I recently had a conversation with Captain Gerry Walker, Assistant Secretary for Programme, in which he recalled two small examples that seem to sum up who we are as The Salvation Army.
Gerry described it as a ‘typical day in the life’ of our mission. First, he visited Epsom Lodge in Auckland—emergency accommodation that was established over a hundred years ago. It was built to be close to Mt Eden Prison, as part of the Army’s ‘prison gate’ ministry. Today, Epsom Lodge is nestled among some of New Zealand’s most expensive real estate, but remains a place of second chances.
Gerry was there for the weekly mihi whakatau, where they welcome in new guests. ‘It was a warm, very genuine, welcome. People were asked to give their story, and one young guy in his twenties said it was his third time at Epsom Lodge—he was going to be attending the Bridge programme [alcohol and drug addiction support].
‘I thought, “Well, we are the place of third, fourth, fifth chances” … we don’t give up on people and this young man was an example of that. He was not judged in any way. I could sense he was apprehensive, but the warm welcome set him at ease.’
Gerry then visited a group of young people at Education and Employment (E&E), who were doing an automotive course. The tutor was using it as an opportunity to teach them how to do addition. ‘I believe the education system has failed them,’ reflects Gerry. ‘The tutor was essentially teaching these young people to count—teaching them life skills.
‘One young person was only about 16, but wasn’t living at home and was couch surfing, yet got himelf to the course every day.’
In another class, a young woman was visibly upset. ‘The tutor knew exactly why—it was the anniversary of a friend’s death. That’s when the tutor said, “You two go down to the pet store and see the rabbits”. And off the two young women went, arm-in-arm.’ The tutor had made an arrangement with the local pet shop so that her students could go and pat the animals when they needed to process emotions.
‘I thought, “Wow”, that’s not what private training institutions are paid to do, yet that’s the care and love that’s provided by E&E on a daily basis.
‘We are the Army That Brings Life. There is a level of hopelessness that permeates for a lot of people. But we provide hope, that’s a big thing. Whether it’s that young man at Epsom Lodge or an E&E student, our job is to treat people with dignity and respect, and, for a lot of people, that’s new to them.’
These small stories are just a couple of examples of everyday Salvation Army work. People may know us as a social service provider. People may know us as a church. But if you look a little closer, you’ll simply see a bunch of people who are finding creative and new ways to be the face of Jesus.
By Ingrid Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 12 January 2019, p3. You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.