The General and Commissioner Freda Larsson with Indian leaders in front of new windmill
The General, Commissioner Freda Larsson and Indian Salvation Army leaders in front of the plaque commemorating the official dedicating of the windmill and recognising the funding provided by the Canada and Bermuda Territory
General John Larsson is the international leader of The Salvation Army
From the Top: Partners in Mission
by General John Larsson
As a Salvation Army officer I have been asked to dedicate many fascinating objects for God’s service. In Tonga I was once asked to dedicate a Salvation Army fishing boat! It was a wonderful programme. The Army had a number of boats that were hired out very cheaply on a 12-hour basis to fishermen who could not afford their own. Each morning these boats would return with the fish caught during the night, and the fishermen would then sell their catch on the quayside.
Some months ago, when we were visiting the India South Eastern Territory, I was asked to dedicate a Salvation Army windmill – the kind of windmill that generates electricity. We drove into a remote valley and there stood a gleaming new windmill with the words ‘The Salvation Army’ emblazoned on it. The Army was going to do its part to provide much-needed energy.
Everything had been prepared for the dedication ceremony. We sat on a platform some distance away from the windmill. It was a very hot day and the platform was covered by a canopy. In front of us, about 100 yards from us, was a great crowd of people also seated under cover. The programme began with speeches and items, and when my turn was getting near, I enquired of the officer in charge whether there was anything specific I had to do when it came to the actual moment of dedication. Was there a ribbon to be cut or a string to be pulled to unveil a plaque?
Everything had indeed been thought of. The officer handed me a remote control on which all the buttons except one had been covered with tape. They were not going to risk the General getting it wrong! He pointed to a large, free-standing object at the side of the field about halfway between the platform and the congregation. It was at least 10 feet tall. But one could not tell what it was, for it was completely enveloped in a drape hanging, like a shower curtain, from a circular frame. ‘At the right moment,’ he said, ‘please point the remote control at the curtain, and press the button firmly – once.’
At precisely the right moment I did as bid. A second passed. Then another. Nothing happened. I resisted the temptation to press the button again! And then, to my relief and to everyone else’s delight, the curtain began slowly to lower. And as the curtain descended a stone monument with a very large plaque became gradually visible. The ceremonial was a triumph of modern technology!
I went over to read out aloud the words on the plaque. The final words were ‘Donated by the Canada and Bermuda Territory’. There was loud and prolonged applause.
I am an inveterate reader of plaques. I must have read hundreds of them as we have travelled the world. They tell the story of the personalities involved in the dedication ceremony. But much more, they tell the story of those whose generosity made the project possible. It is usually in the final line of the inscription. ‘A gift from the Salvationists of such-and-such territory.’ When I see such plaques I picture the groups of people, often in a far-away country, who have made the world a better place through their costly giving. That always warms my heart.
The international Salvation Army is an astonishing network of generosity. Those who have much share with those who have little. And even those who have little share with those who have less. It all started with Major John Carleton back in 1886.
Major Carleton was present at a large meeting where well-to-do supporters of the Army were being asked to write on pieces of paper the amount they would donate to the Army for its growing work in the UK and abroad. He had no money to give but, on impulse grabbed one of the papers and wrote on it that he would go without pudding each day for a year, and thus raise 50 shillings to give!
William Booth was not only greatly moved by Major Carleton’s offer but saw in it the germ of an idea. Within weeks a ‘self-denial’ fund had been launched, and Salvationists were bidden to make some personal sacrifice, not for a whole year, but for one week each year, and to donate the resulting income to the fund. The concept soon spread around the whole Army world. Still today, Salvationists in every country where the Army is at work give — often at great personal sacrifice — to the International Self-Denial Fund, of which International Headquarters is the steward.
From the beginning ‘self-denial’ involved not only Salvationists. Those beyond its ranks were also asked to give in a sacrificial way – and the generosity of the Army’s supporters over the years has been astounding. But whether it is giving for Self Denial Appeal, or for OWSOMS (‘One Week’s Salary On Missionary Service’), or for World Services — the names vary in different territories — the personal giving of Salvationists still lies at the heart of the scheme.
It is by means of the International Self Denial Fund that Salvationists become partners in mission with their fellow Salvationists around the world. A year ago the concept was further expanded by each territory being ‘twinned’ with one or more other territories. That puts a face to the giving. And the ‘twinning’ is most definitely two-way traffic. For even those who have little to share in monetary terms have much else with which to enrich those with whom they are linked.
The first Self-Denial week — which was then confined to the UK — raised £4,280, most of that, to William Booth’s delight, in pennies and half-pennies. Today the annual giving and expending runs into many millions of pounds. Thank you, Major John Carleton, for an inspired idea that makes all Salvationists partners in mission!