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Live from Soulfest

For the first time, 20,000 followers of Jesus heard the Salvation Army’s message of love and redemption from the platform of Soulfest, the 18th annual Christian music festival held in Gilford, N.H.

In 1998, Dan Russell, a music producer, began Soulfest as a welcoming experience that would allow particularly young Christians to be in the presence of both God and the music they enjoyed. Along with three platforms for various Christian rock, rap, pop, and dance acts, this year’s three–day festival included family activities, such as face painting, zip lining, and wall climbing. Also involved were communion, candlelight services, Bible studies, and prayer gatherings. Attendees purchased Christian literature in one tent, and enjoyed deep fried snacks in another tent.

Officers and volunteers from the Adult Rehabilitations Centers (ARCs) came from as far as Ohio to support the Army’s first Soulfest appearance. ARC beneficiaries made the festivities part of their recovery and redemption process. With a tent only feet away from the main stage, members of the Army greeted visitors and their families, many of whom were only familiar with the Army through local thrift stores and Christmas kettle collections. Some visitors asked for information on the ARC’s work, and took a moment to pray with the officers.

‘Music we need to hear’

Lieutenant Joe Swistak, administrator of the Toledo, Ohio ARC, organized the Army’s appearance at Soulfest. He believes that an event such as this can play an important role in healing someone who is fighting drug and alcohol dependency. “Being here, surrounded by Christians and God’s love, lets our beneficiaries know that they can live life to the fullest and meet new people,” said Swistak. “They don’t have to worry about someone knowing the details of their lives, or condemning them for it. No one is judging them here.”

Swistak, who had fought addiction in his youth, continued, “I loved certain genres of music, but the message just wasn’t right for me and what I had gone through in my life. Later, I was introduced to contemporary Christian music and I loved how multiple genres spoke to me.

“Now, I introduce music like this to men and women entering recovery,” said Swistak. “We can like the sound, yet still hear the words so that the hope and positivity that goes in us, later comes out of us.”

‘The joy of recovery’

For the beneficiaries, Soulfest was a gift that went beyond music. It became one of the many events that re–counted their steps to recovery and to faith.

“Here at Soulfest, our beneficiaries can clear their mind,” says Swistak. “It’s important for them to know that recovery is never just about being told by God, or by us, ‘you can’t do this’ or ‘this isn’t good for you.’ There should be joy in recovery. They need to see that fun can be had without drugs and alcohol.”

Melissa, one of the beneficiaries from the ARC in Saugus, Mass., celebrated both her birthday and one month of sobriety. She hopes that next year, she’ll bring her kids to the festival.

“At the Saugus ARC, we are all family, and this is what families do. They go out, enjoy music, make memories, and eat delicious food together,” she said.

Major Thomas E. Taylor, ARC administrator in Saugus, says the spirit of Soulfest is great for people in the ARC program.

“Many times when you are using [drugs], you may not remember what you did. Or in feeling ashamed, you may forcefully block it out [of your mind]. But when you bring folks in recovery to something like Soulfest, they remember it, and God touches their hearts.”

“People in recovery want to be accepted, forgiven, and feel loved,” said Taylor. “Soulfest is a good venue to show them that they can have that.”

Captain Leo Lloyd, administrator for the Hartford, Conn., ARC, sees the pride that beneficiaries have when they begin the program. That same pride, he says, is here with them at Soulfest.

“Earlier, a few of the beneficiaries asked for Salvation Army t–shirts,” said Lloyd. “We had the shirts, but I thought that maybe they wanted to be incognito here and just enjoy themselves. But they told me, ‘No! We want to represent. We want everyone to know how happy we are, and how we got here.’”

‘Redeem through Recovery’

On Friday night in front of thousands of music fans and Christians, The Salvation Army took the main stage.

Jet Troublefield, a Hip–Hop artist from Dallas, TX, performed his latest single, “Not Tonight,” a piece he wrote after being inspired by the ARC’s mission. Said Jet before his performance in an interview with SAConnects, “’Not Tonight’ is about going from darkness to life, and the transformation that comes with recovery and finding your identity and purpose in Christ.

“Soulfest is great! It’s easily the largest gathering of Christians I’ve ever seen. Being here is beautiful. And having the support of The Salvation Army is encouraging.”

After the performance, Drew Forster, director of communications for the Massachusetts Division, stood on the main stage with 30 beneficiaries from the ARCs. He asked people if they were wearing anything from an Army thrift store or one like it. Many people cheered.

“When you clean out your closet, you may find clothing or objects that, to you, no longer have value. But when you donate them to us, a piece of clothing becomes the dress someone absolutely wants to wear, or a sofa for a dorm room.”

“Just as those unwanted products get redeemed,” said Forster, “so do people who have been cast aside and forgotten become redeemed through recovery and through the reminder that they are loved and are children of the living God.

“This happens every day at The Salvation Army. We ‘Recycle Goods,’ we ‘Reclaim Lives,’ and we ‘Reflect Jesus.’ These folks are transformed into people of hope and great value,” said Forster, motioning to the beneficiaries behind him, each wearing a shirt adorned with the Salvation Army shield.

Forster shared with the Soulfest crowd the troubling statistics of addiction. Deaths from opiate drug use have doubled in the last 15 years. One in five Americans can be classified as an alcoholic. Drugs or alcohol have crushed 65 million American lives.

“That doesn’t even count the mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, and children whose lives are destroyed by addiction every day,” he said.

“Whether you’re rich or poor, dropout or holder of a doctorate, addiction does not discriminate. But fortunately, neither does The Salvation Army.”

Forster concluded by encouraging the crowd to seek The Salvation Army near their own homes, reminding them that no matter where they are, there is a corps near by.

“We are, and have always been, a volunteer army,” said Forster.

‘We are shooting for the stars’

Swistak hopes that, in the future, The Army has an even larger presence in Soulfest, with numerous tents offering its services, such as disaster relief, summer camps, child sponsorship, and Kroc Center ministries.

“We need to showcase what we do, not for our glory, but for God’s Glory. And what better venue to introduce The Salvation Army to fellow Christians than at Soulfest? Everything we do can be represented here. We could find the future leaders of our church here in this crowd.

“I have a saying: why shoot for the top of the tree, when you could shoot for the stars? If we ask God for help, we could shoot for the stars here at Soulfest. You can’t out–ask, out–give, or out–speculate God. We can ask Him for the world. He is the only one to whom we can ask for the world.”

Lt. Colonel Kathleen J. Steele is excited to see what the Lord had planned for future Soulfest events. “Many people that we spoke to here want to help us through donations, volunteering, and goods when they learn about what we do,” said Steele.

“The future of our partnership with Soulfest is in the hands of God. It’s His vision now. He wanted us to be present here, at this time.”

by Hugo Bravo

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