A Place Where You Belong!

by Major Jodi Lloyd

I recently attended the 100th anniversary celebration of The Salvation Army’s Camp Wonderland in Sharon, Mass. To my siblings and me, it is a life-changing place. When life was sometimes chaotic and not so beautiful, Camp Wonderland was our safe space, our home, a place where we belonged.

Throughout my ministry, I think this is what stands out to me most: The Salvation Army is a place where people feel accepted. Not only did I hear this repeatedly during this anniversary celebration, but countless other times in my ministry journey, through testimonies and life stories—“The Salvation Army is a place where I belong.”

I recently heard from a beautiful woman who comes to the choice pantry at the Pittsburgh Temple Corps. She shared about how helpful the food pantry was to her and her family, and she concluded by saying, “The people here don’t make me feel bad that I need help. I feel like I belong here. I don’t feel as poor as I am when I am in this place.”

I love that finding a sense of belonging is deeply woven into the history and ministry of The Salvation Army. From its inception, the Army has embraced the concept of belonging by providing a place of acceptance and support for those who often feel marginalized by society. This includes individuals struggling with poverty, addiction, homelessness, and other social issues. Regardless of a person’s background, social status, age, or circumstances, they are welcomed into The Salvation Army’s community.

Later when Jesus was eating supper at Matthew’s house with his close followers,  a lot of disreputable characters came and joined them. When the Pharisees saw him keeping this kind of company, they had a fit, and lit into Jesus’ followers. “What kind of example is this from your Teacher, acting cozy with crooks and misfits?”Jesus, overhearing, shot back, “Who needs a doctor: the healthy or the sick? Go figure out what this Scripture means: ‘I’m after mercy, not religion.’ I’m here to invite outsiders, not coddle insiders.”

—Matthew 9:10–13 (MSG)

It’s hard to explain, but decades ago this little 6-year-old girl and her siblings entered the gates of Camp Wonderland and their lives changed. They were loved, accepted for who they were, given hope when nothing incredible seemed possible, given opportunities to serve and lead, and brought into a community that shaped the people they would become—a camp director (at this exact life-changing place), an information technology security professional, a sweet, gentle corps caseworker, and a Salvation Army officer. So, let’s keep cheering people on; let’s keep inviting them to the life-changing experience of knowing Jesus. Keep welcoming people in. Fling open the doors to our corps and other ministries to the exciting hope and possibility that we can give to so many people, and please keep living out the message that this is a place where you belong!

Major Jodi Lloyd is a Salvation Army officer, serving at Western Pennsylvania Divisional Headquarters, Pittsburgh, Pa.