The General Speaks
During his visit to San Juan, P.R., General André Cox talked to SAConnects about the Army’s disaster recovery efforts, his message to officers and new cadets, and making time for God.
On The Salvation Army
Yes, we are a Christian church. Is this a Non–Governmental Organization (NGO)? It is, with respect to many of our programs. Is it a social welfare organization? I suppose you could put that ticket in as well. The reality is, you cannot separate any of it. You can’t label us. If only one ticket is stuck on us, you do not tell the whole story of the Army.
I’m pleased to see that The Salvation Army has, since its earliest days, had a strong bias towards the poor and the marginalized. And that bias has remained unchanged in 150 years of ministry.
In the DNA of The Salvation Army is a need to roll up our sleeves and get to work when something happens in our community.
Being in 127 countries translates directly to the grassroots level—people engaging in community.
Motivated to serve, day–in–and–day–out, are our officers, soldiers, volunteers, and employees. Just being a listening ear to someone in times of crisis helps make the impact for which the Army is known.
On being a family man
Next year, I will be married for 40 years. The secret to our marriage is that we have built a relationship based on trust, respect, and listening. In a Christian marriage such as ours, there is always an extra dimension that we were both called together for a wider purpose that goes beyond my wife and me.
Another secret is that I always have the last words, and those words are: “Yes, dear.”
I also have three girls, so I know how to live in a female-dominated household. I rejoiced when I got three sons-in-law, thinking they had evened the numbers in our family.
To be a good father is to be genuine. You cannot play the role of a father, or the role of a Salvation Army officer for that matter, if you are not authentic. Your kids will soon remind you of that reality. They can see right through the fakeness.
What you are called to do is not easy. Life will have its difficulties, whether it’s in health, family challenges, personal doubts, or challenges that come as they try
to serve human suffering in parts of the world.
When the call came for me to serve, it literally changed the direction of my life. But it has been that strong sense of calling that has been an anchor throughout my days as an officer.
When you know the Lord has you in His arms, that’s when you need to get out of your comfort zone. You must allow yourself to be stretched. God works through that faith, to develop and to equip us.
First and foremost, we are individual, unique human beings, made by God. We need to allow Him to mold us and shape us, so that our lives can make a difference. We are always a work in progress.
Officers should never think that, for their lives to be a success, they need extra recognition on their shoulders. There are some officers whom I am not worthy to tie their shoelaces, because they are saints—just as they are. The success or failure of your life and your ministry depends on your personal relationship with God.
On a changing world
The redefinition of marriage does not pose any significant challenge when it comes to our delivery of service or employment. Our political masters may be greatly enlightened, but I don’t see how you can redefine marriage.
But we should also not become bigoted or biased. We should not be discriminatory. The Salvation Army should be a place where people can feel secure, safe, and well.
I say again, we are a church. It is the foundation of what we are. From a spiritual point of view, the changing world does pose a problem. You are changing the fundamental beliefs that many people firmly have. We have rights to our understandings. Yet, I also believe that every human being has human rights, rights to financial security, and other benefits. That is not in debate.
I am not a gatekeeper to the kingdom of God. You don’t pick and choose who comes into His Kingdom, or into our Church. We ought to be careful about throwing stones. The Africans taught me that when you point the finger at someone, you have three pointing back at you.
In all that we do, whether it be our spiritual or our social programs, we will continue to be a place of welcome.
On the needs of the world
I made it an aim of my position to visit places a General can’t always get to. The General needs as broad an understanding of the world as possible.
Look at the state of the world. In many developed nations today, there are social problems and economic crises. The reality is that poverty is almost as strong today as in the days of William Booth in 1865.
In the UK, we have introduced breakfast clubs in schools because teachers realized that children were not eating anything before coming to class. This happens in some of the most developed countries in the world. It is a confirmation that, in the battle to build a better world, there is still a lot to be done.
Part of me understands the feeling of lost hope when a natural disaster strikes. It’s always the poorest of the poor who are hit the hardest when the misfortune of storms and destruction arrive.
One of the strengths of The Salvation Army’s recovery efforts is that no matter the cost, time, and work, we are happy to stay with the people in disaster areas long after the cameras are gone. Who still talks about the disasters in the Philippines, or the earthquake in Haiti? Even after the outpouring of public charity and media coverage, The Salvation Army remains a presence in those communities. We were there, we are there, and we will be there.
It’s not just about giving handouts to people. Yes, in the emergency stage, you need to do that. But you also need to stick with them to rebuild society, and more importantly, to rebuild hope.
On his relationship with God
We have to set God as a priority. We have to set the time aside for meditation and prayer. We have to plan ahead for those moments. Rather than curse at your diary for your heavy schedule, use it as a tool to block off time in your day, a time where people can’t get to you, and you can just be in the presence of God.
Let us look at the example of Jesus in His own ministry. Throughout His life, Christ showed us there is no substitute for those quiet moments in prayer before God.
People who trust in the Lord will prosper. And prosper means more than to prosper in materials. Prospering means to prosper in our life, our joy, our peace, and our faith.
We live in a materialistic world where one is defined by the things they own, or by the things they do not yet have. We’re told that we have no security unless we have a good financial plan behind us. I pray that we realize that our successes, our strength, and our hope are not things of this world, but rather of God’s presence. He is the only object of our worship.
More wonderful than the promise of prosperity is God’s amazing willingness to enter into a covenant relationship with people like you and me.
God chose us to be in His service, and that is an honor. It is a privilege and it comes with responsibility. We should pray not only that God will use us, but that God can use us. And He can only use us if our relationship with Him is right.
I never forget that, first of all, I am André Cox, the way God made me. And I am privileged to have had Him call me. Not worthy, but privileged.
interview by Hugo Bravo