The 134-year old Salvation Army, as well-known as any Christian organization around the globe, faces major transformations in the next few months.
Its first American leader, General Paul A. Rader is retiring with a program involving some l.2 million members worldwide, including 117,000 in the United States. According to an interview in the Los Angeles Times (May 1), he sees the greatest challenges for the Army as stepping up its witness against galloping materialism and secularism within the United States, and harnessing the enormous growth in membership in Africa.
Right now some 786,364 persons claim SA membership on that continent, making it the area of greatest growth for this denomination. The Army views the West as spiritually impoverished and that marginalized people in the Third World have reached greater spiritual maturity. To help combat Western unbelief, Third World countries are sending their own missionaries to lead the Army in the United States. Alongside that, the Army is currently feeding some 30,000 refugees daily along the Albanian-Kosovo border.
A more subtle but important change is occurring in the SA. Leaders are giving more attention to working for long range systemic improvement in their participants’ lives rather than tying such work strictly to evangelism. This older image of Army ministry is slowly giving way to a more frontal attack on such problems as poverty, poor education, and vocational deficiencies. Such a transformation is, as noted in the article, giving a greater degree of credibility to its life-long commitment to the marginalized in urban society.
— By Erling Jorstad