A Reflection of Christ

Have you ever been asked to do something you feel is well beyond your abilities? Never did I feel more underprepared then on that day in April of 2007 while listening to the horrific news about the shooting on the Virginia Tech campus which eventually took the lives of 32 and injured scores of others. As I was in my car listening to the account, the shrill of my phone ringing cut through the radio broadcast. Within seconds, I was seemingly thrust from my car seat into the news story, as I was assigned to be among the first responders to the Virginia Tech campus.

During the 4-hour drive to Blacksburg, Virginia, I was almost overcome with the reality that I had neither the training nor the skill set to be of any help at such a time of raw emotion and hurt. I began praying, hoping I would be up to the task of what I was being called to do within a few hours.

Although that deployment was only a few days in duration, it was the most intense disaster response to which I have had the privilege to respond. In the decade since that deployment, there are some life lessons I learned at Virginia Tech which I have used in the sphere of pastoral care to victims of violent crimes. Here are a few of those lessons:

Understand your role: As a volunteer responding to an unnatural disaster, my role is to provide hope and not to be a hero.

Be real about what difference you can make. Much of that difference will have to do with your willingness to be present and not your usage of clever words. From the moment one hears of the violent passing of a loved one, disbelief and shock begin instantaneously. As I attempted to console family members, it seemed as though my words sounded empty and of little help, but God clearly indicated for me to support them with the ministry of presence and a listening ear. As I listened intently to their stories, I listened for their loved ones’ names and asked more questions in order to get to know their loved ones. They wanted to speak about them—to remember them as they were—and I was able to hear of their hopes, desires and ambitions from the family members’ perspectives. We are to respond just as Jesus would have responded, with a compassionate heart and open ears. When we can give the ministry of presence, it allows for God’s presence to rest on the victims, as well.

The Living Bible’s version of Proverbs 10:19 gives insight into this scene: “Don’t talk so much. You keep putting your foot in your mouth. Be sensible and turn off the flow!” One of the most encouraging realities of a Christian’s role in counseling is the reality of the presence of God, which can influence even unbelievers in this setting. The love and compassion we show originates in Christ’s love for us and will be something which the victim will long appreciate. The Spirit can remain with them long after they are outside our presence, and that’s our intention. When the presence of God is realized, He offers hope in what seem to be
hopeless situations.

Don’t try to solve problems and answer questions. Instead, apply the salve to begin the healing of a wounded heart: Peace.

In the initial stages of grief, it is often too early for solutions, but peace can still be found. That peace which passes all understanding is what victims long for in the early stages. You and I represent the very presence of God in our actions, and our words should reflect only His words. On a family’s worst day, God’s peace is available. They may recognize our presence as evidence of God’s enduring presence, and in the days ahead, the peace which God provides will be more valuable than anything else you could offer.

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful” (John 14: 27, NASB).

The most effective ministry we can offer is to serve as a mere reflection of Him.

In 2011, I was honored to be invited to pray at the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks for victims who had lost family members at the Pentagon. At the conclusion of my prayer, I opened my eyes, and a woman had risen from her seat in the banquet hall and was standing directly in front of me welling up in tears. We left the ballroom, and she informed me that she was the top civilian at the Pentagon on the day of the disaster, and she worked for weeks at the hotel in which we were standing.  Ten years later, she remembered being “unnaturally calm” throughout the experience of alerting loved ones of their family members’ demise and arranging housing for visiting guests. She has always wondered why she remembered being at such peace throughout. All those memories flooded her mind when I stood to pray. She told me, “It was the presence of that uniform … you guys parked one of your trucks outside this hotel, and every morning, I went down for a cup of coffee and something sweet. It was your presence which let me make it through those horrible days.”

So—to whoever was privileged to work at the Marriott closest to the Pentagon immediately after 9/11—Shirley thanks you! And to whoever serves in the next disaster, and the next—thank you for serving with the ministry of presence and allowing yourselves to be vessels of His presence which will bring hope and peace for time to come.

One of our favorite folk songwriters is Sara Groves who speaks of being a reflection of Him this way:

You are the Sun, shining down on everyone
Light of the world giving light to everything I see
Beauty so brilliant I can hardly take it in.
And everywhere You are is warmth and light.
I am the moon with no light of my own, still You
have made me to shine,
and as I glow in this cold dark night,
You know I can’t be the light unless I turn my
face to You.

Oh, may we reflect the light of Jesus in every situation and allow His radiance in us to make the difference.

Majors Steve and Wendy Morris serve as Divisional Leaders of the Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana Division in the Southern Territory.

The Salvation Army in China

Beginning in 1916, The Salvation Army had a vibrant ministry in China for many years—large enough that it was divided into two territories. It withdrew from the mainland in 1949, but thirty years ago, it was invited to come alongside other relief agencies. As a result of Chinese requirements, the Army worked under the umbrella of other relief agencies until January 2017, when the Army was recognized in its own right by being officially registered. Over the last 30 years, the Army has actively worked on behalf of the Chinese people through disaster relief and preparedness, social services, HIV/AIDS training, education projects, child sponsorship, income generation projects, as well as cooperation with the China Christian Council.

Lt. Colonel Ian Swan, Officer Commanding for the Hong Kong and Macau Command, has noted, “We are able to work in China because of the gracious invitations of the government and our partners. They invite; we sign a memorandum of understanding. Before we were registered, we worked this way for nearly 30 years. We’re now setting the table for the next 30 years. While that may sound like a long time to map out our work, we need to remember that China has a history stretching back 4,000 years. The amount of time for our work is just a blip. We have to be patient and sensitive to the history and culture.”

student-china-Li Yan

Li Yan is a Primary 5 student in Luoling Township Central Primary School.

Asked if there are any obstacles, Swan shared, “There is a problem with our name. The only army recognized in China is the People’s Liberation Army. On the other side of that, we regularly meet people who say, ‘I had a grandfather who was in The Salvation Army,’ or, ‘My aunt was a soldier in The Salvation Army.’ The government has been very understanding and helpful as we continue to serve there.”

Another issue will be the full turnover of Hong Kong in 2047. In 1996, when Hong Kong first reverted back to China, it acted as a bridge. However, with the growing prominence of other cities in China and reforms that have opened up the country to the rest of the world, Hong Kong faces a less prominent role. The Army will also have to adapt to the consequences of the full turnover. The expanding work of The Salvation Army within China is a key element to determine what may happen when Hong Kong is fully integrated.

Chinese missionaries

Anton Cedervall with Chinese Missionaries

Meanwhile, the Army’s effectiveness can be seen on the ground.

Li Yan is a Primary 5 student in Luoling Township Central Primary School. His father died before his birth, and when his mother remarried to someone from another province, Li Yan moved in with his 70-year-old grandmother. Finances were very tight, which forced his grandmother to choose between his school needs and other necessities. To help out, Li Yan picked mugwort leaves and dug dandelions to sell in the market. Then he became part of the Army’s child sponsorship program it ensured he would be able to continue with his education. Speaking about the Army’s help, Li Yan said, “It is my wish when I grow up, I will pass on the donor’s love and help more people in need.”

China Scholarship distribution for high school students.

Lei Ding-san from Longchuan County, Dehong Prefecture, wrote to Army leaders about the impact of child sponsorship in his life. “Although the nation has provided the nine-year compulsory education under which tuition and miscellaneous fees are exempted, insurance and school uniforms are still required. We simply cannot afford any of these. This situation left me distressed, and I was worried my teachers and classmates would look down on me, for we were so poor. I really wanted to study in brightly lit classrooms, happily learning and growing up with other children. I wanted to study hard to get into university and change my life. I am grateful for the unconditional assistance from the Hong Kong Salvation Army.”

disaster relief-elderly Chinese woman

Disaster Relief after China Earthquake.

The Army’s microcredit program benefited Madam Yang from Niqiugou Village. She was among the first to receive a RMB 15,000 (approximately US $2,180) loan, so that she could raise pigs and grow organic vegetables—food sources that have a fast-growing demand within China. Her success boosted her annual family income from RMB 6,000 (US $872) to RMB 16,000 (US $2,325). With greenhouses now fully operating and the regular income secure, Madam Yang plans to open a new restaurant.

Currently, The Salvation Army cannot independently operate any spiritual outreach in China. The vitality of Christian ministry in the country is unmistakable. Working with the China Christian Council, the Army has been able to join in their worship services which are vibrant and growing. Lt. Colonel Swan notes, “There is a very active, passionate Christian expression in mainland China. I have gone into churches with over 5,000 people in attendance. One congregation in Guangzhou has over 11,000 people worshipping each Sunday in five services. We join with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and that has been very rewarding.”

food distribution-Shanghai-1930-crowd

Food distribution in the 1930s in Shanghai, China.

What should we do in connection with China? Swan answers, “Pray for China. Pray for China. The Chinese culture is focused on relationship, but like many other places in the world, there is still loneliness. There are many elderly people that, because their children or grandchildren may have moved to the city, are very lonely. These and other needs will give the Army an opportunity to serve the population in the largest country in the world.”

Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is Editor–in–Chief & National Literary Secretary.

When It All Falls Apart

As a young officer, I was faced with a situation that would forever alter the direction of my ministry path. The office where I was assigned received a phone call from a desperate mother inquiring if a Salvation Army officer could go visit her son who was in a local hospital. Calls like this often come into Salvation Army centers. The normal protocol is to follow through immediately with a requested visit.

As I planned my visit to the hospital, I only knew a few things about the backstory of this man’s life: he was estranged from his family, he had been an alcoholic, and he had been living on the streets in Los Angeles. When I got to his bedside, I was shocked to discover how close he was to death’s door. His body was already hemorrhaging. His skin was ashen grey. His eyes were wide in panic. He looked at me as I entered the room and began to make sounds that were unintelligible. I noticed that he could not speak, for he had no tongue in his mouth. It had been surgically removed due to cancer.

Working quickly, I told him who I was and why I was there. I told him that his mother loved him, and The Salvation Army came at her request. I asked him if I could read him some Scripture, and he nodded yes. Reading from Psalm 91, I noticed when I spoke the words “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day” (Psa. 91:7 NIV), his countenance changed, and he suddenly became more at peace. I told him the time had come to make his peace with God. Gently, I reminded him that God truly loved him. Mercy abounded for him. The fear immediately left his eyes, and a smile came across his face. A sense of tranquility invaded his entire body.

Suddenly, all the warning alarms of the medical devices attached to his body sounded, as I began to see him fading faster. The nursing staff came in and asked me to leave the room. As I was leaving, he looked at me and mouthed two words: “Thank you.” He died shortly thereafter.

I often think of this man I visited on his deathbed. I wonder what choices he made that led up to him being in that situation. I wonder about his heartsick mother who no doubt worried about her adult son for decades and longed to just be with him. I am sure that at some point in their lives, they both uttered, “Why me God? Why is this happening to me?”

Sometimes, life is cut short. Sometimes, we do it to ourselves by making choices that have natural consequences. Other times, there are no explanations. The young die before their time. The old outlive their friends. An innocent person killed at work by a lone gunman, a sudden car accident, a freak plane crash, a tragic fatal injury while at home—all newsworthy events that drone on every day to the point that we become numb emotionally, and we wish to not think about them anymore. None of it seems fair or just.

The age-old question arises every time a natural disaster strikes, or an insane act of humanity occurs that results in the loss of human life: Why? Why did this have to happen? Why him? Why her? Why me?

All the warning alarms of the medical devices attached to his body sounded,
as I began to see him fading faster. The nursing staff came in and asked me to leave the room.
As I was leaving, he looked at me and mouthed the words:

“Thank you.”

World-renowned thinker and theologian C.S. Lewis struggled with the sudden loss of his wife, Joy. He wrote an entire book, in which he sounded out his pain. In A Grief Observed, Lewis wrote, “Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything.” Page after page, you can see how the loss affected him deeply and led him to ask probing questions of God and even of himself. He came to a simple conclusion: “We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least.”

In those times that heaven goes silent and nothing makes sense, no words of logic or religious phrases can bring comfort. The simple fact remains: good people are not immune from tragedy. Horrific moments of pain and suffering come to the most innocent amongst us. We must find ways to cope and get through it all.

Time has a way of bringing a sense of renewal and hope. Getting to that point may mean having to endure periods of doubt and darkness. Yet, there is the promise of strength that will and does come in the midst of these bleak moments of tragedy. The Apostle Paul writes: “All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, He brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us” (2 Cor. 1:3-5 The Message). Paul found that when sufferings abounded in his life, he found God’s comfort even greater.

I have often reflected back to my first experience dealing with pain and suffering in that lonely hospital room, as that man’s life was coming to an end. That encounter forever shaped how I would help those in pain and how I would deal with my own sufferings. There are no easy answers, but there is this simple truth: God is with us in our darkest of days. Our challenge is to remember that fact.

Lt. Colonel Tim Foley is currently the Assistant National Chief Secretary. He will become the Editor-in-Chief and National Literary Secretary effective July 1, 2019.