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Sep27FriSocial justice conference and congress encourage thousands of Salvationists. September 27, 2013
General André Cox told Salvationists of the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory that he dreams of a Salvation Army that is "vibrant, committed and on its knees before God." Deepening the spiritual life of Salvationists is essential to moving forward as an Army, he said. "If we want to see our world change, we ourselves must be changed by God."
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The General and Commissioner Silvia Cox (World President of Women's Ministries) joined nearly 650 Salvationists and others in Auckland, New Zealand, at the end of a two-day conference called Just Action. Speakers included Shane Claiborne of The Simple Way in Philadelphia, US civil rights activist Dr. John M. Perkins, and anti-human trafficking expert Matt Friedman, alongside local experts on a range of social justice issues. The General presented the final keynote address.
Topics that resonated with delegates included the importance of embodying Christ to the world and seeing the infinite value of every person as a child of God, the need to reclaim and develop fresh models of being good neighbours, and stepping up to the challenge of getting personally involved in the fight against slavery.
The conference included the launch of Set Free, a new book telling the story of The Salvation Army's battle in New Zealand against the enslaving power of addiction.
After Just Action, the Army's international leaders were guests at a congress focused on the International Vision of One Army, One Mission, One Message and attended by around 2,500 people. Public meetings were streamed on the web for the first time.
Thanks to a long-term strategic mission plan, there was plenty to celebrate. The territory is experiencing the highest attendances at worship services in its history and strong membership growth, especially in Fiji and Tonga. The next phase of the Territorial Strategic Mission Plan was launched, continuing an emphasis on making disciples, increasing soldiers and fighting injustice. News of a new mission goal to develop leaders was well received. Three New Zealand corps plants were elevated to corps status in recognition of mission advances made.
An unexpected high point was when the General admitted Major Campbell Roberts and Lieut-Colonel Ethne Flintoff to the Order of the Founder – The Salvation Army's highest honour. Both officers said Micah 6:8 – with its focus on acting justly, showing mercy and walking humbly with God – had strongly influenced their officer service.
Major Roberts was recognized for his work in the field of social justice, particularly his "tireless advocacy and support for vulnerable New Zealanders." The Salvation Army had given him "the great opportunity to follow the call of God" on his life, he said.
Lieut-Colonel Flintoff was recognized as an "exemplary missionary in areas of great difficulty and challenge" and for her "intrepid, dedicated work in the South Asia Zone, including India, Pakistan and Bangladesh." She described her officership as "an exciting journey, with never a dull moment."
General Cox spoke at separate youth and children's events. He said young people were "the Army of today" and urged the Army to hear their voices. When interviewed during the children's program, he was asked if it was fun being the General, how old he was and if it was "scary speaking to lots of people." The General said the Good Samaritan was his favourite Bible story because it reminded him that, although some people liked to judge others, Jesus told us to love everyone.
Many people responded to messages given by the General and Commissioner Cox, signing their names to a pledge inspired by the International Vision Plan to "reach this broken world with the love of God and proclaim the transforming message of Jesus." A large number indicated their desire to offer themselves for officer service.
A territory-wide talent quest, "Sallies Gotta Lotta Talent," was held prior to congress, with the semi-finals on Saturday afternoon and the finals in the evening. As well as performing arts, there was also a competition for visual arts. Other congress activities included seminars, outdoor concerts, "Saved to Serve" clean-up crews removing rubbish and planting trees, and luncheon with the international leaders for officer candidates.
The congress included a territorial farewell to Commissioners Don and Debi Bell, who are shortly to take up appointments as leaders of the USA Southern Territory. They were thanked for spearheading the territory's strategic mission plan, for the "clarity of their leadership" and for supporting the call for strong indigenous leadership within Fiji and Tonga as well as in The Salvation Army's Māori work in New Zealand.
The Salvation Army partnered with Habitat for Humanity to build a house during Just Action and the congress weekend. The General's final activity was to pray that the family that lived there would make God the centre of its home.