Understated but not Undervalued
by Major David Rees
ON 15 August 2008 a Salvation Army news release announced to the world that 'The Salvation Army has appointed officers to the Arabic State of Kuwait'. The officers chosen for this new and challenging assignment were Majors Mike and Teresa Hawley from the USA Southern Territory, which is funding the fledgling work. A month later they were joined by Lieutenants Robert and Glenis Viera, newly commissioned officers from the same territory.
The Army's ministry is principally to the large group of contract workers who come from other countries to work in Kuwait. Amazingly, this diverse group comprises more than 65 per cent of the population of Kuwait.
The decision to commence work in Kuwait was in response to a report prepared by Colonel Dick Krommenhoek, then the General's Representative for Global Evangelisation.
When management of The Salvation Army's International Emergency Services relief work programme in Iraq had moved from there to Kuwait, for safety reasons, the team members became aware that there was a significant number of Salvationists from India and other Asian countries working in Kuwait. In June 2007 the International Secretary for South Asia, Commissioner Lalkiamlova, and Colonel Krommenhoek visited Kuwait and met with 80 Indian Salvationists who had formed a strong social network. They discovered that for more than 25 years this group has met for regular prayer meetings, social gatherings and worship times. In August, their gatherings became officially recognised and Kuwait was listed as the 116th country in which The Salvation Army is at work.
Following a request from the Chief of the Staff, I journeyed to Kuwait to spend time with the newly arrived officers and to report back to International Headquarters on the work that was being undertaken. My visit coincided with a change in the programme. Salvation Army worship meetings had been held on a monthly basis but now the group of worshippers will get together every week.
|Making tea in the middle of the desert|
|Major David Rees samples fresh camel's milk|
|Majors Mike and Teresa Hawley dedicate a child to God during the weekly worship meeting|
|Three Sudanese camel herders who were given supplies through the Operation Hope project|
In the congregation of the meeting I attended were 81 Indians who readily identified with The Salvation Army, mainly from the India South Eastern Territory. There was a good mix of ages and, during the meeting, a young baby was dedicated to God by Major Mike Hawley. It was a very special time. All the shoes left at the door before entry - including mine - were a reminder of the fact that we were on 'holy ground'. At the end of the meeting there was a positive response during a time of dedication and renewal.
What followed then was a fellowship dinner. No surprises here - it was rice and curry! This group also meets for 'Practice and Prayer' every Tuesday night. The USA Southern Territory donated 10 brass instruments and learners have stepped up to take lessons. This will be part of the Tuesday night programme.
The work in Kuwait is not accompanied by fanfare or a professional public relations programme, rather it is carried out quietly and in an understated manner. There are reasons for this. Because Kuwait is a strong Islamic state, much care is needed due to the imposed restrictions. When I arrived at the airport I was not in uniform. The officers only wear their uniform with trimmings when they are involved in meetings and other indoor activities. Yes, it is understated, but it has an authentic gospel ring about it.
The Government of Kuwait officially recognises three principal churches and has provided three separate compounds for the Roman Catholic Church, the Coptic Church and the Protestant Church (officially the National Evangelical Church of Kuwait). The Salvation Army works under the Protestant 'umbrella'. In the compound approximately 12,000 people are involved in weekly church activities. The officers are also involved in the greater ministry of this church also. What a unique and great opportunity this is!
Major Mike Hawley represents the Army on an organising committee that oversees a mission of mercy known as Operation Hope. Its aim is to help the less fortunate people of Kuwait by providing coats, hats, gloves, socks and thermal underclothing. I discovered during my visit that it can be bitterly cold in the desert and I was glad I left London in the winter with a warm coat! In three years, Operation Hope volunteers have packed and delivered warm winter clothing to more than 15,000 needy men and women.
I was involved in the distribution of 400 of these parcels one afternoon. Our last location was the tent of three Sudanese camel herders. We were offered hospitality in their small tent - hot tea and biscuits. It was there I drank camel's milk for the very first time. It could not have been fresher - straight into a metal basin and then drunk straight out of the basin. It is much nicer than plain old cow's milk! More expensive too - a litre of camel's milk is more expensive than a litre of petrol.
I look forward to returning to Kuwait to see how the new work is progressing. I believe the Army has a vital contribution to make, not only to Salvationists but also to the wider Church and its influence in the community. They may have greater restrictions on them than Salvationists in many parts of the world but they know God will use them.
I learned during my visit that Major Mike Hawley had met with a small group of Salvationists who regularly gather for prayer and fellowship in Dubai. They would like an officer too!
As the plane flew above the vast desert region on my return flight, and as I reflected on what I had experienced over just a few days, I thanked God that he had led The Salvation Army to be active in this part of the world.
High-profile, well-publicised projects may be the best way to bring people into the Kingdom of God in much of the world but maybe more of The Salvation Army's best work for the Kingdom can be done in the same understated way I witnessed in Kuwait.
Major David Rees is Under-Secretary in the South Asia Zone at The Salvation Army's International Headquarters in London