We are committed to the pursuit of innovation and effectiveness.
The dictionary says that relevance means practical and especially social applicability. It’s understanding what the needs really are and meeting them in the most effective and practical ways. The Salvation Army has a respected history of meeting people in places where no one else would go, of providing practical solutions to social ills and of extending a hand to those no one would touch.
Did you know that way back in our history – 1891 to be exact – The Salvation Army opened a match factory? William Booth was appalled at the working conditions in other match factories, so he opened one of his own. It used safe materials, was well lit, paid 1/3 higher wages than elsewhere and gave their staff tea breaks. This fair trade innovation forced the other factories to close within a decade.
In Action – Relevance
It’s a wondrous thing when innovation and effectiveness weave deeply with our care for the earth. This article by Kristin Ostensen, first published in the April 2015 issue of Salvationist, shares the story of how one corps is leading the charge.
Last year, The Salvation Army’s recycling warehouse in Prince George, B.C., processed 680,000 kilograms of textiles, equivalent to more than 1,800 kilograms a day.
With a staff of just seven people at the warehouse, it’s an amazing feat—one which garnered Prince George Community Church a local environmental leadership award in the year following the warehouse’s construction.
For Captain Neil Wilkinson, corps officer, this kind of leadership should come naturally to The Salvation Army.
“The Army has the opportunity to be a forerunner in recycling,” he says. “We’ve always been a forerunner—when we started our thrift stores 100 years ago, it was something that nobody else was doing. Ramping up our recycling ministry is just a way for us to naturally augment what we already do really well.”
The corps’ recycling operations generate $250,000 annually, which helps support its social services. But more than a fundraising tool, the warehouse is part of the corps’ commitment to stewardship.
“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it,” Captain Wilkinson says, “so we need to be the ones who are setting the pace for the rest of the world.”
The Recycling Process
Opened in 2012, the recycling warehouse is 668 square metres—112 square metres devoted to receiving and rough sorting, 278 to processing donations for the thrift store and 278 to recycling. The Army recycles textiles (e.g. clothing, bedding, curtains), electronics and metals. When they are received, the textiles are sorted by type and grade and then baled in 27,216-kilogram bundles. Those bundles are tendered to various textile recyclers across North America, who bid on the product; the highest bid gets the load. These textile recyclers further sort and refine these bundles into 45-kilogram bales, which are sent overseas and then can be purchased by locals who remarket the material in their own communities.
The electronics are palletized and sent to Encorp, the province’s recycling program, and the metals are recycled locally in Prince George.
The warehouse tries to ensure that no product goes to waste.
“When we have donors who are giving us all kinds of stuff from their houses, donor intent is that we’re going to make the most of the donation,” Captain Wilkinson says. “Even if it’s something that may not be intrinsically of value for one of our thrift stores, I think that we still have an obligation to honour donor intent and make the most of that donation, not just dispose of it because we can’t use it.”
Managing the Earth
While the corps in Prince George has been recycling for many years, the warehouse allows them to recycle much more than they were able to previously. When the corps opened its recycling warehouse three years ago, it was in response to an overwhelming amount of donations.
“We have excellent support from the community, and we’re always trying to build more awareness within the community,” he says. “The more people who know about the recycling efforts of the Army, the more people can support us and the more product can be processed. This means more protection for the environment and more revenue for us for the community work that we do.”
As Prince George continues its commitment to protecting the environment, Captain Wilkinson hopes that green initiatives will continue to be embraced by the wider Salvation Army.
“When it comes to managing the earth, I think stewardship is particularly important because, how long before the next generation starts digging up our landfills?” he says. “The garbage that we bury—where does it go? It can be recycled. We can only keep burying stuff in the ground for so long before it becomes a very big problem.”
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A Glimpse from the Past – Relevance
The Salvation Army and its personnel have been committed to the pursuit of innovation and effectiveness throughout our history. This article from the October 2010 issue of Salvationist highlights three innovators of note.
Contemporary life would be vastly different without the bewildering array of inventions that sustain
Contemporary life would be vastly different without the bewildering array of inventions that sustain, amuse and interest us. And for a relatively small organization, The Salvation Army has had its share of inventors.
Maxwell Hand Loom
At the turn of the last century, The Salvation Army appointed an English officer named Captain Frank Maxwell to serve in India. Gifted with inventiveness, he soon realized that many of India’s poorest residents spent their lives weaving on clumsy and inefficient looms. Before long, he had designed and built out of scraps of lumber a light and efficient hand loom that could produce up to five times more cloth than the old style. Several factories were established to build the looms that were exhibited in various Indian cities. The loom won first prize in three competitions. Gandhi also adopted the hand loom during his campaign for India’s independence.
The Maxwell hand loom — as it became known — was the most popular machine of its kind, able to work with silk as well as cotton. In 1908, a weaving school was opened in India under the direction of the Army, with a similar school in Sri Lanka.
For Captain Maxwell, the loom was more than just a great economic and social benefit. He used it as a platform to spread the gospel.
Major (Dr.) Jim Watt, a retired Salvation Army officer living in Calgary, has a history of inventions, starting with simple Sunday school “magic.” During his university studies, he created inexpensive teaching devices, which were used in the first science curriculum of newly independent Tanzania.
In 1970, Major Watt was appointed chief medical officer at the Army’s Howard Hospital in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), where he designed teaching aids for nutrition, hygiene and HIV prevention, as well as for communicating the gospel.
Major Watt is well-known in Zimbabwe as the inventor of the tippy tap, a suspended water-filled calabash (bottle gourd) with a loose-fitting plug in its neck. Tipping the gourd fills the curved neck with water, which remains in the neck as the gourd is released, providing a flow of water for hand washing, stopping on its own until the device is tipped again. This met hygiene standards and conserved precious water.
The “tippy tap” won third prize in an international appropriate technology exhibition and attracted the attention of Zimbabwe’s first president.
When he returned to Canada, Major Watt developed a similar device from a discarded plastic bottle by heating and sealing the bottom of the handle. It has been used around the world to improve hygiene and prevent disease.
None of Major Watts’ inventions were patented, allowing them to be copied widely. “Good ideas, like great melodies and stories, come by inspiration from God,” he says. “To him is due the glory.”
Aussie Mozzie Tube
Rodney and Elaine Foster are Salvationists in the Australia Eastern Territory who, during a mission trip with the Army to Papua New Guinea in September 2004, saw a need and then invented a solution.
The Fosters discovered that short-term missions to inhospitable climates require self-supporting, enclosed, yet airy, mosquito nets, able to fit in a lower bunk or bed. They also need to be lightweight for backpacking, have a moisture-proof base and be sturdy enough for creatures to walk on without touching the occupant. Nothing like this was available, so the Fosters invented the Aussie Mozzie Tube, a self-supporting, free-standing, sleeping tube designed for areas with disease-carrying mosquitoes and dangerous snakes.
The Aussie Mozzie Tube can be used indoors or outdoors and is designed to accommodate most kinds of inflatable camp mattresses. It requires no pegs or tie downs to secure it or strings to attach it to any other supports.
The Aussie Mozzie Tube has been featured in several magazines and has won a number of awards for best invention. The worldwide interest in their invention has enabled the Fosters — who live a simple lifestyle — to support a number of overseas projects. As people of deep faith, they are convinced that God guided them with their invention.
Lt-Colonel Maxwell Ryan is retired in Burlington, Ont, where he serves as a part-time hospital chaplain and amateur Army historian.
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Faith & Life – Relevance
Jesus has relevance; he was relevant while he walked the earth, and he is relevant still today. As Christ encountered people, he understood where people were at, their story, but also their need. In his teaching, Jesus used every day events and experiences to describe spiritual truths. Therefore, the idea of water and its necessity is one he uses, and which appears repeatedly in Scripture.
Our corps is working through a sermon series on what it means to ‘thirst after God’. Water is necessary for survival, and so the struggle for the provision of clean and accessible water is evidenced through all history to today. We see the Lord evidence His faithfulness as He offers water from a rock to his people who are thirsty as they journey through the wilderness. The psalmists sing repeatedly of the life-giving nature of water. Jesus shares with the woman at the well the kind of ‘water’ he can offer. He is relevant, acknowledging the physical need of water but also identifying the spiritual need.
The founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth, said, “You cannot warm the hearts of people with God’s love if they have an empty stomach and cold feet.” The Salvation Army rose up with a desire to follow after Christ and to be relevant; to meet both physical and spiritual need. That desire remains today and is one of our Territorial core values and is consistent with what Jesus asks of us:
“For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me” (Matthew 25:35-36, NLT).
If people are thirsty, we build a well or provide a drink of water. If people are cold, we give shelter, clothing, or help to heat their homes. If people are hungry, we offer food. If people are lonely, we offer fellowship and a place to belong. If people are lost, we introduce them to Christ, who can show them the way. And if we aren’t doing these things, shame on us because we have no relevance in the world! To fulfill the mission Jesus called us to, we must be in touch with the needs of our community.
A man came to the door of our church one day looking for temporary shelter for him and his children; not a common occurrence in our context. After securing shelter and food for this family for a few days, the father gratefully told us this was the first time in a long time that he had hope for the days ahead as he settled into this new role as a single parent. Two months later, this man was on our doorstep again, not for himself or his own family, but in search of a location to host a weekly pre-school group he was connected with. Years later, the group continues to meet in an Army facility, each week attracting dozens of small kids and their families allowing families to participate in community and build friendships in a safe environment. This also meant the creation of a great partnership between the Army and another social organization.
Relevance. The provision of food and shelter resulted in hope for the future. The use of our facility meant opportunity for fostering friendship and building community. Jesus fed food to a crowd of five thousand, and in doing so, he could continue to feed their hungry souls. To follow Christ’s example of relevance, let us consider the following questions:
- What does your community need?
- How can The Salvation Army in your context meet that need?
- How can you, and your expression of the Army’s mission where you are, be relevant?
Joyce Downer is a corps officer in Kentville, Nova Scotia.
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