It is an amazing and creative exercise to transform these toys from action figures into cars, trucks and planes. As Aleksandr grows, the Transformers become more complicated and the level of difficulty to construct them outpaces my expertise. I often surrender to his nimble fingers, and in only a few moments, I observe the miracle of transformation.
Implicit in this wonderful word “transformation” is the idea that change is possible. A new creation miracle can be a current reality when accompanied by God's grace.
When I first talked to Patricia, I met a woman restored and transformed. Her life didn't start out that way, though.
Patricia had a troubled childhood and became a mother at an early age. She suffered the loss of three children, two failed marriages marked by abuse and deep devastation, which included jail, psychiatric wards, detox and recovery centres. Patricia lived on the street and started using crack when she was 50. She became ill and experienced health problems, but felt that no one cared. When Patricia turned 60, her daughter and two sisters intervened. Six months later, she said a prayer.
“If there is anyone there,” she cried, “if there is a God, please help me.
“That is when my life began to take shape,” says Patricia now. “The past six years have been the best years of my life.”
While visiting the Salvation Army thrift store in Oshawa, Ont., Patricia was invited to join a knitting circle located in the middle of the store. She now meets with the women twice a week, prays daily, attends worship and, best of all, is living a transformed life.
Then there is Ariel. It was late last summer when the doors to the foyer at Winnipeg's Weetamah Corps building burst open. Before the receptionist could react, her space was filled with loud voices and an older man holding a younger man by the ear.
“He just broke into my car,” the older man said. “If you don't do something with him, I am taking him to the police!” An hour later, a deal was struck. The police weren't called; instead, Ariel agreed to a number of hours of volunteer service.
To fast-forward Ariel's story, he stayed in a safe shelter and received smiles, dignity and an eventual job offer.
In the middle of Winnipeg's winter, you can find Ariel on the Army's street-van duty. The supervisor tosses him a new toque displaying the Red Shield facing forward and off they go. At one point he hops out to offer help to a man he knows. The man is nearly frozen. This former gang member pulls off his new toque and places it carefully over the man's ears. As Ariel climbs back in the van, he hears a loud and sincere, “Thank you.” Ariel shouts back, “I am with The Salvation Army now. That's how we roll.” Though it will take a while for Ariel to remove his tattoos—representing his former gang life—inside, real transformation has taken place.
General Linda Bond has asked us to align with the international vision plan: One Army, One Mission, One Message. I am excited and applaud the fact that under the One Message, she calls The Salvation Army to a commitment to preach, share and live the gospel of transformation.
When you stand at the pulpit or share stories over the backyard fence, your intentionality about the gospel soars when you are passionate about your own transformation and the transformation of others. Why else would we preach or feel the obligation to witness if it wasn't possible to pass this gift on to others?
I smiled the first time I heard Ariel's story, summarized in a unique phrase, “I am with The Salvation Army now. That's how we roll.”
I also recall a heavily tattooed man named Craig Carter coming into my office in Auckland, New Zealand. He was a career-criminal-turned-Salvationist and still on parole. He tried to convince me to let him visit the jail as a chaplain. His last challenge to me was this: “If God can do this for me despite all I have done, imagine what he can do for the other guys.” One year later he had distributed 600 Bibles and the Crown prosecutor was buying him lunch so he could hear Carter's story of transformation first-hand.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV).
We still believe transformation is possible, don't we?
Commissioner Brian Peddle is the territorial commander of the Canada and Bermuda Territory. Click here to read his columns.
There is a great deal of unfounded fear that exists in our Army about our dealings with government funders. Most of it is not based on fact. I have been in settings with other officers and leaders and when the subject comes up, the negativity of many toward social services becomes very apparent. Most often the basis of the negativity has to do with a suspicion around dealings with government. I don't believe that our leaders at THQ would sign contracts (all contracts must be signed by THQ) that have strings attached that prohibit us from being who we are. But part of being who we are (our identity) is being respectful.
Recently, Commissioner Peddle and others have been telling us at Army gatherings that the majority of decisions being made for Christ in this part of the Army world are occurring in social services and not in corps. Maybe the lack of evidence of transformation is not happening in only the places that have government contracts. Maybe transformation happens in many of these social services programs because they minister to the whole person. Maybe there is a change afoot and the 'hot spots' aren't where they used to be. Pehaps we need to be going to the areas where Christ is at work instead of trying to recreate and recapture past works.
And if in some places the Army is not fulfilling its mandate, then shame on us. That is our fault and we cannot blame others.