IN THE FRONT LINE
General Eva Burrows International Leader of the Salvation Army
Chairman: A.A. van Straubenzee President
In 1974 I was very pleased to have been elected to the board of directors of an investment company. My election was to be ratified on a particular day and, of course, when I got up that morning, I put on my very best blue suit. Well, the meeting was held at eleven a.m. and I was indeed elected to the board. The chairman of the board was somewhat of an austere, serious, benevolent dictator. A discussion was emanating from the head of the table and we were all listening with rapt attention. It was more or less a rule that the meeting must never be disturbed, and to the surprise of all of us there was a knock at the door. One of the very important secretaries arrived and I thought she undoubtedly had a message for the chairman. But to my absolute horror, she headed for me and handed me a slip of paper. And on this sheet of paper there was a message that a Captain Smith wished to speak to me urgently.
I didn't know whether Captain Smith was from the police, the Armed Forces or whatever. And so I excused myself and immediately left the room. l went to the telephone and said, "van Straubenzee speaking." The gentleman on the other end of the line said: "This is Captain Smith. I am calling you from the Don Jail and a friend of yours by the name of "x" has been arrested for drunk driving and he asked me to call you because he thoughtyou would know how to arrange bail and get him out and he is only allowed one phone call."
I thanked the Captain for his call, hung up, looked at the secretary who had brought me the message and said: "What on earth made you disturb me at a time like this?" She looked at me and said: "I would not normally have disturbed you, sir, but it was the Salvation Army on the phone and I felt that you would consider that important."
I then immediately apologized to the chairman, told him that I was going to have to absent myself for an emergency and went off to the Don Jail. I spent the rest of the afternoon attempting to help this particular person out.
That was how I spent my first day as a director of that company. The second story is equally difficult. I was a young boy of about 10.1 had a very ancient aunt- right out of Charles Dickens's Great Expectations - and one of my duties was to attend to her from time to time. I remember that I had to sit in a straightback chair, wearing my very best little suit, and not being allowed to have a candy or gum. I particularly remember the ordeal because I couldn't use her bathroom.
I had to read the lesson for the day from the Bible and then discuss it with her. My aunt's name was Madeline and over her bed she had a sign with the word "Victory." She was, as they say, a member of the Corps. When it got dark in the winter she wouldn't turn on the light because she was so old she was afraid the light would bounce off her head. That was just about her only sin - a little touch of vanity.
At any rate, when she died, the famous brass band arrived and a wonderful service of joy was conducted. In the parlour was a magnificent bouquet of flowers and card which said, "From the Knights of the Road." I turned to one of the officers of the Salvation Army and I said: "We're very puzzled. We have this beautiful bouquet of flowers and we don't understand from whom it was sent. The florist refused to tell us." He looked at the card, laughed and said: "Well, my boy, in the depression your great aunt used to put up a number of people in her coach house and feed them soup. It is just their way of remembering."
Well, we all have our stories about the Salvation Army and I guess one of my very favorite ones is of a cold winter's day on Fifth Avenue in New York. A brass band was playing Christmas carols. It was during the depression and people were walking by, but the bubble was not filling up with coins and it was evidently a depressing sight. Along came that great Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso, and he stopped and listened to the carols and then he began to sing. His voice rang out through the streets of New York and people started to come from blocks away to hear this magnificent man sing. And the bubble quickly filled with coins. One had to wonder if in fact it wasn't an act of God. It was certainly an act of faith.
Well, I look back on that day when I was called to help my friend because of the good efforts of the Salvation Army. I fondly look back on my days with my great aunt, even though she left all her money to the Army, and I think of that great day with Caruso and I need hardly tell you what the Army is, what they do or what they represent.
General Eva Burrows:
Mr. President, head table guests and ladies and gentlemen. It's a great pleasure to be here with you and thank you very much for the invitation to address both the Canadian and Empire Clubs today. You know that when the founder of the Salvation Army, William Booth, came to Toronto for the very first time 102 years ago, our history records that the Salvation Army had scarcely a friend and hardly a dollar in the whole Dominion. Well, it's very different today. What a wealth of friends we have, but we're still looking for more dollars.
I realize that today I speak to men and women who occupy significant positions in this great land and in this magnificent city of Toronto, and I trust that today what I have to say will not be just an interesting interval in a very busy day, but that it will provide you with challenging insights and some verbal pictures from around the world to which you may want to return in your mind.
I am, of course, going to speak to you about the Salvation Army. I wonder what you know about the Salvation Army. It would be very interesting to hear. Actually, in the great Cathedral of Liverpool in Britain, Bishop David Sheppards was preaching and he was describing God and he said: "God is a living, compassionate ... a Salvation Army kind of God." I count that a great compliment to the Salvation Army. Of course, not everybody is as ignorant as the waiter at a very posh restaurant in New York where the General of that day was being entertained by some friends. The waiter went straight up to him as the chief guest and said: "What wine will you have, Sir?" And the host was very agitated and said: "Don't you know?! The Salvation Army doesn't drink:" Oh, as quick as you like, he said: "I thought that S.S. meant scotch and soda."
But perhaps one of the most interesting comments about the Salvation Army I read in a book recently published in Australia. It's a book about great Australian military generals, particularly from the last war, and in there there's a story about General Vasy who was the Australian Commander of our forces in New Guinea when the Japanese were coming very close to Australia, and it said that one day, General Vasy was walking through the jungle track called the Cocoda Trail when some Australian soldiers - diggers we call them - they stumbled out of the jungle, filthy dirty, fell down beside the side of the track, worn out from the battle and the General looked at them and he was so proud of his men. And he walked up to them, put his hand in his pocket and handed his cigarettes to the men. They took them gratefully and looked up, noticed his red band around his hat, and one of them said: "Gee, these Salvation Army people are always there when you need them, aren't they?" Now, General Vasy, he was a bit disappointed that his troops hadn't recognized him, but in the biography, it says General Vasy said he was more than pleased to be linked with the Salvation Army because the Salvation Army is always in the front line. The Salvation Army in the front line? Are we? Certainly, we're fighting with no guns and our arms are not arms of war and ration, but they are arms of love encircling the whole world. We've probably never used a weapon more lethal than a tambourine, but in our arsenal of love, there is great power - maybe more power than the armies of the world.
The front line of the Salvation Army runs through the agonies of the world, where we feed the starving in Calcutta, pick up Afghan refugees in Northern Pakistan, shelter them and train them for the future to have something worthwhile to do. We pick up drug addicts in New York, lepers in Indonesia. We care for juvenile offenders here in Canada. We look after babies of heroin addicts in Amsterdam. We even house stranded sailors in the most southerly port of the world, Punta Arenes in Chile.
So, we are fighting in the front line. I might just use some special examples. We are fighting in the front line of homelessness. The Salvation Army is providing for the wanderers, the lost and lonely people of the great cities of the world, people who live in the world of their own defeated hopes - whether it's in the cardboard city of Los Angeles or in London, within sight of that great gothic building, the House of Parliament, under the bridges and in the doorways. And the Salvation Army moves amongst them, providing food, soup, clothing, help. You know, the rough sleepers in London know the Salvation Army officers very well. One of our captains was moving around this night giving soup when he pulled at some cardboard and said "Tom!" because Tom always slept there under cardboard. "Tom," he said, but Tom didn't move. So, the captain lifted up the cardboard and Tom was unconscious. So, like a good Salvation Army captain, he picked him up and took him to the hospital. Next day, he went back to see him. There, in one of those great big wards like they have in England, he saw Tom as he walked in, and Tom saw him. He said: "Good morning, Captain. How are you?" The captain said, "It's not how am I, how are you, Tom?" "Oh," he said, "I'm great, Captain." He said, "Gee, thanks for helping me last night. You saved my life." "Oh," he said, "Captain, I hope you don't mind, but when they brought that form around this morning, I put you down as my next of kin."
I like it. I like it. The Salvation Army wants to be next of kin to the homeless in the world. Just not long ago, when I was in the Philippines, we had a beautiful project there called "On the Way Home." You know that in the great city of Manila, there are thousands of children who've just come from the villages, lost, wandering around, and the Salvation Army picks them up, tries to find where they came from to send them home, or if not, to look after them and care for them. We are fighting on the front line of homelessness in the world.
We are fighting in the front line of ignorance, too. For example, in the great continent of Africa, the Salvation Army has been involved in educational programs. You heard that I was in Zimbabwe for nearly 20 years as an educator, but in recent years, with the development of independent countries in Africa, the Salvation Army has diversified by taking on specialist education. For example, in Kenya, there are the peasant farming schemes where we take all black African farmers and help them to see how to grow their crops better. The program which we initiated has now been taken over by the Kenyan government. Or you can go and find handicapped children in our schools - children who would never get a chance to be educated in Africa. I went to our school ... Oh, it was an absolutely marvellous day! Hundreds and hundreds of children, many in callipers or wheelchairs, happy children finding a chance they would never have had.
There are many types of education, for the blind for example. Or in India, a vast series of vocational schools for anyone who is handicapped, who in the Indian cultural situation wouldn't get a chance - there are so many people, you've got to take the best kids first. But these children, handicapped, come to our vocational centres, learn crafts - how to make a living for themselves, income-generating projects. And our great school, where we build and make artificial limbs - all those involved are themselves people who have artificial limbs. Yes, we're fighting on the front line of ignorance.
We're fighting too in the front line of defeat and desperation with men and women who are intimate with failure and suffering because of alcohol problems. We're in the business of recycling human beings. Where you go up into the north of the world to the beautiful city of Stockholm, which I think you know is built on an archipelago, there's an island there where we take alcoholics and help them get their life right and make a new start. If you go down right to the opposite end of the world to New Zealand in the harbour of Auckland, there is an island, Rotorua, where we do the same kind of work, as I know you do here in Canada, too, in the Salvation Army's "Miracle Valley." We're helping people put their feet back firmly on the ground so that they can make a new start in life. I remember one day going to one of these rehabilitation centres where the men, while they're trying to kick their alcohol problem, they were given work to do, and this chap had been making the most beautiful garden furniture out of old bits of wood and so forth. But for something to say, I said: 'And what are you doing?" "This is beautiful," said I looking at this lovely furniture. And he looked at me and said: "I'm doing to that wood what you did to me." So, I said: "What's that?" And he said: "Turning junk into something useful." And I said: "And how are you?" And he said something I'd never heard before. "Look," he said, "if I felt any better, I couldn't stand it." I liked it. People learning how to make a new life for themselves and not only helping them to stand on their own two feet, but helping them to depend upon God, because our program always has a spiritual dimension.
You see, I heard a Salvation Army officer once who works in alcoholic rehabilitation say: "You know, if you send an alcoholic to be treated by a doctor, he becomes a healthy alcoholic. If you send him to a psychiatrist, he becomes a balanced alcoholic. If you send him to many of these programs, he becomes a sober alcoholic. But if you send him to Jesus Christ, he becomes a transformed man" and that's what we try to do - help people to become transformed. And if you want to reach the deep essence of a person with the life-changing message of Christ, you've got to spend time with them and help them to get their life straight again.
Of course, we're working on the front line in many other areas; for example, in the care of the elderly. There's a very great and growing need to care for the elderly - not only in the Western World where the ratio of our citizenship that is over 65 is gradually increasing, but also in the Third World, because the impact of Western culture in Asia and Africa has meant that many people moved towards the towns where there's no longer any place for the extended family - nowhere for grandma and grandpa who used to be cared for in the village. And so the Salvation Army is constantly enlarging this area of its responsibility. The International Monetary Fund is not interested in projects like that. Oh yes, they'll give money for dams, water irrigation - big agricultural schemes - but tell them about elderly citizens who are lost and lonely and they don't want to know. In Hong Kong the Salvation Army provides a Day Centre where they can come and have a meal, where they can meet others, where they can have some kind of entertainment, where during the day they are made to feel worthwhile. In Zimbabwe, I was really thrilled to find that the Salvation Army has provided the very first geriatric hospital in Zimbabwe. I remember meeting an old man in Columbo, Sri Lanka. He was going blind. And I said to him: "How do you feel about going blind?" He said: "You know, I used to think there wasn't anything worth seeing anymore in the world, but now I've got some hope. I'm really enjoying it here." He was in our centre for elderly citizens.
We're fighting in the front line of agony - from the devastating effects of disasters or human tragedies. Just now, the Salvation Army is very involved in Jamaica after Hurricane Gilbert and in Bangladesh where three-quarters of the country is under water. Earlier this year I was in South Africa and I went outside Capetown to what you could almost call an urban desert - shanty towns by the hundreds, black people who've moved there and just built little old shacks to live in. I went there on a very windy day and the dirt and the dust were just blowing in my eyes and my ears and my mouth. And they were taking me to see the Salvation Army centre, and I tell you - it was just like an oasis in the desert. It even had a green lawn and there people could come and find help and guidance. The Salvation Army is involved in these human tragedies. And what about the big problem of AIDS? You think you've got problems in the West. Africa has a very, very significant problem. And in the Salvation Army's hospital in Zambia, we have developed a very innovative AIDS program called Home-based AIDS Care where the medical team goes out into the villages and the AIDS patients are not separated from their family, but they are treated at home in the villages and then the whole village is educated. They are brought to the hospital on those special occasions when they need extra treatment. Our Salvation Army missionary doctor was recently invited to a very prestigious conference in London to explain this very simple caring AIDS program which I believe is going to become a significant program throughout central Africa. Of course, I could keep you here all day telling you about our global mission, the varieties of our service for the disillusioned, the poor, the destitute, the sad, the lonely, the despairing. These are our people and we are fighting to help them. Finally, I say we are fighting to help people put the spiritual dimension back into life. In this contemporary world of ours, people have magnified the material and denigrated the spiritual so that people are often materially prosperous, but spiritually bankrupt. Very often in our Western world moral standards have taken a nose dive. Humanists tell us we have no need of God and environmentalists are more interested in saving a tree than a human soul. So, the Salvation Army is fighting. Whether we are fighting out in the streets with our gospel message and the band, or in the law courts or in the prisons or in our hospitals or just by Salvationists telling their neighbours that the Christian faith has something to say to the needs of today. I'm always very proud to quote a definition of the Salvation Army which was given by one of your great Canadian prime ministers, Arthur Meighen. He said: "The Salvation Army is a vital spiritual force with an acute social conscience, so that the Salvation Army is more than the social welfare agents." We have a spiritual message of hope and that's why when we've given a person a bed to sleep in, food to eat, we haven't finished - we want to assuage the deeper hunger in a man's life to be a better person. And we believe that if we make better people, we're making a better country. Now, this may,seem quite simple to you, but it's important to us. Not long ago, I heard that famous chap, Chuck Colson of Watergate fame, who became a Christian when he was in prison and now has founded an important prison service, a Christian prison service; he said that he was one day looking through the Bible when he was a new Christian and he couldn't find a verse he was looking for, and he said to his friend: "Where do you find that verse in the Bible which says, "God helps those who help themselves?" His friend says: "That's not in the Bible, Chuck. God doesn't help those who help themselves. God helps those who can't help themselves. And God wants you, Chuck, to help them." And that's how he began his important work.
Yes, you may think that sounds very simple and it is often said that the Salvation Army is very simple because we have a simple faith. We have a faith that God made us; God loves us and that God will remake even the most messed up shattered life. It's simple, but in that simplicity we have found what many have missed in the sophisticated, complicated world of today.
It may be simple, but we are not fools because we have found the answer to mankind's need in Jesus Christ. Yes, the Salvation Army has been fighting -against evil and suffering in the world for over a 100 years. Some people say that we are fighting a war that can never be won, but I say when one person finds a will to live again; when one person gets a new sense of worth; when one person sees a glimmer of hope for the future, then we've won a victory and we'll keep on fighting.
The appreciation of the meeting was expressed by the Rev. Charles Plaskett, retired minister of the United Church and a Director of the Canadian Club of Toronto.