Fifty–nine–year–old Salvation Army General André Cox, who was born in Zimbabwe, spent his childhood there and in the UK before moving to Switzerland. Most recently he served as the Army’s Chief of Staff, and prior to that he held leadership roles in the Army’s international ministry. In this conversation with Editor–in–Chief Major Allen Satterlee while in Texas, General Cox zeroes in on the growing global–wide gap between rich and poor, positive changes inside the Army and the potential for Salvation Army expansion.
War Cry: What is your earliest Salvation Army memory?
André Cox: My earliest memory is as a child in Zimbabwe, where my parents were divisional officers. I was about six or seven years old. We would occasionally go off for weekend gatherings in mostly remote locations. I was bounced around in the back of a single–cab vehicle and I don’t travel too well. Not too good memories about feeling carsick in those early years.
WC: Please share your call to officership.
AC: Because my parents were officers, I grew up in the Army. I’d been a young soldier so I gave my heart to Jesus relatively young. I struggled during my teenage years, wanting to do my own thing. I followed through into senior soldiership, probably without 100% conviction. I went to Switzerland for a year to learn French because my mother is Swiss. It was there that I had a real spiritual experience in a meeting conducted by Commissioner Charles Pean, a retired French officer then living in Switzerland. He’d been involved in closing down the French penal colonies in Guyana. In one of his meetings I recognized the need to respond to the offer of Christ to salvation. But I remember thinking, “I hope that’s all You’ve got in mind for me.” I really didn’t like the idea of becoming an officer.
I went to see a James Bond movie with a friend. Just as we were about to enter the cinema I had a brief fleeting vision. I saw myself in a Salvation Army officer uniform preaching the gospel in Africa. In those seconds I knew God was calling me to be a Salvation Army officer and my service would take me to Africa. Both things happened.
WC: Who influenced you the most?
AC: My parents had a huge influence on my life. Part of my reluctance to become an officer was that I realized their life wasn’t easy, particularly in the years when we were growing up. The work was demanding, but I never saw my parents unhappy and I never heard them complain. That was something we’ve tried to emulate ourselves. We never asked to go anywhere, never refused appointments.
I think of people in my teen years like General John Gowans and General John Larsson, who were both corps officers where I was a young person. In later years, General Eva Burrows, whom I found to be an extraordinary person to work with. She could move from youth meetings to meeting the state president so effortlessly, whatever the environment.
WC: How did your life in Africa affect your worldview?
AC: I was born of an English father and a Swiss mother in Africa. I’ve lived a total of 23 years in Africa. There’s a lot of Africa in me. One of the greatest things Africa has taught me is that even when everything seems hopeless there remains so much hope. People strive, believing and working for a better future. These people have great trust, and they don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. They face tragedy that we can’t even imagine and yet there is a thankfulness to God for His provision, His protection, and it’s very real to them.
WC: What have you learned since being at International Headquarters?
AC: I was only Chief of the Staff for six months and I’ve only been General a couple of months, so it’s not been a long process. The privilege of working at IHQ is to begin to get a much broader perspective. In the past months we’ve traveled to four different countries, completely different expressions of the Army and yet they’re all the Army. To see aspects of other cultures is a privilege.
WC: What is the most significant development occurring in The Salvation Army?
AC: We’ve been through a tough time in European countries in recent years with lack of vocations for officership, dwindling memberships. But we’re beginning to see an extremely encouraging thing—that in some places a lot of our corps are suddenly finding themselves in the front-line of ministry. There are people in the communities around them that are in need, and corps are beginning to engage them in areas where we aren’t anymore, with significant results. It’s not world headlines, but I’m beginning to sense that when we get back to being what we should be we are making some progress.
A more spectacular development is that more young people than we have seen in recent days are responding to the call for officership. In the four congresses that we have led we’ve been overwhelmed by the number of young people who are standing up and saying, “I’m called.” God is not finished with the Army—not by any means.
WC: What concerns you?
AC: In the Western world it is the encroachment of materialism and secularism that seems to have dented our courage, our conviction about the divine inspiration of Scripture. We need to rediscover that courage and that faith. The Word of God hasn’t changed. God’s promises haven’t changed. God Himself hasn’t changed.
The eternal rich/poor divide is getting worse in the developed as in the developing world. That brings challenges, brings opportunities, and gives us more work than we can cope with. But that’s an opportunity for us and the gospel message. We must bring the gospel message into those situations because with this divide growing ever wider there is potential for sowing seeds of revolution. We have an important role to play.
WC: What plans are in the works for expanding The Salvation Army in the world?
AC: We are still exploring in a number of places. My main concern is that we have to think, we have to pray, we have to listen to what the Spirit is saying. Expanding evermore without increasing resources is a dangerous thing. We will continue to explore, to listen. But we have to sit down and think whether we’ve got what we need to build the tower before we start building it. We will be prudent, but it’s almost impossible to contain it. Salvationists go and they open it up and away it goes. That’s the exciting part, but it’s trying to keep the balance. We need faith, but we also need to do our homework.
WC: What would you like to say to Salvationists in the United States?
AC: We’ve been blown away the past few days. We feel very much a part of the family and it’s great. We are looking forward to coming back and meeting as many people as we can. I have great admiration for the many programs that go on here. The spirit of “yes we can do it” and faith and drive. The faith aspect is evident in every corps and social program, and tremendous results come because of that. People are converted and start new lives. That’s what makes me feel like getting up in the morning and doing what I have to do to keep this thing going.
WC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
AC: While I feel a sense of privilege for being elected as General, I never felt that rank or position is what you hang your hat on. God created me as I am. God knows who He wants me to be. He’s called me to be a Salvation Army officer, regardless of what rank I hold. That’s what I am and that’s what I must be.
By Major Allen Satterlee