Identify the impostors before they sabotage the mission. Explore a legendary kingdom and save the princess. Fight hordes of monsters in a battle royale. Or go mining for resources and craft a world of your own.

Almost 90 percent of Canadian kids and teens play video games. That’s why Canada and Bermuda’s territorial children and youth department has teamed up with the U.S.A. Central Territory for Salvation Army (SA) Gaming, a new and innovative ministry that provides a safe, positive environment for gamers.

“But SA Gaming is more than just playing video games,” says Zane Koehler, SA Gaming ministry director, U.S.A. Central Territory. “It’s about bringing the gospel to the gamer. Lives have been changed and gamers have come to know Christ better or even for the first time.”

Building Community

The U.S.A. Central Territory started SA Gaming in the winter of 2020, as more people than ever turned to video games as a way to cope with the isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Everyone was forced inside and needed to find different ways to connect with their friends,” says Chris Noel, territorial camping ministries specialist for Canada and Bermuda. “The U.S.A. Central Territory recognized it as an opportunity to meet people where they are. We were really excited by the possibilities and said we’d love to be part of it.”

SA Gaming is hosted through a social media platform called Discord, which allows participants to communicate through voice, video and chat features while on the site. Each game, such as Fortnite, Among Us or Minecraft, has its own channel. The community has grown to almost 750 members from around the Army world, with just over 100 from Canada and Bermuda.

“It made the most sense to join the American server, rather than create a Canadian version, because the bigger the community, the better your chances of having someone to play with,” says Noel.

SA Gaming logo

Sam Kean, 12, has been a gamer for a few years, and recently joined SA Gaming. “I like the conversations. A lot of people have the same interests as me,” he says. “I’m a really big Marvel fan, and I can hop onto the network, and we’ll just talk about Marvel.”

As well as the organic community that happens as people play together, the SA Gaming creators have incorporated elements to build intentional community, with channels that allow participants to share their own creative endeavours through artwork, music or poetry. Monthly event calendars provide regular opportunities for fellowship.

The gaming world, much like in-person activities, can be a place where children and young people face bullying, but SA Gaming has implemented safeguards to create an uplifting, encouraging environment.

A two-step entry process means everyone must read and agree to the community rules, and content is monitored by bots, software that can remove inappropriate or hurtful language, and moderators, teens and young adults who have been identified as leaders within their division, as well as the administrators. In the Canada and Bermuda Territory, Nancy Turley, territorial abuse advisor, was consulted and has given her support to these safety protocols.

Game and Gospel

In addition to being a safe gathering platform, SA Gaming is a place where gamers hear the gospel and grow in their faith.

“That’s the number-one priority,” says Captain Curtis Metcalf, divisional youth secretary, Alberta and Northern Territories Division. “As much as we all love playing video games, the priority for all of the leadership is to make sure the gospel is out there for these kids, who may not hear it on a regular basis.”

As well as a section where you can learn about The Salvation Army, the network has three channels dedicated to evangelism and discipleship. The first is weekly video devotions, most often led by Captain Metcalf, which cover a variety of topics and can be accessed or viewed at any time. There’s also a chat feature that allows viewers to post questions, make comments and connect with others.

The second is the prayer request channel. “They are constantly on there, writing about everything—health, school, friends—things they wouldn’t necessarily talk about at youth group,” says Captain Metcalf. “I’m amazed by their willingness to be open and authentic.”

The third channel is for answered prayer—somewhere to share and celebrate what God is doing in their lives. Kean remembers one gamer talking about what his grandma was going through with COVID.

“He was saying, ‘I’ve been praying about it, and God doesn’t seem to care,’ ” he recalls. “I said, ‘I’m not a professional on this stuff, but hold steady, keep going.’ A week or two later, he wrote in the answered prayer channel that his grandma was healed.”

For Captain Metcalf, who participates in the network as a youth leader, the nature of the platform opens the door to honest conversation.

“In person, it would be a lot more difficult for them to talk about some things, but this is their safe space,” he says. “It’s not like we’ve invited them somewhere—I’m going where they are and interacting with what they’re doing. It opens them up a lot more, and then you get to have those conversations.”

If it’s needed, two leaders will reach out and offer help and resources. “We’re able to walk alongside their struggles, through gaming.”

Next Level

Due to the pandemic, SA Gaming is only holding virtual events, game nights and tournaments—but the goal is to take it to the next level.

“The Salvation Army has camps, youth events, corps or division retreats—it’s time to have gaming events,” says Koehler. “We want to bring you the best SA Gaming experience you can have. We’d love to travel and set up gaming arenas, where gamers can bring their friends and family members.

“They’ll experience not just pure chaos and watching someone play a video game, they’ll get to hear the gospel, and meet gamers who also have a passion for Christ and building the kingdom.”

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On Tuesday, February 22, 2022, Natalia DeBoer said:

Yes, I have heard how effective this ministry can be. Brilliant! thank you. Blessings.

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