to be taught, but where people from corps and community could come together, enter each other’s cultures, and as a result of this journey, learn more about each other.
With a lot of help from the Legacy Department, funding was identified. As a result several corps have now applied and had funding approved: Bootle, Camberwell, Liverpool Stoneycroft, Manchester Central and Sutton to name but a few. I have had the privilege of visiting some of them and seen for myself the beautiful sight of people from different backgrounds gathered together – some who speak English as a first language sharing time together with those who speak little to no English. It has been uplifting to see community being built, English being learned, and lives being changed for the better.
Captain Annette Booth, Bootle Corps, has used the funding to start some English language classes specifically for those seeking refugee status. She excitedly reports:
“This all started with a prayer and an understanding that our new family ministry would come from people of other cultures. We are currently praying for God to send us children workers so we can start a story time using Christian story books to teach English with our student families and maybe open up to other families in the area.”
Annette and the Bootle Corps have been on this journey for a while, yet she is still blown away by the opportunities that God is presenting to her each day…
“We continue to be amazed at the opportunities we have with our students and their families. We could have never have imagined the challenges, the learning and rich blessings our students would bring as God unfolds his work here at Bootle – but what a privilege is ours!”
Importantly, this money is not just for a select group of corps – it is for any group that is looking to positively impact people in their local community who do not speak English. If you want to find out further information on how to apply, please email me at: jonny,firstname.lastname@example.org
Major Jonny Smith is The Salvation Army’s Intercultural Mission Officer
Way back in 2017 I read an article in The Salvationist magazine written by Major Nick Coke where he talked about the desire within his Raynes Park Corps and community to do something practical to help those caught up in the Syrian Crisis. It was powerful stuff and at our Corps Leadership meeting I floated the idea that we, at Bristol Easton Corps explore the possibility of us becoming involved in this, too. A few weeks later Nick visited the corps and on a Thursday evening a large number of corps folk attended to hear more about this ‘Community Sponsorship’ thing!
We were off and running with enthusiasm – preparing skills lists and looking for property. While in the background we were able to continue meeting with other groups in the city and attending a variety of forums with council officers, the Home office and other groups within the South West, that elusive landlord and property never materialized. It seemed as though this wasn’t perhaps the path God was wanting us to follow… but, in His time, we got our property in the sunny seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. This is some way from Bristol but still commutable and many of our volunteer group are based in and around North Somerset. And so, a small but beautifully formed volunteer group came together. Our council have been brilliant but like many others their support workers are over stretched so having both streams ready to support the family has been ideal.
The Syrian family of 4 arrived on 24th April 2019: dad Khaled, mum Sanaa, son Anas (aged 5) and daughter Jana (aged 2). They came from living in one room in Lebanon which had a makeshift stove on the table and which regularly flooded with dirty water. Corps volunteers helped to make the house ready for occupation through decorating, gardening, furniture moving and of course, cleaning post renovation. We discovered ‘skills’ we never knew we had and actually built a new fence almost from scratch – it’s a very good fence and looks fabulous!
It’s early days for the family but so far we have supported them by taking them to health assessment appointments, the doctor, the dentist, assisting with benefits and childcare during these lengthy appointments and of course, familiarizing them with the local area. The nearest halal butcher we have been able to find even after talking with other members of the Muslim community in Weston, is in Bristol, so it was out pleasure to introduce the whole family to trains and riding on a train as we journeyed to the supermarket!
There has been lots of laughter as we both struggle to make ourselves understood – Google translate is great but can translate the oddest things at times. Explaining recycling was a challenge and we are still struggling to reach understanding, as far as we can tell, with the heating. Previous experience has shown that the families like to have the heating on high but have the doors and windows open and as we all know that costs! Anas has started school and is building up his time each day and that has been good for him and will help the family settle better into a routine. Jana will start nursery this coming week and mum and dad have started their English lessons – having struggled to learn much Arabic ourselves; we wish them the best!
This past Saturday saw the family meeting a larger number of folk from the corps – people who had helped with the house preparation, the support group and others who have shown a real interest. This was a good sized group – not too big to be intimidating but a great opportunity for the family to meet new friends and practice their English. The weather drowned out the planned BBQ but warm inside one of our members houses, we all shared food together. Our family are making friends – how wonderful that must be for them to be able to relax and speak their own language! They have built up a good number of new friends and they all shared together for Eid celebration. We count it a huge privilege to be with our family; to have brought them to a place of safety and to give them the opportunity of a good future is an honour and not something everyone has the chance to do. Many within our corps at Bristol Easton are not able to be involved in a physical sense, but they are interested to talk about the family and are looking forward to meeting up with them very soon.
Hilary Gambling is a member of Bristol Easton Salvation Army; she is the Treasurer and the Holiday Club leader and leads the Community Sponsorship Support Team.