Above: Major Cedric Hills distributes goods during an emergency response in Afghanistan
Major Cedric Hills is International Emergency Services Coordinator, based at International Headquarters
A Privilege to Serve
by Major Cedric Hills
It was 6 June 1994 – the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Standing inside a small Salvation Army mobile canteen in Normandy, I looked out at the huge crowd of proud elderly people gathered to remember events from half a century before. One old soldier approached the canteen counter. I offered him a drink, sandwich and cake.
‘How much will that be?’ he asked. ‘It’s free today,’ I replied. ‘Our way of saying thank you.’
The man took a £10 note from his wallet, folded it up and pressed it into my hand. ‘Fifty years ago I came up this beach, son, and your lot were there to give me a cup of tea. I couldn’t pay for it then, so I’m paying for it now.’
This is a story I have shared many times. It was a humbling moment – the truth dawned on me then that present-day Salvationists have a proud heritage to follow, and big shoes to fill! Going from handing out tea then to being in charge of the International Emergency Services section now, I’m as aware of that as anyone.
Many people have found support from The Salvation Army in difficult times. In man-made conflicts or at times of natural disaster, Salvation Army officers, soldiers and volunteers have reached out to desperate people in the name of Jesus.
Disaster is no respecter of status. Admittedly, poverty greatly increases the likelihood of disaster, but the impact of losing your home, belongings and loved ones is a devastating blow to rich and poor alike. Thankfully, all around the world Salvation Army emergency teams are on hand when disaster strikes.
Those who participate in this service can testify to the opportunities for ministry that arise. People have discovered that this ministry of caring – offering something as simple as a drink of water or a shoulder to cry on – is a powerful way to translate the gospel into action.
Some of the help we offer stems from experience but we recognise the importance of developing our skills and learning from the experience and knowledge of others. Local, national and international training courses in disaster management are taking place, as reported in this issue of All the World. We want to be more effective and more flexible in our responses.
Despite our Movement’s long history of emergency ministry, the International Emergency Services section at International Headquarters was formed only a decade ago, in the aftermath of our support programme for those affected in the 1994 Rwanda genocide. Since then, many international responses have taken place, sometimes in countries where there was no existing Salvation Army ministry. Currently, relief teams are bringing assistance in Iraq and to people displaced by rebel activity in northern Uganda.
We who are deployed count it a privilege to serve. Our lives are enriched by the warmth of those we help, who give us far more than we could ever give them.