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From religion to life

Territorial Commander Commissioner Robert Donaldson
Commissioner Robert Donaldson tells how he went from ‘religion’ to a life-changing relationship with God.

As Janine and I take up our roles as territorial leaders in the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory, our hope is that we can serve others, continuing to improve the effectiveness of The Salvation Army’s mission.

I am encouraged by the significant contributions of 24/7 Prayer and the Territorial Strategic Mission Plan (TSMP). I applaud the clarity of communication about our mission priorities, the high quality resources, the processes that have been put in place to evaluate and measure, and the management of Salvation Army resources. My hope is that we can work together, with continued focus on our goals.

I grew up in the Dunedin South Corps, a vibrant, medium-sized corps that had a succession of good quality corps officers and a wide range of focused, competent and committed local officers.

When I was 14, at a youth councils event in Dunedin, I responded to a specific call of God to commit to officership. You could say The Salvation Army was my life. I read the Bible, prayed, witnessed, served, tithed, preached and led. Yet all the way through, I struggled with myself, with temptation and with holy living. All the time, I knew something was missing.

Only a few months prior to my commissioning as a Salvation Army officer, I had a spiritual experience that ‘pulled everything together’, and my relationship with God went to a far deeper level. In September 1986, I surrendered my will to God, received his forgiveness and salvation, and was filled with his Holy Spirit (all at the same time). Life took on a whole new meaning! On that day, I transitioned from religion to relationship.

Officership over the past 27 years has been an immense privilege. Janine and I have worked for a decade training officers, and another decade in Africa. It’s such a thrill to make a contribution to people’s lives and development.

In several of our appointments, a real highlight has been working alongside others who connect with the mission of The Salvation Army to achieve it in their own community and context.  

We have been touched significantly by this in post-apartheid South Africa, as The Salvation Army in the Southern Africa Territory works lovingly to transform communities. There are deeply entrenched issues of trust, understanding and cross-cultural development. As leaders, we have tried to model openness, trust and a willingness to learn.  

‘Ethembeni’, which means ‘Place of Hope’, is a children’s home located near to the centre of Johannesburg. It can accommodate 60 babies from birth to three years. Babies come from referrals by the Department of Social Development, are picked up from the streets where they have been abandoned, or are delivered to the home anonymously through a ‘hole in the wall’.  The babies are cared for lovingly and provided with food, clothing, shelter and medical needs. The great majority of children are dedicated to God at the local corps.

‘Buhle’ is the name of the 1000th baby placed in Ethembeni since it opened in November 1995. Should we have ‘celebrated’ 1000 babes being abandoned, sometimes in the most inhumane ways? No! But did we celebrate 1000 babies being given security, love and hope? We sure did!  

In the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory, the ‘face’ of these challenges may differ. But we will continue to celebrate lives and communities that are being transformed.

By Commissioner Robert Donaldson