Fishing for Men: In the Fisherman’s Village

As The Salvation Army’s ministry in Brazil approaches its 95th anniversary, Salvationists in the Vila dos Pescadores or “Fishermen’s Village” section of Cubatão, São Paulo, are working to be fishers of men. Homes in this riverside community consist of shacks raised up on stilts. Rocks, garbage and dirt are continuously dumped into the water below in an attempt to “reclaim” the Vila’s land from the wash of the Casqueiro River. Fires are a constant danger among the Vila’s wooden buildings and walkways, while Malaria and, more recently, the Zika virus threaten the lives of its people.

Many young people, almost completely abandoned by their parents, have no one to protect them from the risks of becoming involved in drugs or sexual relations. Living in the margins of society, their daily lives are a far cry from the glitter and excitement of the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. But the Army has not forgotten the Vila’s people.

The Army’s Cubatão Corps and Vila dos Pescadores Community Center are located near the port area of Santos. The corps’ officers, Majors Salvador and Esther Ferreira, lead their soldiers and employees to continue in the footsteps of early Salvationists.

The two facilities—one in the Vila dos Pescadores area itself and the other in the nearby Jardim Casqueiro neighborhood—offer educational programs for young people ranging from seven years of age through teen and young adult. These young people are also offered religious programs that introduce them to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The number of people from the Cubatão Corps who have gone on to become Salvation Army officers, including a married couple now in training, is a testament to the success of this corps and the Army’s social programs.

Rescuing the Children

The Army’s social work in Cubatão started with a tutoring program for children who were attending the Sunday school. Since its inception, the program has helped more than 1,380 children. The freedom with which local Salvationists move through what would be a dangerous environment for outsiders is one indication of how well the community has accepted the Army’s work.

In Vila dos Pescadores, children from 7 to 11 years of age participate in crafts, dance, Capoeira (a Brazilian mixture of martial arts, dance and music), elementary computer concepts, educational games and a workshop called “Claves” (or “Keys”) that helps prevent mistreatment and sexual abuse. The staff also includes a full time psychologist and a social worker, who help with the children’s development over the years.

In Jardim Casqueiro, young people between ages 12 and 17 learn basic concepts of English and more advanced computer skills.

In keeping with the Salvation Army tradition of using popular music to spread its Christian message, the local corps’ Pagode (a variant of Samba) music group often shares the good news of Christ to a Brazilian beat.

In addition to grants from the local government, the center is supported by a small second hand thrift shop that provides low cost clothing to residents of the area.

Many who work in the programs are area residents and former participants themselves—their lives have been changed, much like another group of fishermen we hear of in the Gospel of Matthew:

“One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. Jesus called out to them, ‘Come, follow Me, and I will show you how to fish for people!’ And they left their nets at once and followed Him” (4:18-20).

Lives are truly being changed in Brazil. Just ask Bruna, a young girl who attends an Army program in the area. She says, “The place in which I live goes beyond the reality of the world, because being a teenager for me is not as you see it in films. I make choices all the time—not about what clothing I should wear to a party—choices that will decide and could interfere with my future.

Participating in all of the activities, I can see that I am being welcomed by the group leaders, the officers and the whole team, who work together for us to enjoy and learn from the programs. Through the activities at the project, I have a wider vision of a better future for myself. I am grateful to The Salvation Army and hope that throughout my life I will find people willing to help me as much as they have.”

____________________ 

Lt. Colonel Doug Danielson is chief secretary of the Army’s Brazil Territory

 

Coming Together: When Things Fall Apart

Nigeria, the Giant of Africa, is the continent’s most populous country. It is a land where life has all the remnants of colonialism and militarism: social inequality, a wealthy ruling elite, a majority made up of working class poor and a congested infrastructure. News reports say to the world that here, things do fall apart.

Extremist groups like Boko Haram, widespread insecurity and instability, endemic crime and corruption, clashes over ethnicity and ethnocentrism all contribute to the country’s state of turmoil. Nigeria is a nation where religion and politics collide, a community sharply divided by two major religions: Christianity and Islam.

Nevertheless, in the midst of these stories of conflict and confusion, there are positive realities. Nigerians are generally hospitable, friendly and caring, Nigerian cuisine is delicious, and its cultural landscape, hypnotic. Each new day has opened doors to worthwhile and enriching experiences on our journey. Here, The Salvation Army is actively sowing seeds for a bright tomorrow and a healthy today in the hearts of the people of Nigeria, encouraging all to be no longer at ease with the state of affairs.

Within the 22 divisions, districts and sections of the Nigeria Territory  are 344 corps spread over a diversity of cultures and a multitude of dialects and languages. Each unit offers a unique and soulful expression of ministry that is cemented in a deep respect and reverence for God and His love for all mankind.

With the aim of transforming lives and reforming society, the Army is decidedly missional in our motivation and dynamic in our outreach. Our evangelism strategies incorporate a hybrid of the ancient and the modern.

Time-honored practices like lively open air meetings with seekers kneeling at the drum head, house to house visitations, outreach through War Cry and tracts, holiness conventions, brass band festivals, crusades, Bible studies and prayer meetings—all of these help to recruit and grow disciples. But new things are also happening: contemporary bands with rhythms that make the feet move incessantly; vibrant, harmonic singing emanating from the joyful celebrations of dance and worship, apologetics classes, sports ministry outreach and emerging strategies of relational evangelism that result in an upsurge of new openings and new disciples.

For the first time in our history as a territory, there are dual sessions for Cadets in the Officer’s Training College, added to meet the increased need for trained leaders.

The youth of Nigeria play a critical role in shaping the future of our society and delivering the message and mission of The Salvation Army, especially here, where at least 70 percent of its population is defined as “young people.”

Our children, youth and young adults are full of vitality, confidence, intelligence, creativity and vision. They are brazenly impacting our world for Christ, embodying the message of mercy, joy and love at the heart of the Gospel while at the same time challenging the individualism and apathy of their peers.

Through the innovative use of information technology and social media, youth send targeted messages of salvation that inspire holistic growth and renewal of relationships with God to friends across a growing network of communities.

Education Under Attack

Educational programs have been the bedrock of our social and spiritual ministry to children and youth for generations, so it is no surprise to be greeted on the streets or at the airport by former students offering gratitude for the academic and spiritual influence of The Salvation Army during their formative years.

Unfortunately, The Salvation Army has not been immune to the turmoil of Nigeria. Several years ago, the military government took over all of our existing primary schools and the land they occupied, although in name they are still Salvation Army schools. But the Army’s commitment to learning and development continues through our chain of Student Fellowships at Universities and through a blossoming network of new nursery and primary schools. These new programs provide an avenue for less privileged and vulnerable young people to receive quality education and a spiritual foundation.

Empowering Women

Teaching self-sufficiency and accountability, promoting gender equality and fostering community development are core parts of our ministry to women as we seek to teach, train, sensitize and transform women’s role and status in Nigerian society. We have created programs to address women’s health issues through family planning and support for pregnant women or those of childbearing age.

The Army also operates economic development programs, providing job skills that allow people to generate personal income and increase their sense of self-worth.

There are relocation services for human trafficking victims deported back to Nigeria from European countries after being trafficked across international borders as sex slaves. We also have HIV/AIDS awareness projects to stop stigmatization of people living with HIV/AIDS and empower them to be self-sufficient.

Two hospitals deliver more specialized treatment and surgical services to the total community alongside several eye, orthopedic, general wellness clinics in addition to a rehabilitation center for the disabled.

Standing Against Persecution

In all that we do, the overarching purpose is to restore personal dignity and to maximize human potential. The Salvation Army is boldly playing a lead role in the drama of the Muslim-dominated north of Nigeria where persistent acts of terrorism create havoc in the lives of village communities and persecution is an everyday reality for Christians.

We have visited the corps and societies there and witnessed firsthand how our soldiers and officers live in the unstable environment while still proclaiming the gospel with unending courage and compassion, selflessly risking their safety to provide food, healthcare, clothing, basic education, counseling and spiritual therapy in the Internally Displaced Persons camps.

The people here are never sure when the where the next suicide bomb will explode or when militants might break the peace brokered between Christians and Muslims, but they carry on, singing songs of faith in the night and day. They are truly the new heroes of the Faith, living testimonies of God’s grace and protection. We thank God for them and ask for committed prayer on their behalf.

As prayers are offered up, know that the Army in Nigeria will continue to move forward with the assurance that all the promises of God are sure. “Blessed be the Lord that hath given rest unto His people…according to all that He promised: there hath not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised” 1 Kings 8:56 (KJV).

____________________

Colonel Victor Leslie is territorial commander for the Army’s Nigeria Territory

One Child at a Time: Christian Education in the Muslim World

Indonesia is a nation of 17,000 islands spread across four time zones of the South Pacific. As in many other countries in the South Pacific Zone, Christians are in the minority.

Indonesia carries the distinction of having the highest Muslim population of any country in the world. Therefore, the ministry of The Salvation Army has to be approached quite differently here. Flying the Army flag in public or sharing the mission of the Army through normal avenues of outreach is difficult and in many cases totally prohibited.

Despite these obstacles, The Salvation Army is making great strides in reaching children in unique and life changing ways. Our children’s homes are a major avenue in ministering to the young people of Indonesia.

On Mother’s Day this year at our corps in Bandung, I met a little girl named Alfa who had been transported over 2,000 miles just the week before. Imagine being just six years old and finding yourself on a plane all alone. You must leave your home, not expecting to return. You have no possessions to take with you, only a nametag and a phone number pinned to your shirt as you fly across the ocean to an unfamiliar place to be taken in by total strangers. This was Alfa’s experience relocating from her home on the island of Papua to The Salvation Army’s William Booth Girls’ Home on Jawa Island.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with Alfa and two other girls from the island of Papua who were living at the children’s home next door to our apartment. Each of the three girls still had family back in their villages, but for different reasons their parents had chosen to permanently place them in The Salvation Army’s care. Despite the girls’ sense of personal loss, they have already come to appreciate the new opportunities given to them.

“We eat every day and I get to go to school,” one of them says happily.

Taking In Orphaned and Displaced Children

The Army in Indonesia operates 18 homes across the country, providing full time care to nearly 800 orphans, disadvantaged poor, and abandoned or displaced children.

The boys and girls served in these areas could have easily become trapped in a life of neglect, abuse, child labor or human trafficking. The Army homes offer a place to escape these problems.

Many of our boys’ homes teach animal husbandry to the young men there. Learning such a skill fosters self-esteem and provides supplemental income along with some extra food to helps them grow into stronger, healthier young men. Our girls’ homes provide skill development in sewing, pottery and cake making, valuable skills for supporting their lives in the future.

Although The Salvation Army’s Christian values are no secret in Indonesia, last year, the country’s strongly Islamic government initiated and approved placement for 18 children into our exclusive care. The children had been discovered when a sexual trafficking ring in the nation’s capital was broken up by the authorities.

Like so many others in the past 80 years, these children have found a safe place in Army homes. The government provides our organization an annual subsidy of only $100 per child, but caring for them is our mission, no matter the cost; these children are invaluable to the kingdom of God.

Education for 10,000 Students

The Salvation Army also ministers to young people through its schools in Indonesia. Indonesian law requires that schools with 10 or more students must offer religious instruction as part of the curriculum. This law was originally enacted to ensure Islam would have a place in the public school curriculum and to curb the flood of young Muslim people converting to Christianity. However, because Christianity is legally recognized as a religion by the state, the law also opens a door for The Salvation Army’s ministry.

There are currently more than 10,000 students receiving their education at Salvation Army schools across Indonesia. Some of our schools are in remote villages and have only a single teacher while others have enrollment counts reaching upwards of 2,000 children.

One Salvation Army complex in Palu contains a preschool, primary school, junior high, secondary school and a theological college. On any given day, more than 2,000 students can be found reading and learning at their desks. Even the coordination of recess and lunch is an exercise in logistics for the staff. But whether an Army school is large or small, each day begins with prayer and Scripture reading. Though this might suggest that only Christian students attend our schools, it is not the case.

Sometimes in remote areas the only available school is a Salvation Army one, but there is no religious discrimination against those who want to attend. Even in larger cities, some Muslim parents choose to send their children to Christian schools that offer a higher quality of education than Muslim schools in the area. In fact, even some Muslim teachers who see the kind of education Army schools can provide have added their expertise to the staff, despite any religious differences that might exist.

A few months ago a special reunion was held here in Palu. Twenty-five graduates from our Bandung Girls Home returned to share their accomplishments with its current residents.

Listening to their stories and seeing their success after graduation was truly heartwarming. Many had gone on to university, some had become officers and others were now professionals serving and working within the community.

While not all remained members of the Army, all expressed a profound appreciation for the Christian values they learned at the Army’s homes in their formative years.

It’s programs like these that provide the greatest and most lasting ministry opportunities for sharing Christ and creating a better future in the Muslim world—one child at a time.

____________________ 

Major Marcia Cocker is assistant education secretary, assistant project officer and child sponsorship coordinator for the Army’s Indonesia Territory

To sponsor a child, please visit www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/sponsorship