We are all hopeful that after a brutal year, the onset of wide-spread vaccination against the COVID-19 virus will bring this pandemic to an end. Millions have suffered around the world and within the borders of our own territory. And yet, the faithful service of officers, soldiers, employees and friends of The Salvation Army has continued without fail. As a result, much good has come from this worldwide disaster.

My own family’s connection with The Salvation Army has its roots in a pandemic. In 1919, the United States and the world was in the middle of an influenza pandemic that took the lives of 50 million people. A Salvation Army officer was walking through a sawmill in the small town of Centralia, Wash., making pastoral visits. The officer came to Al Irish, the man destined to become my great-grandfather. In response to his questions, Al told the officer that two of his children were dead from the flu and his wife was deathly ill. The officer promised prayer—which was appreciated—but he did more than that. The officer showed up a couple of days later to the Irish family home with practical expressions of help to a family in crisis. Al Irish was so touched by the officer’s dedication to compassionate service that he determined to take his family to The Salvation Army and make it their spiritual home. As a result of that decision, the Irish family became attendees and eventually soldiers of The Salvation Army Centralia Corps. A few years later, Al Irish’s daughter, Dorothy, was participating in an open-air service. An unsaved logger named Edward Hill took notice of her and the Army contingent on the street corner. He followed the faithful band back to the corps, got saved and eventually headed with Dorothy to the School for Officer Training in San Francisco.

Lieutenants Edward and Dorothy Hill were commissioned as Salvation Army officers in 1926. Two of their sons, including my father, Gerald, and his brother, Dale, became officers, and I was commissioned as an officer just a year before my parents retired in 1994. When I retire in 2026, a Hill will have continuously served as an officer from the U.S.A. Western Territory for exactly 100 years. When my son, Sam, was about 12 years old, I told him it was up to him to keep the “Hill officer thing” going into a second century, but not to feel “any pressure.”

Whatever good has happened on account of three generations of Hills serving as Salvation Army officers has its roots in a terrible pandemic not unlike what we are enduring today. Let’s always remember that even in the bleakest of circumstances, light overcomes darkness. Good can emerge from bad. Victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat.

Consider the story of Joseph found in the Book of Genesis. Joseph’s brothers were jealous because of the favouritism their father, Jacob, showed him, including the bestowal of a coat of many colours. In the grip of anger and jealousy, the brothers threw Joseph in an empty pit and then sold him into slavery. After a series of incredible events, Joseph ended up in a position of great prominence and power in the service of the Pharaoh of Egypt. It was then that Joseph, during a time of crisis no less dreadful than a pandemic, had an opportunity to reveal himself to his brothers. While Joseph could have used the occasion to lambast or punish his brothers, he grasped the perfection of God’s plan. He declared to his brothers in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Friends, even as we journey through a pandemic, we can celebrate the overwhelming good taking place in the Canada and Bermuda Territory.
Even in the bleakest of circumstances, light overcomes darkness. Good can emerge from bad. Victory can be snatched from the jaws of defeat.
Consider that in 2020, The Salvation Army Canada and Bermuda Territory received not only increased requests for assistance, but also record-breaking Red Shield Appeal donations, government support and virtually unlimited opportunities to tell our story through the press, radio, TV, social media and the internet. Christmas With The Salvation Army, an event usually held at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto, was held virtually in December 2020 and has been viewed more than 80,000 times, the most ever for a Salvation Army event in our territory.

During the past year, most of our congregations have been unable to meet, and yet people are still being saved by the Army’s ministry and making new commitments to deeper service. The Richmond Corps in the British Columbia Division, for example, recently conducted an online enrolment of 17 soldiers and nine adherents. That’s great news in a pandemic!

I continue to celebrate the clear blessing of God at the College for Officer Training and our shared efforts to build our officer and leadership capacity. Just two years ago, the territory had 31 cadets and others in training to become Salvation Army officers. Today, we can rejoice that there are now 57 in training programs, the most in decades.

I am also grateful for the efforts of the territory to chart its future. The Mobilize 2.0 program has unfolded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Equipped with a new vision statement and a near-ready-to-launch strategic plan, the territory is being “Inspired for Mission and Positioned for Growth” in 2021 and beyond.

What does God have in store for us and our Salvation Army? I believe God will continue to bless us, as he always does, with rich opportunities for worship and service. As we continue to journey through this pandemic and look forward, let’s be confident that God will fulfil his plan for us and The Salvation Army. That is a promise worth embracing now, and always!

Colonel Edward Hill is the chief secretary in the Canada and Bermuda Territory. He will take up a new appointment at International Headquarters as the international secretary for the Americas and Caribbean Zone, with the rank of commissioner, on May 1.

Photo: Balazs/stock.Adobe.com


On Friday, March 12, 2021, Concerned said:

What a wonderful story of heritage, shared by so few now. On both sides of my family open air drum head conversions started it all. Loved the bit about following band back to the hall

Now we have community churches, and worship teams. We don't talk about sin, and don't have ( very many) conversions. No one "gets saved" any longer. The uniform is all but gone for anyone not in the band or songsters, and has been replaced by crested golf shirts and hoodies. We don't have Holiness and Salvation meetings any longer, but"do church".

And then we wonder why the pews are empty......


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