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A year of blessings

Posted December 23, 2015

A Christmas Message from Territorial Commander Commissioner Robert Donaldson

As I look back on the past 12 months, it is with a deep sense of gratitude to God for his faithfulness. In counting just a few of these blessings, I’m overlooking others, but I want to remind all of us that God is at work through his Salvation Army!

Through the ministry of the Army this year, 500 people chose to follow Jesus for the first time, and we have also seen 200 new soldiers and 75 new junior soldiers enrolled. This is tremendous news and we praise God for his work in people’s lives! Countless lives have also been changed for the better through people’s contact with the dedicated staff of our social services—a work that, while rewarding, is also taxing because it often involves meeting people at their most desperate.

The year started with another successful Amplify Territorial Creative Arts camp. One hundred and eighty-three young people made the most of a week aimed at nurturing their creative talents and deepening their relationship with God. Creativity for the Kingdom was also on the agenda at our first Territorial Creative Ministries Conference in September.

The Salvation Army’s eighth State of the Nation report from our Social Policy and Parliamentary Unit was released in February, again sparking important conversations about the wellbeing of New Zealanders. All year, the unit has continued to promote policies on behalf of those in greatest need.

Our Community Ministries centres are often the front door to people’s connection with The Salvation Army. It is particularly concerning that over 300 people each week came to us asking for emergency food parcels for the first time this year. Over 12 months, we have provided emergency assistance to over 35,500 people, with over 61,000 children. This included transitional housing, life skills programmes, counselling and meeting basic welfare needs. We’ve seen many wonderful outcomes, with staff and corps also striving to introduce Jesus to the people we are privileged to journey alongside.

A pilot scheme offering micro-finance loans in Manukau and Waitakere has helped those on low incomes strengthen their financial literacy while providing a better credit option than loan sharks or third-tier money lenders. Families have received loans for essential household items or vehicles, which are being paid off quickly. Some people have been able to gain employment by having a vehicle for transport, while others have benefited from purchasing computers for their children’s education.   

In Fiji and Tonga, The Salvation Army is also advancing its efforts to fight poverty, with a wide range of programmes and strategies. Children benefit from our kindergartens, and the lives of many children and their families are being transformed through our Cherish a Child sponsorship programme. In 2016, The Salvation Army will launch Fiji’s first comprehensive addiction treatment programme. I ask everyone to pray for this significant development. In Tonga, our work in this field is already highly valued.

In both Fiji and Tonga we are seeing the fruit that comes from people choosing to put Jesus and the values of the Kingdom of God first. In July next year, Tongan Salvationists will host a visit from our international leaders, General André Cox and Commissioner Silvia Cox.

I’m pleased to announce that this year’s Red Shield Appeal raised $2,381,063—above target and an increase from last year. Activities associated with this year-long fundraising appeal include general donations through our website and 0800 number, direct mail campaigns, the Red Shield street collection ($821,195) and Red Shield corporate breakfasts. This year, The Salvation Army was recognised by the marketing industry for our Red Shield Appeal television advertising, which depicted our work to provide a safety net for those falling into poverty. Public funds are crucial for us to meet the significant amount of human need in New Zealand. Nationally, for instance, requests for food parcel assistance increased seven per cent this year.

Our 2015 Self Denial Appeal theme was ‘Hope through Community’, focusing on Salvation Army work in Cambodia, Pakistan, Rwanda and Papua New Guinea. For a second year running, the territory raised over one million dollars, which is an exceptional result! Next year, Salvationists will be able to give their donation in instalments throughout the year, which will be an attractive option for some. At the same time, I encourage all Salvationists to financially support their local corps.

Major David Bennett and Captains Ralph Hargest and Perry Bray were deployed from New Zealand as part of The Salvation Army’s International Emergency Services response to the Nepal earthquake. All three testify to witnessing a degree of human need on a scale most of us can scarcely imagine, but also to the Army’s commitment to meeting some of that need. Emergency responses like this remind us of the strength and impact of our international Army to help those in desperate need.

Those who attended the Salvation Army’s international Boundless congress in London in July were part of an incredible and inspirational few days in which the Army’s soul-saving and servant-hearted mission was centre stage. We were especially proud of our New Zealand delegates from Māori Ministry and Zoo Boogie who represented us so well. General André Cox took the opportunity to remind us that if The Salvation Army wants to write on the pages of history going forward from its 150th year, we must make a total surrender of our lives to the will of God and commit unswervingly to the mission to which God still calls us.

At the end of September, the University of Otago released its study into our addiction treatment programme, calling it ‘world class’. The University noted the unique and highly valued spirituality provided at the Bridge Programme. With news like this, it was fitting that our Recovery Church, an offshoot of the Bridge, celebrated its 20th anniversary in October. From one Recovery Church fellowship, started by visionaries Major Merilyn and the late Major Kevin Goldsack, we now have 15 Recovery Churches. These congregations are aimed at helping people continue their recovery from addiction alongside others who understand that journey, as all draw on God’s power together.

Our Aspire youth development programme has worked with 500 young people throughout New Zealand this year—in schools, community centres and corps. Research into this programme tells us that many of its participants have become more connected to their communities, gained skills and confidence, and set goals for the future. Many have also gained greater spiritual awareness. Our passionate and skilled team of youth facilitators have worked tirelessly week after week with schools and families to support young people in often tough circumstances.

I am sure that Aspire and our other excellent children’s and youth work across the territory will bring both short and long-term benefits to people’s lives, to our communities and to the Kingdom of God. Thank you to all who are investing week by week in our children and young people.

Hundreds of people have been equipped by programmes run by our Centre for Leadership Development at Booth College, along with additional leadership training from the Mission Resources Department at Territorial Headquarters. Developing knowledgeable, passionate and effective leaders is crucial for the ongoing health of our Army and I am grateful to all who have played their part in the delivery of this training. A range of spiritual retreats have also been offered, aimed at giving people space and time to fan the fire of the Holy Spirit in their lives. We look forward to more of these opportunities next year.

Our year draws to a close with 26 officers commissioned in Suva and Wellington this month. It is always wonderful to see people stepping up in obedience to God’s call as Salvation Army officers. However, ours is a mission that requires the urgent attention of each and every Salvationist. Next year, we look forward to meeting in our own territorial congress in Wellington, from 29 September to 2 October. The theme of this congress is ‘Now is
the Time!’ and I am asking as many Salvationists as possible to be part of what I am praying will be a spiritual turning point for our territory. I urge you to make the success of this congress a matter of earnest prayer.

As we pause to reflect on the gift of Jesus at Christmas, we must also reflect that we are to be Christ to the world … now! There must be urgency to our mission—so many people desperately need the peace of Jesus in their lives! I pray that the meaning of his birth will touch each of us so deeply that we cannot help but share his message of love with others in the coming year.

Thank you for your service to God through The Salvation Army. Janine and I are praying that you will know God’s blessings in a very real way this Christmas.