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Apr8ThuHope is at the heart of The Salvation Army’s mission in the France and Belgium Territory. April 8, 2021 by Geoff Moulton
Last March, Canadian officers Lt-Colonels Grant and Lauren Effer took up new positions in the France and Belgium Territory as chief secretary and territorial secretary for women’s ministries and territorial secretary for spiritual life development, respectively. Features editor Giselle Randall spoke with Lt-Colonel Grant Effer about the spiritual landscape of France and Belgium, the needs of the migrant population and the impact of COVID-19.
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Tell us about your journey to international service. How have your past appointments prepared you for your current roles?
Our journey to international service goes back to childhood for Lauren and to our training college days for me. At the beginning, I didn’t feel a specific missionary call, knowing that the world was here in Canada. Toward the end of our second year of training, God impressed upon me to not put him in a box. So, we formally made ourselves available for God to use in ministry through The Salvation Army, wherever or whatever. We both felt a deep passion and heartfelt focus on taking God’s Word to the world. It became part of our heartbeat.
Looking back, we see God’s hand at work in every appointment we’ve had, even preparing us before officership for what was next in our lives as we served him. He prepared each of us differently, providing unique opportunities, personal development, ministry roles and mentors along the way.This story is from:
For me, Lt-Colonel David Luginbuhl, the territorial secretary for health services when we were lieutenants, was a key person in our move from corps ministry to social services. He taught me a lot about what it means to care for people. Major Ken Bonnar, the command secretary in Singapore at the time, was another mentor who was instrumental in our first international appointment. We spent three years, from 1999-2001, in Singapore.
For Lauren, I’m sure a list of mentors that God placed in her life would begin with her parents. They were her biggest fans and her inspiration in caring for others.
How would you describe the spiritual landscape of France and Belgium? How does that affect the work of The Salvation Army?
Much like the Western world everywhere, the spiritual landscape of France and Belgium is incredibly diverse, with a mixture of cultures, languages and religions. Many people are spiritual seekers, desiring something or someone to satisfy their heart’s longing, even if they don’t know what it is. The opportunities for ministry are incroyables and the work of The Salvation Army is desperately needed.
Speaking into this need, across the territory, we have more than 60 social service ministries and 31 corps, representing more than 200 programs. In France, there is a law concerning the separation of church and state, and so The Salvation Army is divided into two entities: L’Armée du Salut Fondation, which is responsible for social services, and L’Armée du Salut Congregation, our corps ministry. There’s a great deal of co-operation between them. Many corps run social programs, and many of our officers provide intentional spiritual accompaniment in our social centres, offering hope.
In French, there are two words for hope: l’espoir, the more common word, meaning the desire for things to go well, and l’espérance, which is the hope of the soul. In Canada and Bermuda, The Salvation Army’s motto is “Giving Hope Today.” In France, it is “L’Espoir, au coeur de nos missions”— hope is at the heart of our missions. In the secular sense, that is how people understand hope. But from a faith perspective, we know that hope goes beyond the finite. Many people are seeking hope but aren’t necessarily aware that they are seeking l’espérance.
What are the most pressing social issues of the day in France and Belgium? How is the Army responding?
The combination of immigration and homelessness is certainly some of the most pressing needs, particularly in Paris. Lauren and I have seen hundreds of people living outside because there is nowhere for them. People are coming from countries surrounding France because they are desperate.
Our corps and social services centres cross paths with migrants every day. Many live with continual uncertainty, fearing they will be deported because their passports have expired, with no way to get them renewed. L’Armée du Salut is actively responding to the needs presented by unique immigration and refugee situations, poverty and food sustainability.
One initiative is a Bonjour truck, a mobile restaurant that goes out to the streets every morning to provide a free breakfast, food assistance and the ministry of presence. It has been staffed by a man who has a passion to serve and give hope (espérance) and he has been faithful throughout the pandemic, sometimes assisted by a cadet.
How has the Army responded to the COVID-19 pandemic?
The pandemic is intensifying social issues. The Army’s social services have been both proactive and reactive in the fight against COVID-19, especially in our centres with seniors and persons with disabilities. Our corps have been creatively responding to meet needs in their communities.
We strive to partner when possible with other organizations. When the COVID situation became unmanageable in one institution run by another organization, The Salvation Army willingly responded with help, offering resources and expertise. In another instance, we were asked to manage a very large welcome centre for migrants—thousands of people in an arena—at the height of the first wave of the pandemic. Partnerships and co-operation are essential in these times.
Our corps officers, who normally offer spiritual accompaniment in our social services centres, have responded by intensifying their work in places where isolation and infection could easily overwhelm staff and residents. I feel a holy pride when I think about the commitment of our officers, staff and volunteers in the midst of the pandemic.
That was one of the most difficult parts for us—being in quarantine when we arrived last year, not able to help, knowing that everybody else continued without stopping. It’s been tough. We have lost people.
What has God been teaching you recently?
I think the fragility of life has been underscored for me in the midst of COVID. God has been reinforcing that life is temporal and we must be fervently engaged in ministry to demonstrate and honour our faith in a living God.
What’s the best part about living in Paris, the City of Lights?
That’s easy, but not what you might expect. The Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine river, the Notre Dame Basilica (under renovation), are all highlights, as you would expect. And the cafés and boulangeries are amazing—we often pick up an almond croissant or a baguette from one of the boulangeries near our apartment. Being at the heart of such incredible religious and cultural history is awe inspiring.
The very best part, however, is the incredible peace from God that we are in his will and design right here, right now, for his purpose and glory. The staff and our officer colleagues at territorial headquarters have invited us into ministry with them and so, we have peace in the middle of the pandemic storm.
Any final thoughts?
Every appointment we’ve had, everywhere we’ve lived, throughout all of our experiences, we’ve been surrounded by teams of dedicated people. There’s nothing we’ve done that we could have done without those people. The ministry that we had in New Liskeard, Ont., Vancouver, Ottawa, Windsor, Ont., Singapore, Montreal, Edmonton and now here, would have been impossible without the incredibly dedicated people who worked for the same mission. That is really the thing that needs to be said, that none of what we’ve been part of could have happened without those people also moving in God’s rhythm, offering hope and espérance, a vibrant light. God’s design is amazing.