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Make Poverty Personal
Salvation Army soldiers agree to live by a sacred code to share God’s love and care for the poor BY ROB PERRY
ost successful enterprises include a well-defined mission statement. This is as true for churches or social agencies as it is for businesses. That’s why in nearly every Salvation Army building—whether a church, shelter or office—there is a mission statement posted somewhere on a wall. The Salvation Army’s international mission statement articulates the purpose of our Movement “to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.” Throughout our history, The Salvation Army has struggled to balance this dual calling: to tell the world about Jesus and to care for those in need. As a church and social service, we have managed to fulfil these separate but complementary purposes. However, when we examine The Salvation Army’s Soldier’s Covenant, we see that this dual mission is not only meant to be carried out by the Movement as a whole, it should be the heartbeat of every Salvationist. The sixth promise statement in the Soldier’s Covenant says: “I will be faithful to the purposes for which God raised up The Salvation Army, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, endeavouring to win others to him, and in his name caring for the needy and the disadvantaged.” From our earliest days, every soldier was expected to be engaged in The Salvation Army’s mission. It would have been inconceivable to early Salvationists that corps might be filled with uniformclad soldiers who attended services each
week, but in no way engaged in either evangelism or service to the poor. One of the other statements in the Soldier’s Covenant says that soldiers promise to “abstain from alcoholic drink.” This is often the primary promise that Salvationists remember when they think of their covenant. Of course, this is an important issue, but temperance is only one of eight promise statements in the covenant.
Following Jesus’ example makes loving the poor a calling for all Christians A portion of the sixth promise statement says that in Jesus’ name, soldiers will “care for the needy and disadvantaged.” For some reason, this promise seems to be easily forgotten, or at least relegated to “professionals” or social institutions. To this day, if soldiers are discovered drinking, they undergo church discipline, including removal from areas of leadership and not being allowed to wear the uniform for a time. However, to my knowledge there is no discipline for soldiers who do not care for the poor. As debates happen around the Salvation Army world about our future direction, the argument has already been made and won. If you are a soldier, you care for the
poor—personally. You promised. It’s that simple. There is one more mission statement worth noting. It’s Jesus’ personal mission statement, articulated himself, and recorded in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Then, in verse 21, he says, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Following Jesus’ example makes loving the poor a calling for all Christians—not just Salvationists. However, it is interesting to note how similar The Salvation Army’s mission statement is to Jesus’ own. We proclaim the good news and care for those in need, particularly the prisoners, the oppressed, the poor and the blind. Jesus’ mission was to the poor and the marginalized. Is it possible for us to be Christians if we are not involved in the sort of actions and interactions that characterized Jesus’ life? If we are not personally reaching out to those rejected by society, whose example are we truly following? As members of a Movement that exists to show God’s love to the poor, Salvation Army soldiers have covenanted to care for the needy and the disadvantaged. Let’s keep our promises. Rob Perry is the ministry co-ordinator at Toronto’s Corps 614. Salvationist I May 2012 I 29