In 1989, Shirley and Bob McArthur were members of The Salvation Army worshipping at Etobicoke Temple in Toronto when their church welcomed a guest from New York City. Captain Sven Ljungholm told the congregation of the good work he had been doing in Jamaica. But he was being transferred home and there would soon be no one to continue his mission work.
“It seemed as if the Lord was saying to us, ‘You could take up this challenge. He can’t do it anymore,’ ” Shirley says.
Thus began 32 years of mission work for The Salvation Army in places such as Cuba, Belize, Barbados and Jamaica.
Task at Hand
While the McArthurs took part in more than 30 mission trips, the one that stayed with them the most was their trip to Haiti in 1999.
“Everyone on that trip would agree that that was likely the most challenging because of the lack of materials, the lack of water and the lack of accommodation,” says Bob.
The Army’s Caribbean Territory invited them through the Army’s International Headquarters in London, England. When the couple finally received permission to go, they started putting together a team of volunteers from their church, as well as a container of materials.
Forty-two people took part in the three-week mission trip, from North York Temple and Salvation Army churches all over Ontario.
“The word spread and God led a lot of people to us,” says Shirley.
The mission group was tasked with restoring a 10-room children’s home and a 22-classroom school, which had been built by The Salvation Army of Canada with the help of the Canadian government.
“Both were in bad repair from concrete delaminating, which had occurred because they had originally been built with beach sand,” says Bob, explaining that the salt in the sand caused the delamination of the rebar. Having been selected for their expertise in trades, the team removed, then replaced, the loose concrete, scraped and peeled the paint and then repainted both buildings. They also renovated the floors and repaired termite damage on door frames.
“There were approximately 18 doors in that children’s home,” Bob says.
Job Well Done
The accommodation for the team was not luxurious.
“We slept in the pastors’ quarters on the second floor of the children’s home, and there were only two bedrooms,” says Shirley. “Bunk beds were erected for the team in the dining room and living room; there were bunk beds everywhere!”
Many of the younger team members slept outside on the balcony, and some were on the roof in a tent.
There was only six hours of electricity a day—and that intermittently. The only safe water to drink came from bottles.
“All the water from our laundry and dishes was used to flush the toilet. When it rained, our team would rush outside with soap and shampoo to wash and shower,” smiles Shirley.
“It wasn’t a vacation,” reiterates Bob. “It was three weeks of 12-hour days, just steady work.”
But the team left Haiti with both buildings fully repaired and restored.
“We were all pleased with what the group had accomplished,” says Shirley.
“Our Brother’s Keeper”
What makes the McArthurs, and thousands of other Salvation Army members, participate in mission trips?
For Bob, who is practically minded, these trips provide “value for the money.”
“Some of our team members were professionals,” he explains. “Each paid their way and provided supplies. What might have cost close to a half a million Haitian dollars was done at a fraction of that amount. The team members were happy to have an opportunity to provide both practical and financial support to the project.”
Shirley responds to that question with two verses from the Bible. First, “In response to all [God] has done for us, let us outdo each other in being helpful and kind to each other and in doing good” (Hebrews 10:24 The Living Bible). Second, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
“We are all our brother’s keeper,” she concludes. “How could we turn away when something needed to be done?”
Photos: Bob McArthur