The first overseas visit of The Salvation Army’s new Chief of the Staff, Commissioner Lyndon Buckingham and Commissioner Bronwyn Buckingham (World Secretary for Women’s Ministries) was to the beautiful Republic of Georgia, to celebrate 25 years of Salvation Army ministry.
Celebrations commenced with an exciting Family Fun Day in Tbilisi’s Peace Park on Friday, where music, face-painting, stalls selling handicrafts and games were on offer. The visible presence and various activities attracted hundreds of people, many of whom were encountering The Salvation Army for the first time. A stall explaining The Salvation Army’s work to counter human trafficking aroused interest and people were keen to write messages of support on a wooden cut-out representing a trafficked person.
On the Saturday afternoon, the first-ever Salvation Army open-air meeting in the city centre incorporated music and a clear gospel message. The Georgian national marching band provided a drum corps which was enjoyed by large crowds. Timbrellists from Megobroba and Rustavi Corps in the capital’s suburbs delighted the people. The sight of in excess of 100 uniformed Salvationists walking through the city centre was an amazing witness.
That evening, a celebration took place at the Radisson Hotel. For the first time, ministers and pastors from other Georgian churches came to share in the fellowship and bring greetings from their own denominations. The event was covered on local television news, bringing a Salvation Army presence to an even larger audience.
During the meeting, a newly-formed Salvation Army gospel choir – comprising 30 young people from the Tbilisi area – presented two lively and enthusiastic songs, including one number in English.
For a quarter of a century, regional leaders in Georgia have worked hard to have The Salvation Army officially recognised as a church. It was fitting during this celebration weekend that Shota Tutberidze, Senior Lawyer at Patronees Legal, was able to present the long-awaited certification from the national authorities. The company has provided The Salvation Army with its time and expertise free of charge.
A video presentation about the work of The Salvation Army in Georgia, produced by the IHQ Communications team, delighted the congregation. Representing the diversity of work across the nation, images from each corps were incorporated – illustrating how human needs are being met in authentic and practical ways.
The Chief of the Staff encouraged the congregation to ‘use all opportunities to tell people about God’s love and to celebrate belonging to the family of God’.
Sunday’s worship was held at Tbilisi Central Corps where eight new junior soldiers were enrolled by the Chief of the Staff. Members of Ponichala Corps led a creative time of prayer, using art to depict the face, hands and feet of Jesus. Commissioner Bronwyn Buckingham gave a moving testimony about the challenge of her calling.
In his Bible message, the Chief of the Staff reminded everyone that just as four friends brought their lame companion to Jesus, lowering him through the roof (Mark 2:1–5), we too have to bring people to Jesus for healing. ‘If our ministry is an offering of worship,’ he said, ‘it becomes something beautiful, holy and sacred.’
‘We serve with joy because of Jesus,’ said the Chief, ‘for him, with him and to him.’
A celebration cake was presented to the congregation with the help of the oldest Salvationist in Georgia. Meanwhile, for younger participants, a Pizza and Praise Party concluded the weekend, where they also had an opportunity to ask the commissioners questions about their life and ministry.
Reflecting on the weekend celebrations, regional leader Major Carelle Begley commented: ‘The Salvation Army in Georgia is on fire for God and looking forward to serving him further.’