Beyond the mountains
photo by Jennifer Culverson
Some years ago, I trekked my way through the first stage of the Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. Historically, the trail marked chronologically and geographically the turning point in the Second World War.
Descending from Sogeri Plateau into the valley below, our party of young people were then challenged to wade the fast currents of the Goldie River before scaling the Golden Staircase towards Imati Base Camp. As torturous as the hike had been that morning, it paled against the fact that we would turn around and reclaim the ground that had already been crossed.
Although relatively fit, with labored breathing and struggling against the demanding landscape, I found myself staging my progress; focusing on one point directly ahead and measuring my steps accordingly. Each anchor point gave way to the next. A moment’s rest and I would continue my advance to the next point. Eventually, after several grueling hours, we conquered the final gradient and reached our destination.
Like scaling the Kokoda Trail, in the early months of this year the landscape of our world violently shifted. The predictability of work, leisure, programs, and schedules was surrendered to a new reality. The unchartered terrain in front is compelling us to take measured steps into an uncertain and unfamiliar future.
Todd Bolsinger in his book Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory goes to considerable length to point out that, “The world in front of you is nothing like the world behind you.” Paraphrasing Marshall Goldsmith, he states, “What got us here wouldn’t take us there.”
What’s true for us as individuals is equally valid for The Salvation Army. Before us is an unfamiliar terrain, marked with confusion and uncertainty. Yet, out of this darkened background there is emerging a reality that will shape us as a people of God. Like scaling the Kokoda Trail, we are compelled to look for the markers that will take us from one stage to the next.
There has been a growing acceptance that the world as we have known it has changed. Throughout history there are milestone events that have recalibrated the world and its values, including the Great Depression, the 1918 flu pandemic, and global conflicts. Significant events have caused the world and its people to stop and to reassess their beliefs, values, and way of life. Our today is tomorrow’s history. How we process this season within our generation will have a significant bearing on the landscape of our future and that of our children.
The collateral fallout of today’s pandemic has compelled us to review our lives. Consequently, we work, relax, relate, and communicate differently. Against this shifting terrain the mission of The Salvation Army remains fixed.
The words of General Evangeline Booth “…doing the most good to the most people in the most need” resound with a freshness and relevance. With the precision of the surgeon’s scalpel, the third general of The Salvation Army sliced through to the very essence of the Army’s mission. The crisis of WW1 gave definition to The Salvation Army. Of necessity, the Army severed all that was superfluous to its mission, refocused its energies, and redefined the level of engagement.
One hundred years later we are hearing the same call – to redefine our mission in accordance with God’s will and purpose for The Salvation Army.
Conviction without action is at best empathy, and at its worst, contempt.
Things will not be the same as they were and so we, as a Salvation Army, are called to adapt or die. If our ministry no longer matches the world that surrounds us, then we are no longer fulfilling our God ordained purpose.
Change is happening! The way we worship has morphed from congregate fellowships to digital communities. The activities of corps have shifted emphasis from internal and at times, self-defining programs, to direct community engagement and transformation. In neighborhoods, we have moved from being the silent partner to being the lead agency. Direct counseling is being supplemented by a telephone HopeLine. The mission of the Army is evolving in real time.
Ours is a call and a responsibility to go into our community, to identify and respond to the needs of our neighbors, and to offer words of comfort and conviction. We are to be light in a darkened world. (Matthew 5:14-16)
It is my prayer and conviction that out of this present pandemic we will emerge as a Salvation Army defined and deployed in accordance to God’s will and purpose.
by Colonel Philip Maxwell, Chief Secretary
Canoeing the Mountains, Christian Leadership in Unchartered Territory, by Tod Bolsinger, IVP Books. Page 14, Page 27
Evangeline Booth, Grace Livingston Hill (1919). “The War Romance of the Salvation Army”