A gateway to solutions
“What life have you if you have not life together? There is no life that is not in community,
and no community not lived in praise of God.” — T.S. Eliot
Research reveals that a disconnect exists between many churches and the people who live around them. General André Cox, international leader of The Salvation Army, wants to transform this phenomenon by taking ministry out of the “citadels” and into streets and homes. Commissioners William A. and G. Lorraine Bamford, territorial leaders, wrote in their Vision: 2017, “We want to challenge people to be bold, step out in faith, and to step out the door.”
Major Ismael Correa, Urban Ministries director for the USA Eastern Territory, said, “Today, most people commute into the neighborhood where they worship.” He said this detachment also affects the ministries of Salvation Army officers.
“Many of us live in the suburbs, travel to wherever we work, spend our 8 to 10 hours in a building, and then travel back home,” Correa said. “We tend not to engage the community unless we have a fundraising or public relations role to play. We must learn to be intentional about building relationships with our neighbors.”
This concept is among the six “movements” in General Cox’s “The Whole World Mobilizing: Go Forward!” campaign.
At the height of the 1980s HIV/AIDS epidemic, the Army’s medical mission teams, sponsored by International Headquarters, devised a strategy in Africa that became a gateway to helping communities. “They faced this disease, but had no medicines or answers,” said Correa. “But one thing they did do, was visit people in their homes.”
Based on this home visitation model, the Army formulated a strategy for providing spiritual, emotional, and psychological support to suffering families. This concept was the basis upon which emerged the USA Eastern Territory’s incarnational ministry of 2000.
“In those days, we lived in a little duplex in Newark, N.J.,” remembers Correa. “Our chapel was downstairs on the main floor.” Although the congregation was relatively small (40 people), the majority came from the neighborhood. “About 80 percent of the people who attended our programs and services were from the community,” he said.
“The idea is, when we walk into people’s living spaces and begin to realize their circumstances, we look for God’s prevenient grace,” said Correa. “It’s there already. It’s nothing we can bring ourselves. Based on that premise, we look for people’s strengths, rather than their needs or weaknesses. So, our outreach is strength based.
“It involves asking three questions, ‘What are your hopes?’ ‘What are your concerns?’ and ‘What are your Ways of Working (WOW) these things out?’ We walk alongside people in their reality. Ironically, we end up being ministered to, rather than the other way around.”
“Since early 2015, we’ve had as many as 35 lieutenants in the field who are now putting this training into practice throughout the territory,” said Correa.
“Our Support and Learning Teams (SALT) are intentional about getting to know their neighbors and building relationships.
“The S stands for sharing stories. The A represents appreciating people’s strengths. The L stands for learning by listening. The T represents teamwork.”
Correa said some officers serve in difficult neighborhoods and are challenged to overcome fear as they explore a community. “But when they do, they eventually realize that, just like everywhere else, citizens want to be in a safe neighborhood and to better themselves. Taking on the Integrated Mission challenge encourages people to do more and to discover solutions.”
by Warren L. Maye