Faith in ActionMission and Culture

Empowerment 2018: AWAKENING

And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here.

—Romans 13:11–12


When the Salvation Army’s USA Eastern Territory convened its biennial Empowerment Conference recently in Scranton, Pa., the event marked the passing of the proverbial baton from the baby–boomer to the millennial and Z generations. Inherent in that metaphorical wand are cultures rich in music, history, spirituality, and national diversity. As elders passed on their passion for ministry, young men and women embraced those valued gifts. 

“The conference made me appreciate the diverse make–up of our territory even more,” said Major Soo Jung Kim, leader of the Mission & Culture Department, which supported the event. She oversees corps leadership development, language translation, cultural committees, Hispanic and urban ministries, as well as the Others, World Services, and Stewardship ministries. “We are questioned at times for the reason behind an event that appears to ‘separate’ one ethnic culture from others,” she said.

Kim, who in 1978 immigrated to the United States from South Korea, knows what it means to juxtapose cultures. “As a female Korean–American attending an event that worships in African–descent style, tone, and elements, this experience has brought me closer to the heart of oneness and unity. Unity begins with appreciation for others and how we treat each other. We can truly love individuals when we learn from them and not by our assumptions of them.”

Kim, who speaks Korean and English and loves African–American blues music, continued, “Greater contributions can be given when I understand myself and have the space to strengthen that identity. This Empowerment Conference provided the opportunity for both. It was about celebrating, learning, and acknowledging the heritage, history, and contributions of Salvationists of African Descent, and entering into this context to fully appreciate the image God has given us is true worship.”

Envoy Kenneth Burton, director of the Army’s Phil Ramone Orchestra for Children in Harlem, said, “Every two years, it is with great anticipation that I attend the conference. It never fails to be a mountaintop experience as I soak in the pearls of wisdom and enjoy the songs that resonate in my spirit and speak to the depths of my soul.”

Imagining heaven

Burton, who has received the Order of the Founder, the highest award of excellence given to a Salvationist, said that the event, which began in 2005, also results in practical and long–lasting transformations. “We’ve recruited officers (pastors) from these seminars. The conference is a place of learning and enriching God’s Kingdom. 

“As I sat in the meetings, I closed my eyes and was transported to what I imagine heaven to be like. We will continue to register people of all nationalities. Just as in heaven, we will sit, stand, and worship together in complete harmony,” said Burton.

Colonel Damon Rader, a Caucasian officer whose legendary ministry in Africa has inspired many people to make a difference in the world, led members of his family as they fellowshipped and prayed with delegates.

“People always perceive that this conference is just for people of African descent, but it is not,” said Patricia Wood of the organizing group, the Territorial Committee For Salvationists of African Descent. “That was never our intention. It is for everyone to come and experience the culture.”

Uncommon valor

Lt. Colonels Abraham and Louise Johnson, who have mentored many of the Army’s soldiers, received an “Empowerment Life Achievement Award,” which recognized them in particular for their intrepid support of the New Sounds for Christ, a singing group started in 1976. At that time, the group revived African–American gospel music in the Army. “These two stood up for us,” said Burton of the Johnsons.

In 1880, the Army had used then–popular gospel music to inaugurate it in the United States. However, with the 1900s came the brass band movement, which swept Europe and ultimately became the Army’s signature sound.

Long retired now from active service, the Johnsons reflected on their years of ministry and offered advice to future generations. “Don’t let anyone discourage you,” said Lt. Colonel Abraham. “You belong in The Salvation Army.” He continued, “I was saved in the Army and I will be buried in the Army!” 

Time to ‘wake up’

“After you finish dreaming, you have to wake up,” said Captain Darell Houseton, corps officer (pastor) of the Chapel at Worthington Woods in southwest Ohio. He was one of three guest speakers, which included Corps Sergeant Major Lydia Mills and Envoy Tony Lewis.

Houseton said, “For too long, we’ve had Christian dreams, Christian plans, and Christian hopes, but without any Christian follow through. We’ve been set upon by opposition, we’ve been taken down by discouragement and fear, and in many cases, excuses,” he said. “But today, our Scripture tells us in Romans 13:11–12, to wake up.”

Mills, a corps sergeant major (deacon) at the Newburgh, N.Y., Corps, echoed those sentiments as she referenced the story of Gideon in Judges 6:1–16. “God is calling us to rise up and do something; to be warriors like Gideon. God will help you carry out what He’s called you to do,” said the wife and mother of five.

Lewis’ booming voice and unbridled enthusiasm “woke” everyone, spiritually and literally as he joined the chorus of voices reiterating the theme, “Awakening: arise, unite, go!” Said Lewis, “The Holy Spirit enlightens us and with His revelation, expects from us a spiritual revolution in our corps (church), homes, schools, and community.” He and his wife LaVerna have ministered to the west Philadelphia community since 1999. The father of three adult sons continued, “In meeting this way, we bring our own empowerment to the table. People are reminded that they are not alone.”

Years ago Houseton, now a husband and father of three daughters, received a wake–up call. As a teenager coming home from his first Salvation Army summer camp, he learned that 29 of his neighborhood friends had been killed in random incidents. “It is time for us to wake up and to do more than what is expected of us. To just be what you are expected to be, is not what God has called you to be.

“It’s time to wake up and get to work.”

by Warren L. Maye

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