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Aug14WedIn this exclusive interview, recently elected General André Cox discusses his vision for the Army, the Army's response to poverty and human trafficking, and why multiculturalism is one of the Army's greatest strengths. August 14, 2013
On August 3, 2013, The Salvation Army's High Council elected Commissioner André Cox as 20th General of The Salvation Army. In this exclusive interview, General André Cox discusses his vision for the Army, how the Army can address issues such as poverty and human trafficking, and why multiculturalism is one of the Army's greatest strengths.
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Tell us about your early years. How did they shape you as a person?
I was born in Harare, Zimbabwe, and growing up there, I feel that my childhood was very privileged in some ways, particularly when I look at it in the context of what the majority of the population was facing. My parents, as Salvation Army officers, were stationed at a mission out in the bush and a lot of my playmates were African. I think that experience opened my heart and mind to the continent of Africa—to this day, I have a great love for Africa.
Tell us about your call to officership.
In my late teens, I decided to go to my mother's homeland in Switzerland to learn French—and in a sense, I think part of me was trying to escape God's call on my life. But it was in Switzerland that I made a conscious decision to acknowledge Christ as my Lord and Saviour. I came to the realization that Jesus had died on the cross for my sins and that I actually needed to make a personal response—the faith of my parents was not enough.
But I remember when that happened, in the back of my mind, I was saying to myself, 'And I hope that does not mean a call to officership one day.' And to my surprise, just a few weeks after that defining moment, I was going to the cinema to see James Bond with a friend and had a brief vision of myself standing in the uniform of a Salvation Army officer and preaching the gospel in the context of Africa. I knew from that moment on that God was calling me to be an officer and that I would serve him in Africa at some point.
What is the most important life lesson that you have learned?
That rank and position don't amount to much. I've never felt called to a rank or position. I feel that God called me as André Cox. I am an individual; he created me the way he created me and I need to grow into the person that he knows I can be. I've learned that I'm not important—God is important, and I want to know and follow his leading in my own life.
There is evidence of a growing gap between rich and poor. How we can serve the poor more effectively?
First and foremost, I would like to say that the poor should not be looked at as a subject of pity. The poor are extremely resilient and often have ideas about how they can improve their situation. We should come alongside them and seek to understand what their situation is and to try and help them to identify how they can help themselves. They need to have a sense of ownership in finding solutions to their problems.
I also think we should use the influence we have within the political sphere. We need to work with politicians and policy-makers on policy issues that have a direct impact on this problem.
We should be working more actively in our communities to find longer term solutions and not just the ones that I call the “feel goods,” where we've distributed clothes or money so we've done a good thing. We shouldn't be so satisfied with that.
Do you think The Salvation Army is inclusive? Are there areas that we need to work on?
Based on the feedback I've received, I think that sometimes people feel they are not listened to, that they have no say in the way the mission is shaped. I think there is still a myth within the Army that we have our military structures and all decisions are top down. I'm not sure that is the reality, but I'm not sure we've always done it right. It's trying to ensure that we hear as many voices as possible and that people feel that they have a stake in The Salvation Army and the mission going forward. That's the way I've always worked with colleagues and something I hope we will continue.
How is The Salvation Army a multicultural organization?
That's one of the aspects I love best about the Army. Being brought up by a Swiss mother and an English father, already I have two distinct cultures. And being born in Africa and having lived in southern Africa for 23 years, as well as serving in Europe, I've seen the beauty of different cultures and I've come to understand just how much we are all conditioned by the culture that we grow up in, by education systems, by our families. I'm always concerned when people seem to think that their cultural approach is the only right approach because I've seen that people do think differently and that there is no “right” approach. The thing that is the most exciting to me is to see how our different cultures, as they're exposed to the light of the gospel, all begin to move toward the values of the kingdom. Despite our many differences, we are growing in similarity in so many ways. And I think it's something that should be celebrated.
The Salvation Army has hundreds of thousands of volunteers. What role do you think they play within the Army?
The reputation of The Salvation Army is largely due to the unstinting efforts of many people serving in the frontlines, whether they be volunteers, officers, soldiers or employees. In many ways, I think they're more important—certainly to the communities that they serve—than the General of The Salvation Army because they are the base of the Army. I'm grateful for everyone who serves with passion and commitment because these are the people who are building the kingdom. They are the face of Christ in so many communities.
What do you think are the strengths of the Army?
I think one of the great strengths we have is our internationalism. We're now in 126 countries; we've got excellent networks that get down to grassroots level. I'd like to see a greater celebration of the different cultures that make up the Army.
Where do you see opportunities for change and growth?
I'd like to see a greater realization of the responsibility that our corps have in the communities in which they sit—that our corps are not just places where we come to retreat and be comfortable, but they are places where we are resourced and nourished spiritually so that we can reach out in better ways to the communities surrounding us. I see our corps more in the frontline of not only saving souls and growing saints, but also serving suffering humanity.