The Salvation Army     
Voices of our Global Family
home    |    conference details    |    news    |    features    |    resources    |    discussion papers
> select a country

Salvation Army Missionary Strategy
contact us

Salvation Army Missionary Strategy

discussion period: : 13 Jan 2002 to 23 Jan 2002
category: Related Topics - Theme 4: A look at Poverty in the Context of Global Economics Today



Official Respondants

Herb Rader

create response

Salvation Army Missionary Strategy and Ministry to the Poor
A paper for The Salvation Army's International Summit on Poverty
Lt. Colonel Herbert C. Rader, MD
Captain Fran Rader
USA Eastern Territory

Any study of Salvation Army missionary strategy and ministry to the poor must begin with an understanding of the Army’s founder. William Booth, born in 1929, was well acquainted with poverty and the precarious life of the poor. We do not know how much he was influenced by the works of Charles Dickens; but he experienced much of what Dickens wrote about and shared with the popular novelist a genuine anger about the conditions of the poor, and indignation about the indifference of those who had the means to ameliorate those conditions.

He was a complex character, perhaps not entirely consistent in his approach. While he chided the rich for their indifference, he was skeptical about their ability to help the disadvantaged directly. “Dangerous classes” was his ironic name for the educated and well to do. He was a critic of society but a defender of the British Empire. He feared the effect of a desire for “respectability” among his own troops, but sought acceptance among the “respectable.” He had a flair for public relations, and published accounts of his work with considerable marketing savvy and journalistic skill. He sought legal redress against arbitrary court orders when they threatened the survival of his shelters, but defied judicial rulings against street witness.

He is accused variously of being an autocrat, a tyrant, an empire-builder, a pragmatist, and a na´ve triumphalist. He was certainly a moral reformer, revivalist, prophet, advocate – and post-millennialist, believing that his work could make a difference.

William Booth lived under the mandate of both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment; and the latter inevitably moved him toward those in greatest need. He saw them as whole persons with urgent physical needs. His message was never judgmental, but full of tenderness and hope. He was influenced by, but went beyond the moral reformers who believed that the adoption of virtue, abstinence, diligence and thrift would lift the masses. Booth knew that both the lower and the upper classes were in desperate need of the transforming power of God’s Holy Spirit. He offered alternatives to destructive and enslaving lifestyles. He would not be satisfied until each person was transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, and involved in service and witness to his fellows.

He lived in a society abuzz with Darwin’s “scientific” conjectures. Natural selection might explain finch beak variation, but industrialists saw Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” notion as an opportunity to explain social inequity and a way to defend their exploitation of the weak and poor. Booth rejected social Darwinism, choosing instead to speak for the voiceless and put a strong arm under the weak. But he was no liberation theologian. He knew that the poor would be no better off in eternity if they were merely given political power and economic leverage without submitting to the Lordship of the Savior of all people.

Booth, aflame with a passion for souls, was drawn by a special personal empathy with the poor, not primarily because they were poor, but because they were living in spiritual darkness, much in need of God’s grace and power. He was there among them, and he was learning from them.

Whether or not Booth’s first mission among the teeming masses crowded into East End tenements and held hostage in sooty factories and sweltering shops was successful or not depends on the definition of success. It has been charged against Booth that he showed no sign of any realization of the pressure of economic fact, and was content to tell the impoverished that they need only believe in Jesus to have their lot lightened (Ervine, God’s Soldier, Vol I, page 442). However, no one was more sensible than he of the silliness of preaching to a man with an empty stomach. And he could prove from the lives of his own people that a sober man lives more happily and in greater material comfort on a pound a week than a drunken man.

Early efforts to meet temporal needs had a promising start. In The Revival, an early Christian Mission publication, of January 31, 1867, Booth wrote that at the Union Temperance Hall, High Street, Poplar, “We are now giving away soup and bread, and propose doing so while the distress continues and funds are sent us.” (The distress was an epidemic of cholera in 1866 and 1867.)

In July 1867, The East London Christian Mission acquired the Eastern Star beer-shop at 188 Whitechapel Road as its first headquarters, and part of it became a soup kitchen where as many as 2,000 poor fellows could be provided with soup in one day (some of them paying pennies of their own for it). Later that year an annual report refers to “evening classes; ragged schools; reading rooms; penny banks; soup kitchens; relief for the destitute and sick poor by distribution of bread, meat and money; house to house visitation; Sabbath and day schools; maternal societies; supplying clothes for the needy.” There were literacy classes, a Drunkards’ Rescue Society and a savings bank.

In addition, there were five “food for the millions” food shops. “All this, and preaching, too.” After soup always came prayer urging immediate surrender to God as the only remedy for their miseries, temporal and spiritual. Some were saved; but before the end of the decade Booth had second thoughts about gratuitous handouts (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983). By 1874 the feeding stations were closed. Booth wrote in The Revival that year, “Only the government can give effectual assistance” – regretting their lack of initiative in doing so. “The whole subject of poor relief is beset with great difficulties, but whatever controversies there may be as to the mode of its administration, there cannot be two opinions as to the duty of those who have wealth to stretch forth a helping hand” (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 983, page 5). But the government and the wealthy apparently failed to do their part; and within ten years all this activity was discontinued for want of funds. Needy cases were referred to the Charity Organization Society.

Was Booth an empire-builder? There is evidence that he resisted expansion, tried to discourage Booth-Tucker, would not open Australia before Railton had been successful, and was ready to even close America. He felt that the Army was uniquely equipped and divinely appointed to win the world and bring in the kingdom, but it was certainly no personal kingdom or empire that he sought. “Booth was not preoccupied by life on earth, but by life hereafter, nor was he attempting to provide comfortable careers for anybody in this world; he was attempting to redeem men from their damnation and to secure for them the eternal felicities of paradise” (Ervine, God’s Soldier, Vol I, page 459).

Booth’s impulse was to proclaim the good news that Jesus Christ transforms all of life and imparts the power to rise above every circumstance of life. It would take some time before his people would convince him that evil could also be social, structural, institutional, environmental, as well. The social services were at first considered a distraction and a financial drain without much benefit in achieving his overarching goals. Catherine had reviewed every chapter of In Darkest England: “Praise up humanitarianism as much as you like, but don’t confuse it with Christianity, nor suppose that it will ultimately lead its followers to Christ.” Soup and soap were at best ancillary to soul-saving. Railton expressed the strongest opposition to this diversion, though he was an advocate for equal pay for women. He dressed in sackcloth and ashes to oppose the Life Assurance program in 1894. Frank Smith did not think that the social work should be mixed up with the spiritual work.

The Booths were frequently reproached with the charge that they could appeal only to debased and ignorant people. They did not deny that their mission was mainly to the poor and uninformed. Booth, in 1880 actually described the Army as “moral scavengers, netting the very sewers.” But the rich as well as the poor had souls to be saved, and the Booths were certain that they could rescue the wealthy as well as the impoverished” (Ervine, God’s Soldier, Vol I, page 476). The Army, he said, was proceeding along three lines: Repentance, Faith and Holiness. There were no references to soup kitchens, lodging houses, let alone theological justification for them.

Booth was still focused on the single ministry of converting sinners – confident, to be sure, that conversion would have its great effect in assisting men to live better lives and to escape from the clutches of vice. “We who call ourselves by the name of Christ are not worthy to profess to be his disciples until we have set an open door before the least and worst of these who are now apparently imprisoned for life in a horrible dungeon of misery and despair,” Booth insisted.
However, he always affirmed that his Army was only a part of the Church universal – a military branch of the Church. Booth’s lifetime contention was that the Church’s job was redemption; but it was becoming increasingly evident that a man who was immured in a slum was unlikely to have an exalted spiritual belief or to be responsive to a spiritual appeal.

Meanwhile, the work of the Army was spreading. The Army soon had to balance domestic responsibilities with overseas needs. Catherine would counsel: do not ignore the poor at your doorstep in order to help those on distant shores. Others would add: do not be complacent about the needs of the larger family of man just because you are doing a good work at home. There has always been this strain on Army resources and manpower (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983).

A series of formative events took place between 1880 and 1890. Remember that all of the social activity we observe in 1867 was swept away by 1874.

In 1878 Amos and Anna Shirley and their daughter Eliza emigrated to Philadelphia, and soon there was a work there in an old chair factory at 6th and Oxford Streets. Railton and his lassies came in 1880 on the S.S. Australia. (Railton had a lovable character and was willing to do anything, but his energy was such, alas, that the lassies all became quite ill) (Ervine, God’s Soldier, Vol I, page 498).

In a letter dated May 22, 1880, John Gore, “the happy milkman,” invited Booth to come to Australia to repeat the USA experiment. “We must go. It is only a question of time.” If America were won, Australia would be easy. If America were lost, then Booth would follow his bias and restrict his movements to Britain. He had always preferred home to foreign missions (Ervine, God’s Soldier, Vol I, page 504).

In the summer of 1881 Booth sent his daughter Kate to France. The War Cry announced that “we propose to dispute the Devil’s right to hold and to occupy a single foot of this redeemed world.” The reception in France was predictable – furious opposition, but a hundred converts were made in the first year and five hundred in the second. The Army was “bursting the world,” but the Army was also splitting at its center! (Ervine, God’s Soldier, Vol 1, page 532).

In 1881 came the first experiment by a private soldier, a Mrs. Elizabeth Cotterill in an East End Corps who took some young prostitutes into her own home on Christian Street, Whitechapel in 1881. Eventually it was necessary to give them a facility, and a rescue home was opened on Hanbury Street, Whitechapel in May of 1884, with Mrs. Bramwell Booth in charge. Information gleaned from the residents of this home prompted W. T. Stead and Bramwell to become involved in their dramatic (and marginally legal) efforts to expose the white slave trade in England.

In 1884 a few educated women entered the notorious Seven Dials district with conversion and cleanliness as goals. Soap and water brigades marched into poor homes to help mothers, talk with drunken fathers, and save “the most wretched poor and outcast people that had ever dwelt in the slums of London.” After the notoriety of the Stead/Bramwell/Eliza Armstrong case, Catherine Booth asked the government to give 5,000 London prostitutes under the age of 16 to The Salvation Army.

During the winter of 1887-88, the plight of homeless men on the Thames embankment led to the establishment of the Army’s first “shelter” (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983). William Booth had returned to London from a campaign in the south of England and in the morning confronted Bramwell about the fellows sleeping under the bridges: Why haven’t you done something? According to Ervine, Bramwell made the conventional replies: The Salvation Army could not do everything; charity must not be indiscriminately distributed; it was hard to tell the difference between the deserving and the undeserving poor, etc.” “Undeserving poor!” exclaimed the Founder! “I don’t care about all that stuff. Do something. Get a shed. You needn’t coddle them” (Begbie, William Booth: Founder of the Salvation Army; Ervine, God’s Soldier, Vol II; MacMillan, 1926).

That familiar challenge of father to son – ten years after the re-naming of the mission – contains important clues to Booth’s thinking at the time. Prior to this, it was Booth’s belief that adequate resources just were not available to tackle the enormous problems of the poor. But this exchange with Bramwell suggests increasing confidence that something could and should be done. Booth had always seen the image of God in the face of the poor, he had always believed that indifference or inaction in the face of urgent need was somehow an affront to God (“inasmuch”), and he had always held the conviction that the Holy Spirit could transform both the heart and the circumstances of any sinner who would sincerely renounce his old life. What was growing was the conviction that circumstances beyond the sinner’s control were at work.

Booth had always believed that the wealthy had a responsibility and that the government had the capacity to effect change for the better in the conditions of the poor. But he now decided that he would let the “priest” organize the political action group to pass new legislation, and he would let the “levite” organize a public relief fund. He would be the Good Samaritan and “do something.”

“No coddling” reflected Booth’s recognition that stop-gap measures might be sincere, but that they could be debasing and could produce dependency. He wanted the shelter, but he opposed the “coddling.” It appears that he recognized that not everyone would be helped, and I think he would have opposed entitlement mentality and welfare dependency.

Begbie links this event to the beginning of the great social scheme to be announced two years later. During his extensive travels (every year of his life except 1905), especially 1891-98, he was consumed with a burning sympathy for the poor and suffering and was on fire with enthusiasm for his social scheme.

In The War Cry of January 21, 1888, “A New Departure” is described: “We have now decided to do something towards alleviating this dreadful misery and have taken large premises in the West India Road, Limehouse to establish a very cheap food depot and sleeping shelter for the night" (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983, page 7). The Limehouse Food Depot provided the focal point of relief when 120,000 of the most poorly paid, fed, clad and housed laborers in the world were out of work. The Army was in the right place at the right time with the right motivation and resources. The 1889 Dock Strike was critical to the public acceptance of the Army, and to the Army’s confidence that organized social work could make a significant difference.

The food was not given out free, but was offered at half the usual price. To subsidize the cost, Salvationists from Melbourne, Australia contributed 200 pounds (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983). The Army was learning some valuable principles: East can help West, and South can aid North. Always respect the dignity and capacity of the people being helped. Never offer bread without also offering the Bread of Life.

Someone asked Booth “what about the Salvation Army proper? Has it suffered from the competition of the Social Work?” “I know what you mean,” Booth responded; “but in my estimation it is all the Salvation Army proper. We want to abolish these distinctions, and make it as religious to sell a guernsey or feed a hungry man as it is to take up a collection in the barracks. It is all part of our business, which is to save the world – body and soul, for time and for eternity” (The War Cry, 1889, quoted in Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983, page 15).

People were receptive to a gospel that addressed their needs; and spiritual change often followed physical improvement. Booth began to feel that his highly organized and widely dispersed Army would be able to do what others could not. He was now being influenced more by Bramwell, Stead and Smith than by Catherine and Railton. With the growing conviction that salvation and redemption had both temporal and eternal consequences, Booth became more enthusiastic about the possibility that the Army was in the vanguard of establishing the Kingdom worldwide.

In the years after 1890, Booth went through a period of fervent post-millenial triumphalism. He was confident that the Army had found the key to solving society’s intractable problems, and that his militant branch of the church had been raised up by God to lead the world into a veritable heaven on earth. How much he was influenced by the Bible, and how much by Britain’s naval conquests and overseas expansion, we do not know.

Many were in fact saved through Army preaching and thousands were sent to churches. For those who remained with the Army, many were trained and pressed into service so that the message could be communicated with credibility. Of such people Booth created an inclusive community as a place of acceptance and belonging – for those who were rejected by the churches, and for those who wanted to be part of Booth’s fighting force. This inclusion helped to lend dignity to those who had lived on the fringes, and gave them a new identity and sense of hope. It was with those who accepted the personal discipline of Godly living, and wanted to give themselves without reserve, that Booth developed his disciplined troops who were willing to accept his autocratic leadership and the hardships of their assignments. Booth knew that following Christ meant self-denial, surrender, toil and suffering. The life of the Salvationist would be a difficult one.

And Booth was not the only one to sound the call to suffer and serve. In 1882 Frederick St. George deLautour Tucker, almost against Booth’s will, was determined to start the Army’s work in India. Despite his privileged upbringing, the Army’s first “gentleman” more than anyone in the Army including Railton, understood and embraced voluntary poverty as an essential part of his mission. He understood that to preach the good news to the poor Jesus dignified them by becoming poor. He fed the masses twice as an indication of his identity and power, but more often he shared their hunger. He drove out demons and diseases as a sign that the Kingdom was coming, but he also bore the anguish and suffering of the human experience (see Green and Murdoch).

As interest grew in serving in India, Tucker prepared a memorandum of instruction to all new candidates for service in India (they came by the hundreds), and St.John Ervine considers it one of the most heroic documents of mankind: Service will be a matter not merely of being willing to go anywhere, but of wishing to live and die for the particular race to which you are sent. You will be absolutely alone and under close scrutiny. It will be essential to learn at least one Indian language. You must leave entirely and forever behind you all your English dress and habits. Officers will be barefoot. You will avoid the English quarter, but will always live among natives – sometimes in a cave, a shady tree, or someone’s veranda – or in a mud hut 16 by 10 feet. You will cook as they do, and wash your clothes in the stream with them. You have nothing to fear from the climate. The people are different and intensely religious. . Find out what their thoughts are before you share yours. And if you are planning to return, don’t go. We would not think of sending anyone out who did not plan to make it a life work (Ervine, God’s Soldier, Vol I, page 576).

Interestingly, though he chose poverty for himself, Tucker went first not to the poorest – those innumerable and desperately needy teeming masses of India – but to the Brahmins. If there was any missiological strategy at all, it was to win a few influential Indians who could join the Army pioneers in winning others. He had success with one. Arnolis Weerasouria, a Singhalese jewel merchant, became Tucker’s chief secretary; and along with the other officers, he followed the Indian tradition of becoming a poor “holy man,” wearing saffron robes, and using a begging bowl to support himself.

It seems unlikely that any early Army mission set out specifically to minister to the poor. The Army simply set out to proclaim the liberating, redeeming, transforming, reconciling gospel to all. And if the original strategy had been to work through high-caste opinion makers to win the masses, the adaptable Salvationists soon found themselves among the masses, sharing rather than relieving their poverty.

The success in retrospect – and the growth was undeniably spectacular – cannot be attributed to any technique, but to the extraordinary measure of personal sacrifice and the high standards of personal holiness. The early Indian Salvationists identified their saffron robes with holiness; and it has often been said that when the saffron robes went (replaced by the beautiful white western-style uniforms), so did the holiness. We must never forget the importance of holiness and discipline: The Army would never have been effective if it had not been humble, joyful and holy. It was a God-anointed, God-empowered, God-led Army; and those who resisted holiness teaching and experience found it difficult to bear the yoke of discipline.

In “The Imitation of Jesus Christ” in the 1893 War Cry, Booth wrote: “But why the Cross? There is no other way by which God can create the perfection of character which He wants in His people than by the Cross. Luxury, ease, prosperity weaken and deteriorate human nature. Hardship, sorrow, loss, persecution and scorn; in other words, the Cross, raises improves, refines and sanctifies. It is by suffering we are made perfect.”

Booth understood the nature of the warfare and victory that could only be achieved through suffering. This was partly because we shared in the suffering of Christ in the cosmic battle against the principalities and powers at work to make and keep people in poverty and bondage. If there is a clear connection between mission strategy and ministry to the poor, it is that Booth understood the need to become poor in order to reach the poor, and that Booth-Tucker and others were willing to do this. Booth gained support for his “Darkest England” scheme because he had hundreds of officers already living in the very slums he was trying to reach.

It was not poverty per se, but human suffering and misery and bondage that moved Booth’s heart and motivated his work. Booth called both rich and poor to repentance, but in reaching out to the world, he found many more poor than rich; and although some might have thought they had less to thank God for, the poor were generally more responsive to the Gospel. By no means a scholar or theologian, Booth was nevertheless a prophet who trusted and responded to the authority of the Bible. With compassionate fervor, he proclaimed the dignity of the lowliest, the universal grace of God, the possibility of change, and the availability of God’s power. With the moral authority of a life totally surrendered to God he challenged his detractors, and with a thundering righteous indignation he railed against the indifference of the privileged, calling them to repentance as well.

Attracted to the poor, respectful of the poor, confident that people can rise above poverty, the Army has always included the poor, but has not limited itself in any way. The Army maintains a healthy view of the value and potential of the human person; and it is to the Army’s credit that it has avoided the categories of the sociologist in defining poverty and the strategies of the socialist in addressing the condition of the poor. Booth had a complex understanding of poverty, and realized that it was not just a result of personal vice on the one hand or socio-economic conditions on the other. He and his Army recognized that poverty was caused not just by personal lifestyle choices, but by the greed of industrialists and sweatshop owners, the lust of men who prey on young girls, rampant disease in overcrowded tenements, the indifference of those with means, and laws that deny justice. And it is powerlessness, hopelessness, malaise, isolation, voicelessness, lack of community, deliberate oppression, that mars the identity of the poor, whether the unemployed of Whitechapel Road in London, or the untouchables of Kanyakumari in India.

Working with the poor requires exquisite cultural sensitivity and identification to overcome serious credibility and communication gaps. There is a great new literature being developed by development thinkers like Bryant Meyers and Jeyakumar Christian of World Vision, India. The gospel is good news to the poor because it addresses their powerlessness and shines a light on the web of lies that entangles them in a hopeless status quo. There are chains and bars that must be taken away. There are sinister forces that impose barriers. There are vested interests that do not want the poor to become self-sufficient.

The Army’s pattern of social service has often been the unplanned response of an individual Salvationist to an immediate need. Railton described the work of the Prisoners’ Rescue Brigade: “Like each onward step of the Army, our work for the salvation of ex-convicts has been begun with no cut and dried plan, but just as we have seen our way to reply to the cry of our hearts for the deliverance of these poor captives from the tyranny of the devil, without waiting to know how to do it" (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983).

The Booths were careful to avoiding exceeding their capacity to do their work well. Their homes offered opportunity but imposed no obligation. “Those who do not desire to stay are better away!” However the Booths put no stock in reformation under good influences. There must be transformation by the Holy Spirit (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983). Those who were engaged in this work understood that “you must have a real, practical belief in God’s power and will to do all that is necessary to make people good.” We must not “give place to the devil by shrinking from pressing the idea of deliverance upon a man who finds it difficult to grasp, and stopping short of the truth that God will enable him to overcome. We may be so afraid of expecting too much from people that we promise too little to them” (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983).

Strong bonds grew between the helper and the helped. They did not consider themselves better than those they served. All were sinners in God’s sight, and all could be redeemed by his grace (Fairbank, Booth’s Boots, 1983). The Army has always had strong confidence in the power of God to save the lowest and the worst. Florence Booth opposed the notion that immoral women were any worse than others. She would have said the same about gay men, I am sure. “We believe absolutely in the ‘save-ability’ of every soul. The girls who enter our doors have nobody to believe in, and believe least of all in themselves. The atmosphere they breathe from the moment they cross our threshold must be full of that sort of faith in God that sees the good.”

Among Army ironies and paradoxes – “my best men are women” – the Army succeeded best with the very worst. We have always been good with the blind, crippled, the leper, the criminal and the outcaste.

Social programs in India reflected human responsibility rather than mission strategy. Tucker’s social activities in India were as valuable as his spiritual enterprises. He encouraged the growth of eucalyptus trees in order to clear up swampy land and destroy the breeding places of the malaria-spreading mosquito. He introduced the cassava plant with its prolific growth of nourishing tubers. He obtained the thornless cactus plant from Luther Burbank for cattle fodder. He imported cats. He restarted the silk industry.

Later work among the criminal tribes of South India is an example of how extraordinary successes were achieved without “central planning.” After futile attempts by the government to reform the uncontrollable criminal tribesmen who plundered local villages from their mountain retreats, Major Frank Maxwell and his family, with extraordinary courage, entered the area to provide an alternate means of making a living. With a loom of his own design, and with the support of a Tata silk factory, Maxwell taught the “Crims” to make textiles that sold well on the English market.

It is of great interest that the earliest medical work (not counting our rest homes for burnt-out officers) was started by young untrained but compassionate Harry Andrews on the verandah of DHQ bungalow in Nagercoil. I think that we can make the case that individual interest and initiative is behind many of our enduring programs, from schools for the blind in Kalimpong and Haiti, to hospitals in Africa, to rehab centers in India.

Medical work around the world is a paradigm of ministry to the poor. In every case, medical institutions or clinics or programs were started by individuals responding to local needs or expressing personal interests. Army medical work was generally supported by the well-to-do who recognized the value of the service to the poor, and the work was generally as “western” in standard as could be achieved, so that the services were sought by both the rich and the poor.

Institutions like leprosariums were often founded by another organization and were handed over to the Army, which was recognized for its willingness and ability to manage such programs.

The Salvation Army is to be credited for creating alternatives. Crims were offered the Maxwell loom as an alternative to crime. Desperate women with unplanned pregnancies out of wedlock were given an alternative to dangerous abortion by providing a safe and anonymous setting with loving mother figures, supported by grateful communities. Missionary hospitals provided an alternative to expensive local physicians, superstition, traditional medicine, and often ill-equipped government hospitals.

The Army created alternatives to untouchability by offering advocacy, and membership and Christian fellowship. Salvation Army safety match factories were not an income generating scheme, but an alternative to using white phosphorus that caused a destructive mandibular osteonecrosis. Ministry to lepers was a response both to need and to official pleas to deal with a problem that no one else wanted to handle; so the Army took over from other missions (in Indonesia), managed government leprosaria (in India), and then provided vocational rehabilitation (in Nagercoil) as an alternative to dependency and institutionalization.

The Salvation Army entered the world of the “untouchable” in South India to begin a work that no one else would do, and members of the “backward castes” became the backbone of rapid Army expansion. It appears that it was not the poverty of any group that was ever of primary importance; special needs, opportunity and responsiveness determined the Army’s direction. The vision, initiative and ability of individuals gave rise to most of our ongoing programs. Since resources were always limited, and since strategic direction was generally set by overseas leadership, the interest and background of a particular leader was likely to determine what expressions of service were developed. Most of our blind work throughout the world was established by a very few individuals, and the hospitals in southern Africa appear to have been seeded by one officer. Forceful leadership was influential in determining where resources were directed.

Our missionary efforts involved more sharing of resources than offering power over the resources. The internationalism of the Army, including its central control, standardized policies and procedures, etc., provided more pull from above than push from beneath for those attempting to climb out of poverty. However, many Army institutions, especially the hospitals in India and Africa, provided an effective ladder by which students could study their way out of poor villages in schools and nursing training programs, etc. Jobless men and women could become officers. Institutions provided employment opportunities.

The adaptive capacity of the Army is one of its characteristics and strengths. We have, in fact, become all things to all men to a degree not achieved by other missions. While some groups focus on theological training or education or medical ministries, the Army digs wells, conducts agricultural research, sponsors orphans, runs blind schools, sponsors vocational training for the disabled, runs hospitals, provides primary and secondary education, provides nurses’ training, develops havens and workshops, hostels and leprosaria – and all of these programs were started by competent and compassionate individuals without a word of advice from IHQ.

The Salvation Army has by no means solved the problem of poverty in the world. The statistics grow more alarming every year despite improvements in agriculture, improving economies, international aid and development, etc. But the Army has brought hope and truth and light and love and compassion for people in all conditions. The Army has identified with and spoken out for, and has come alongside and encouraged the poor. The Army has experimented and innovated and shared resources. The Army has sheltered and educated and trained the poor. The Army has shown respect, has shared authority, has restored dignity.

The lives of thousands have been touched and transformed. Zambian leaders have been trained in Army schools at the Chikankata Mission. Indian nurses throughout the Middle East have been trained at Catherine Booth Hospital in Nagercoil. Hundreds of worshiping Army congregations have blossomed in the formerly Harijan villages of India. Prosperous landowners and merchants – all Christians – are now to be found among the former “Crims” (criminal tribes) of South India. Independent shop owners have been trained at Aramboly and secretaries have been trained at Trivandrum.

Disabled and disfigured leprosy patients at Bapatla and Puthencruz are now living with hope and joy. Hundreds of inaccessible villages have been reached by Army health workers in Papua New Guinea, Sulawesi and Congo. Thousands upon thousands of men first found in the gutter and have later been found at the ARC mercy seat. Thousands of Rwandan children have been given a new chance for survival. Thousands of Afghan refugees have been assisted to generate revenue and survive in Pakistan. Thousands of HIV/AIDS patients, families and communities have been touched. The Army’s approaches are currently influencing UNDP.

In the earliest days we were the poor, working among the poor. We then became western missionaries providing services for the poor. Now we are learning to work alongside the poor to facilitate change.

Reaching the poor requires hard work and personal identification – incarnational ministry, and not just a transfer of resources. Political support is important, but cannot replace spiritual transformation. Political and moral reform are not sufficient. Working with people long trapped in poverty is difficult. Suffering, enduring hardship and self-denial are all part of the package. But what is the alternative?

Norman Murdoch notes in the epilogue of his Origins of The Salvation Army, that the modern western Army’s program is determined by its funding sources – increasingly secular and public. With public contributions the Army has built homes for unwed mothers, hospitals, children’s homes, summer camps and rehab centers, mainly in cities where the Army has failed to evangelize the poor. By the 1920s most of the Army’s income in the USA came from community funds. As the Army sought ways to increase income it tempered its aggressive Christianity (Murdoch, page 171). Social programs focused on character-building but were deliberately designed to be inoffensive to non-evangelical donors. Spiritual programs became irrelevant to the organization’s financial survival. Is this who we want to be?

One image of Booth’s Army is “heart to God and hand to man.” Booth also had one hand out to the rich for support while at the same time he was reaching his other hand down to grasp the weak hands of those who were sinking beneath the waves of poverty, crime and vice. But toward the end of his life, Booth confessed: “I have been trying all my life to stretch out my arms so as to reach with one hand the poor and at the same time keep the other in touch with the rich. But my arms are not long enough. I find that when I am in touch with the poor I lose my hold upon the rich, and when I reach up to the rich I let go of the poor.”

We need to hear again in our day Booth’s call to personal holiness, close identification with those we serve – and the call of the One who for our sakes became poor.


Barnes, Cyril J., editor. The Founder Speaks Again: A Selection of the Writings of William Booth, Salvationist Publishing, London, 1960.

Begbie, Harold. William Booth, Founder of the Salvation Army, 2 Volumes, Macmillan and Co., London, 1925.

Booth, Bramwell. Echoes and Memories, George H. Doran Publishers, New York, 1925.

Booth, General William. In Darkest England and the Way Out, Salvationist Publishing, London, 1890.

Christian, Jayakumar. God of the Empty-Handed: Poverty, Power and the Kingdom of God, World Vision, Monrovia, 1999.

Coutts, General Frederick. Bread for My Neighbor: The Social Influence of William Booth, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1978.

Ervine, St. John. God’s Soldier: General William Booth, in two volumes, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1935.

Fairbank, Lt. Colonel Jenty. Booth’s Boots: Social Service Beginnings in The Salvation Army, Salvationist Publishing, London, 1983.

Green, Roger. War on Two Fronts: The Redemptive Theology of William Booth, Salvation Army Supplies, Atlanta, 1989.

Hatcher, Lt. Colonel Matilda. The Untouchables, Salvationist Publishing, London, undated.

Hattersley, Roy. Blood and Fire: William and Catherine Booth and Their Salvation Army, Doubleday, New York, 1999.

In Darkest England Now: A Salvation Army Survey of Religious and Social Conditions in Britain Eighty Years after William Booth’s Blueprint for Salvation, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1974.

McCaughey, Betty, compiler. William and Catherine with Love: A Year’s Daily Readings, The Salvation Army Triumph Press, East Oakville, Ontario, 1989.

McKinley, Edward H. Marching to Glory: The History of The Salvation Army in the United States, 1880-1992, 2nd edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing, Grand Rapids, 1995.

Murdoch, Norman H. Origins of the Salvation Army, The University of Tennessee Press, Knoxville, 1994.

Myers, Bryant L. Walking With the Poor: Principles and Practices of Transformational Development, Orbis, New York, 1999.

Railton, George S. The Authoritative Life of General William Booth, Founder of The Salvation Army, by George S. Railton, Hodder and Stoughton, London, 1912.

Redwood, Hugh. God in the Slums, Fleming H. Revell, London, 1931.

Schwartz, Joel. Fighting Poverty with Virtue: Moral Reform and America’s Urban Poor, 1825-2000, Indiana University Press, 2000.

Sider, Ronald J., editor. For They Shall be Fed: Scripture Readings and Prayers for a Just World, Word Publishing, Dallas, 1997.

Sims, George; McKenzie, F.A.; Haggard, Rider. Sketches of the Salvation Army Social Work, Salvationist Publishing, London, 1906.

Unsworth, Madge. Maiden Tribute, Salvationist Publishing, London, 1949.

Waldron, John D., anthology editor. Seven Dark Rivers and the Salvation Army, Salvationist Publishing, New York, 1990.

Wilson, P.W. General Evangeline Booth, Charles Scribners, 1948.

Winston, Diane. Red-Hot and Righteous: The Urban Religion of The Salvation Army, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1999.

create response

print version text only version for saving

[Previous Main Document]

Salvation Army Missionary Strategy (Keith Wylie)
. . RE: Salvation Army Missionary Strategy (Keith Wylie)

[Next Main Document]

 home    |    contact us    |    international website Copyright © 2019 The Salvation Army