The Voice of The Salvation Army in Canada and BermudaView RSS Feed
Sep2TueCommissioner Susan McMillan brings a global perspective as Canada and Bermuda's new leader. September 2, 2014 Interview by Giselle Randall
On September 1, Commissioner Susan McMillan took up responsibility as territorial commander for the Canada and Bermuda Territory. A Canadian by birth, she has served in various appointments around the world, most recently as territorial commander for the South America East Territory. In this interview, she shares about her spiritual journey, understanding of mission and vision for the Army.
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Tell us about your background and calling.
My parents are officers, so the idea of officership was always there. After I finished school and started working, I visited Mexico on a holiday and I felt God calling me there. I attended training college and was sent to Mexico a few months after graduating, where I had to learn Spanish very quickly! I went on to complete a master of business administration and certified general accountant designation, and held appointments in Canada, Argentina, Chile and International Headquarters. Most recently, I have been the territorial commander and territorial president of women's ministries for the South America East Territory (Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay).
You've lived and served in the developing world for many years. How has this shaped your faith?
I couldn't have been a leader in these years without relying on God completely. South America is a beautiful place, but it can be a dangerous place, too. There have been many times over the years when I've known that the Lord protected us. I was travelling in Bolivia with some officers when we came across a protest on the highway. People were throwing dynamite at a bus in front of us, so we backed up and tried to go around by driving across a field in the dark of night. Suddenly a face appeared out of nowhere, and a young man said he knew the way. We decided to trust him and got through to safety.
What impact has it had on your understanding of mission?
It has had tremendous impact. You learn that you have to depend on God. In South America, the social problems are acute—poverty, lack of services, discrimination, corruption—and our resources are limited. We don't have the kind of support that you find in Canada, such as regular funding and large numbers of highly qualified personnel, so you have to rely more on God and your people. It means we need to be more grassroots, to understand what people are going through—not provide a menu of services, but rather be with the person and walk with them through their difficulties. Although we do have some social services with professionals—nurses, doctors and teachers—the main work is our officers and soldiers going out into their communities and caring for people. It's very much incarnational ministry.
Can you say a little more about incarnational ministry?
It means they are part of the community they serve. In Latin America, officers live in the Army's buildings. Some are in the middle of a city, but others are in squatter settlements and slums. That's where the Army is, so that's where our people are. They don't come in to work and then go home at night—they live in the community and do their best to reach out to that community.
Can you give us an example?
There's a community clinic in a very poor neighbourhood in Paraguay, where the corps goes into the community to teach basic hygiene and nutrition. They don't bring people to a building or project; they sit and talk with a circle of moms under a tree in somebody's garden. Women are getting prenatal care, home births have decreased and the infant mortality rate has dropped markedly. Children are healthier. But it's not because there's a big hospital—it's because of a small group of people who live in the community and live out their faith.
So the clinic and the corps work hand-in-hand.
Yes. It's also known as integrated mission. Integrated mission isn't a program; it's a way of life. It's how you be, not how you do—the understanding that we're all in it together. It can be difficult to get the concept across in North America, where things are much more professionalized. But it's really the concept the Army started with—“soup, soap and salvation,” holding together word and deed, evangelism and social action. It was that way from the very beginning.
How will this perspective inform your leadership?
I hope that it becomes more of a focus for us in North America. One thing I learned while serving overseas is that it's not about us telling them how to do things—they already know how. Sometimes they get it really right in the developing world, and we need to look at what they're doing. We can learn a lot about integrated mission from South America.
How can the Army do a better job of integrated mission in Canada and Bermuda?
I've been away from the territory for 11 years, so I don't think that's a question I can answer until I get my feet on the ground and see where the territory is. I think it's very positive that our territory has appointed an integrated mission secretary.
What is your vision for the Army?
I think we have all captured the international vision of One Army, One Mission, One Message. It doesn't matter what we do, whether we work at a corps, a big social services centre, a thrift store or headquarters, we need to be focused on that vision, to get back to grassroots, doing what we do best—reaching out and helping to transform lives. And wherever we work, we need to be talking to people about Jesus, helping them have an encounter with him. That's our main mission, what everything we do is aimed at. As our culture becomes more and more affluent and materialistic, people seem to see their need for God less and less. There's an urgency to the call of the gospel.
What are the strengths of the Army in this territory?
I think the rest of the Army world looks to us for leadership in several areas. We stayed on an even keel through the financial crisis of the last 10 years, when other territories were much more adversely affected. Our Ethics Centre is a valuable resource to the Army worldwide. Booth University College partners with many territories in the developing world to offer continuing education for officers.
What is your favourite way to relax?
I like to sew and do crafts. I'm always reading something, either a mystery or something to help prepare a sermon. I recently read Love—Right at the Heart by Commissioner Robert Street. The central message is really important—that you have to have love right in your heart and you have to be right in your heart, to fulfill the Army's mission. It's written for leaders, with discussion questions and suggestions for practical applications, and we worked through it at several officers' retreats.
Can you share something that makes you unique?
My family has a long history in the Army. My mother's grandfather was a doorkeeper in the Christian Mission, before William Booth changed the name to The Salvation Army. If somebody was rowdy or disruptive at a meeting, he put them out. My dad's family has also been in the Army almost since the beginning. But you have to make your own way, your own history.
What do Salvationists in this territory need to know most about you?
I recognize I've been gone a long time, but I'm coming back to listen and understand.