Dear Salvation Army – Letters From Prison

Life in The Salvation Army is always unique and eventful.  There is something new each day, and these “somethings” can be good, and they can also be not so good.  This ministry and mission that we engage in here in our Army is truly frontlines and gap ministries.  It is with this “gap” ministry in mind that I tell you this story:

I had been feeling very discouraged in serving in The Salvation Army recently.
The busyness of this appointment had begun to frustrate me – far too many reports to complete, too much desk work and not enough human contact in mission.  I had been fighting with policy, rules, regulations…all of the tedious hoops we all have to jump through as Officers in a very far-reaching Army.  Have you ever been there?  Feeling bogged down by stuff and instead of pursuing mission you find yourself pushing paperwork?  That’s where I was when something connected and resonated in me through our soup kitchen and social services…

Our soup kitchen is a thoroughfare to many who are in need, some by choice, others by crisis – all are looking to fill their bellies while sipping on cups of hot coffee and sharing in conversation.  This is a safe haven to a large number who are either living on the street, crisis poverty or habitual poverty.  All are welcomed here, and in a very practical sense, the gap is tended by stalwart soldiers and friends of this army.

I recently received a letter in the mail that was not an ordinary letter.  On the front of the envelop, in bright crimson stamped lettering it read: “Inmate Mail”.  I was intrigued, what could it be about?  So I carefully tore the envelop open and inside I found a hand-written note on a blue lined page.  This individual, now inmate, wrote her letter addressed to: prisonDear Salvation Army” (How fitting I thought).   First she expressed deep gratitude for us being there for her even when she was hurting herself with the abuse of alcohol and drugs.  She was a meth addict and because of her addiction she committed some crimes and ended up being incarcerated.  She continued to describe her dire situation of homelessness and utter hopelessness.  She was more imprisoned outside on her own then she is now.  Her letter ended with these words:  “Because of your soup kitchen, food pantry and your clothing donations, I was able to survive.  Your church gave me life everyday – Thank you for showing me, loving me, and sharing with me the love of Jesus Christ.
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My Dear Salvation Army, this is what our existence is about!  This is who we are!  We must mind the gap!  We must tend the very gates of Hell in order to pull hopeless people like this one from total self-destruction.  We cannot sit by and watch when no one else will help.  Action must be taken daily!  Sometimes we might even feel as if what we do has no effect in our community, and then letters like this appear at our doorsteps.  If I can be honest with you, I have felt defeated many times in my attempts to reach people for Christ.  I have felt the sting of rejection as the gospel has been presented.  I have heard the laughs and the words of mockery.  Perhaps, like me, you needed some reassurances that what we do still matters…IT DOES!
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ONWARD:
Let me, for what it’s worth, offer these words of encouragement and direction:
-Keep Fighting the good fight!
-Do not give up on doing these good works for those you serve!
-This movement and mission IS making a difference!
-Even though you may not always see it, God sees your faithfulness and you must find your reward first in HIM.
-Do everything without grumbling and complaining (Philippians 2:14a) – (I am preaching to myself first and foremost)
-Every effort for service should be done with love, kindness and grace – you never know whose life you will reach, so be consistent and faithful to God in your service!
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The Salvation Army doesn’t exist for the purpose of maintain status quo and pushing paperwork – it exists so that people like this inmate who wrote this letter might find Christ.  This Salvation Army exists to be a lighthouse to a turbulent sea full of lost people struggling to get to shore.  This Army exists so that homeless people and pariahs in society might also have a chance to meet their Savior.  The words of General John Gowens still ring in my head when he said,  “Mind the Gap!”   We must still call others to mind this gap…and we must be vigilant in our mission as the Lighthouse shining out into the waters of desperation, depression, addictions, abject poverty and all the other ‘gaps’ that exist that would claim all who fall into them.

Something more for our Army to Ponder today!
To God be the glory!

*Disclaimer: The opinions and thoughts expressed here are the opinions of the writer of pastorsponderings and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and thoughts of the Salvation Army, reader discretion is advised.*

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