Called By God

It was September 1944 when operation Market Garden took place. Lots of articles have been written about this allied military operation. Even a movie about this feat of arms was produced, called A Bridge Too Far. It depicted the controversy between two well-known generals, the American Eisenhower and the Englishman Montgomery.

Thousands of parachutists of the British Airborne Division landed at Arnhem in the Netherlands, but could not be reached by the allied ground forces. A complete failure.

Some of the English soldiers were shot while hanging in the air. Many were taken captive by German troops. Only a small force managed to save themselves by withdrawing. Many young people lost their lives there. Reading their names on the memorial stones in a military cemetery in nearby Oosterbeek is a moving and emotional experience. When I visited the cemetery with a friend from England, he said: “This ground will always remain British property.”

In February 1944, I had become a Salvationist in the small town of Zutphen along the Rhine. I was a teenager during the war. It was difficult for me to have my homeland under German rule. Together with my friend Albert we escaped the German raids by cycling on secret routes to a friendly farmer in the village of Almen.

In September, German troops passed our family house with their prisoners of war. A car stopped right in front of our door and the driver requested drinking water. My father gave me a bottle of water and I suddenly found myself in a German ambulance with young English parachutists, their heads covered in blood and their bodies mutilated and crippled. It was an awful sight. Yet it was the desperate, fearful look in their eyes that shocked me. I passed the water around to the soldiers who were clearly thirsty. But I also had to answer their question: “Please, can you pray for me?” That was the moment I heard the voice of God, clearly recognizable: “I call you to serve me and mankind.” Right there I answered: “Here am I, Lord, send me.”

On the top shelf of my bookcase you can find a small parcel containing personal papers. Many times during my career I have grabbed for it to let the story touch me again — in times of new challenges, times of pressure and discomfort, times when I felt desperately lonely in Russia. But also in times of thankfulness, being grateful for the special victories because of my faith in God.

No one can take away this notion of my calling. I have been called by God Himself!

Ebola Response – An Interview with The Salvation Army’s General Secretary in Liberia

London, 6 November 2014/IHQ/ – MAJOR Samuel Amponsah, a Salvation Army officer (minister) from Ghana has been General Secretary (second-in-charge) of the Army’s Liberia Command since September 2013. He spoke to Linda Leigh, a staff writer from the Canada and Bermuda Territory, about The Salvation Army’s ongoing response to the Ebola epidemic in Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Linda Leigh: Please describe the situation in Liberia over the past 10 months and today.

Major Samuel Amponsah: The Ebola outbreak took place in March. It was the first of its kind and many people didn’t take precautions. They didn’t think it would last – that it would go away. Therefore, it spread from one country to another. Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea have a common border.

When Ebola arrived in the cities, the government asked people to minimize movement but by that time people had come with their sickness. Liberia was not prepared. Protective measures had not been put in place and the virus started killing people. In July/August, when The Salvation Army realized that the illness wasn’t going away and was killing people, we contacted International Headquarters (IHQ) and began our response. We gave out sanitizers and chemicals [for cleaning].

Today, locals say that 4,000 people have died in Liberia. We question if all deaths are due to Ebola or natural causes, because people won’t go to clinics out of fear of catching the disease. There are many uncertainties. The radio news says numbers are decreasing but other sources say Ebola is still killing people and people are still being admitted to clinics.

A number of parents have died, leaving their children as orphans and alone in homes. There is no one to care for them and they are very afraid.

People live in fear, afraid of contracting the virus. The Salvation Army is going into the hardest-hit communities to distribute food items. The distribution team is careful not to stay too close to the affected community, and people are invited to come and receive the items.

 
Is the situation similar in Sierra Leone, where The Salvation Army also has a presence?

The Salvation Army began its work in Sierra Leone in 2010 [overseen by the Liberia Command] and remains in three areas where we have newly commissioned officers. We haven’t begun to fully respond to the outbreak. When the crisis began in Sierra Leone the government required people to stay indoors for three days. No contact between people made a difference to the spread of the disease. Liberia didn’t have the same quarantine at the beginning. That’s why the death toll is high in Liberia.

In Sierra Leone we will provide food items such as oil, rice, sardines (canned fish) and beans.

 
What are the difficulties The Salvation Army has faced in responding to the epidemic?

There are highly infected communities where no one will go because of fear of contracting the sickness. Some communities are not open for people to respond. The need is great and our resources are limited. We rely on what is provided by the international Salvation Army.
 

The government in Liberia has required that schools be closed. Are there other closures? And how have church meetings/gatherings changed?

Apart from the schools some government departments are closed. Non-essential workers don’t go to work. Places with public gatherings are closed. Shops and malls are open but with restrictions and fewer people because everyone is cautious. Churches including The Salvation Army meet but are taking preventative measures. People don’t shake hands or touch [Ebola is contracted through direct contact]. There are buckets at the entrance full of water mixed with chlorine to wash your hands, because chlorine will kill the virus. They don’t use towels or tissues to dry their hands.

Attendance has gone down but we are grateful to meet to encourage each other.

What support is The Salvation Army currently offering?
 
At the beginning we offered preventative materials like sanitizers to kill the virus. Now our attention is focused on food and preventative garments for people working in clinics.

It’s not only The Salvation Army distributing food – other agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are because of the demand. Naturally, when there is demand, prices go up. Also, because of Ebola the influx of food is not easy. The airlines have curtailed movement. Before Ebola, a 25kg bag of rice sold for US$29. It sells now for US$40. Prices for almost everything have doubled.

 
What are The Salvation Army’s strengths?

We have a trained team on the ground. Two of our officers attended the Disaster Preparedness training session run by International Emergency Services in Nigeria in September 2013. Preventative measures are in place. We have coordinated support from IHQ, which is in regular contact, asking for input and giving guidance.
 
Most of the materials we use are accessible and purchased locally.

 
Can you share a story of individuals or families affected to help us better understand the gravity of the situation?

The corps sergeant-major (CSM) in Monrovia (the capital of Liberia) contracted the disease and passed away on Sunday 26 October. He was the Principal of The Salvation Army’s William Booth High School and an outstanding leader. This has devastated Salvationists. His wife, mother and children (aged 10, 7 and 6) have been quarantined in their house for 21 days. The Salvation Army keeps in touch with them by phone every hour. Three weeks before he knew he was sick he visited the education office at command headquarters. There is always a concern when people come here. We never know where they have been or if they have been touched by people infected with Ebola.

There is a woman in the community where the Army distributes food whose husband passed away from Ebola. He was the breadwinner for the family (including two children under 10). She is a teacher and the schools are closed. When the schools are not in session, the teachers are not paid.

 
How many Salvation Army staff, officers and their families have contracted the virus?

Apart from the CSM we aren’t sure. There may be one or two others. It is difficult to collect information. We caution our staff and volunteers to leave food items at the door and call the home to let them know the items are there.

 
How has the epidemic impacted Salvation Army staff and volunteers?

Teachers from our 15 schools that are closed have provided health education. They are paid from school fees and when schools are closed they are affected. They have not been paid since August and the government doesn’t anticipate schools to reopen until January, provided Ebola ends.

We have a clinic that is closed. Workers have been without salary for three months. This has been a major blow. Volunteers and Salvationists are risking their lives to go into affected communities.

 
What will be The Salvation Army’s role moving forward?

Many of the people who died have left behind children, meaning that large numbers are orphaned. These children will need to go to school and be helped with their basic welfare needs. We will organise assessments and responses when the outbreak is over.

Many communities need food items. We anticipate the need to be long-term and we will need IHQ support. We continue to attend United Nations meetings to discuss areas that need great attention. The meetings discuss who is doing what and which communities still need assistance.
 
The Salvation Army continues to distribute food and protective materials. We will look at how best to support orphans and hope to provide antibiotics to community clinics. 

Going into the community is not easy. We use the phone as an opportunity to pray with people. We want them to know Jesus.

 
What support do you need from the international Salvation Army?

Food distribution and food items appear to be the major issues now because of the restrictions in movement of people and vehicles. We need support to fund the distribution of food. Sometimes we have to travel distances to get better prices.

How would you ask Salvationists and friends to pray for Liberia?

Pray that the people won’t contract the disease. Pray that the mindset of rural folks shifts so they understand the magnitude of the disease and put in place preventative measures. Pray for those affected – that the Lord will heal them. Pray for orphans and many families who have lost loved ones. Pray for our friends and partners. Pray for command headquarters and for protection in the midst of calamity.

Don’t forget about us!

Donations to The Salvation Army’s ongoing disaster relief work in Africa can be made online:
https://secure20.salvationarmy.org/donation.jsp?projectId=IHQ-Africa_Fund

Ebony & Ivory

The story of a group of Congolese Salvationists finding new lives and new hope in the United States is a thrilling one—but it turns out to be a great blessing for the Buffalo Tonawanda Corps soldiers already established there as well.

“The events of the past few years can only be explained as being directed by God,” exclaims Major Celestin Nkounkou, Tonawanda corps officer.

Major Celestin happens to be from the Congo himself but married a missionary from America, and that is how he came to the U.S. But when he and his wife were appointed to Tonawanda five years ago, he was the only “dark man” (his own description) in a mostly white corps congregation.

In addition, Major Celestin is fluent in five languages: French, English and three African dialects.

“But, except for the English, the other languages were not a factor at all (in our ministry here),” the major says.

That is, until one Sunday last year when three of his countrymen walked into the back of the corps chapel while he was preaching.

“Imagine my pleasant surprise when soldiers from my country walked in!” he says. In the Sundays that followed, the three Congolese soldiers brought with them their family members—some of whom were already Salvationists, and others who would eventually be enrolled in the months that followed.

“Our soldiership numbers nearly doubled!”

For their part, the Tonawanda corps members immediately embraced their new comrades and loved them from the start.

“We became one big family,” says Jeannette Hammond, a soldier at Tonawanda for many years and the current Home League Secretary. “We already had a few Hispanic, Korean and Chinese members here and there—so now we just call ourselves a ‘League of Nations!’” she says, laughing.

The road was a very long one for the two dozen or so Congolese who are now becoming Americanized Salvationists. For most of them, escaping their country’s ongoing civil war forced them into refugee camps. A few of them spent 14 years in one camp that burgeoned with 5,000 refugees.

An estimated 100,000 refugees presently languish in Congolese refugee camps.

“A Salvation Army officer came to the camp regularly to minister to those of us inside who are Salvationists,” explains Augustine Bassidiniaki through an interpreter. Augustine says that for the several years she, her family, and other Salvationists were in that refugee camp; they had what amounted to an unofficial corps—complete with worship services and other traditional Salvation Army activities.

The U.S. State Department sent personnel to the refugee camps to interview potential prospects for relocation to America. Canada and Australia were among other nations attempting to help alleviate the situation by accepting refugees into their borders.

“When we were interviewed, what we answered was scrutinized very carefully,” Augustine says, “and even then there were no guarantees that any of us would be chosen.”

If a husband or wife were selected, the spouse automatically was included as well. But as was the case with one couple that was only engaged while living in the refugee camp, they had to go ahead and marry before being allowed to leave for the U.S.

One question asked of each refugee was whether they knew anyone in the U.S., and what city that person lived in. The only reason why this group of refugees landed in Buffalo is that they knew someone who had immigrated there some time before.

The two dozen or so Congolese refugees who came to Buffalo actually immigrated in two waves—the first in January 2013 and the second later in September.

“They wanted to find a Salvation Army corps to attend, so they went first to the Buffalo Citadel Corps, which is actually Hispanic,” Major Celestin says. “They were told that while they were welcomed there, there was another corps in Buffalo where the corps officer spoke French and was coincidentally Congolese himself.”

That’s when they showed up at the Tonawanda Corps.

The English–speaking congrega-tion has taken in their new com- rades as family. And they share the enormous concern for friends and relatives left behind in the refugee camps. For those people, prospects for immigration are bleak.

Major Celestin has been helping his newest soldiers become acclimated into the American culture. The Buffalo ARC helped with a grant for clothes and furniture and the corps people pitch in wherever they are needed.

“I’ve been helping them with their banking, credit cards, drivers licenses, employment and documents,” Major Celestin says. The next thing on their agenda is to become naturalized American citizens.

“I thank God for placing me here at this time because many things these comrades have done so quickly would not be possible without God’s providence,” he says. The major points out that his soldiers proudly wear their uniforms, pay their tithes, play their brass instruments and love to participate in parades of witness throughout the community.

“We are very happy to come to worship every Sunday here and to be a part of a program,” one of the men said through the interpreter. “We feel the love we’ve received here, and we give God the glory for His grace, which brought us here!”

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By Major Frank Duracher