The General unveils a plaque by the tamarind tree where, 100 years previously, The Salvation Army began its work on Antigua
The international leaders receive a warm Caribbean welcome
General John Larsson is the international leader of The Salvation Army
From the Top: A Burning in Their Bones
by The General sees the pioneering spirit of old still alive in today's Salvationists
In May this year, my wife Freda and I stood under the tamarind tree on the beautiful Caribbean island of Antigua where 100 years previously, almost to the day, Captain J. D. Grant with his wife and five children conducted an open-air meeting — and thus started the Army’s work on the island.
A large crowd had gathered for the unveiling of a plaque to mark the spot and commemorate the centenary. Two of Captain Grant’s grandsons – now elderly gentlemen – were present and took part.
Captain Grant was Antiguan by birth but had met the Army in Jamaica. He had returned with his family to Antigua for a holiday. But holiday or no holiday, he wanted to share the good news of Jesus Christ with his own people. Converts were won as a result of that open-air meeting, and within weeks a corps was opened.
As I stood there under the tamarind tree, I was struck by the fact that Captain Grant did not have to conduct that open-air meeting. After all, he had gone home to Antigua for a holiday, not to start the Army there. Nobody would have thought any the less of him if he had spent the time on the beach. There was no external compulsion. But within him the word of the gospel must have been, as Jeremiah puts it, like a ‘fire shut up in my bones’, the kind of burning in the bones that made the apostle Paul exclaim: ‘Woe is me if I preach not the gospel!’ Captain Grant simply could not keep the good news to himself!
Standing under the tamarind tree must have been good for the mental processes, for I further reflected that the Army’s work in my own country of Sweden also started because someone was on holiday. That someone was none other than Bramwell Booth, the eldest son of the Army’s Founder, William Booth.
The 22-year-old ‘Chief of Staff’ had suffered a health breakdown in 1878 and it had been arranged for him to have some weeks of rest in Sweden. He did not have to preach the gospel. On the contrary, he was there in order to have a rest from public work. And yet he could not keep the good news to himself!
The burning in his bones was so strong that he started to hold meetings at the rest home where he was staying. As a result, Hanna Ouchterlony was converted, and very soon afterwards she commenced the Army’s work in Sweden.
As the plaque honouring the Grants was unveiled in the glorious sunshine of Antigua, it seemed to me that it symbolised the story of the Army everywhere. Salvationists today do not preach the gospel or
render service in the name of Christ because some authority outside of them tells them they have to. They do so because of an inner compulsion, a burning in their bones, born of the love of God.
The examples are endless, but take just one: the Soldiers of the Cross in Mizoram, India. More than 250 lay-Salvationists of all ages serve today as Soldiers of the Cross in Mizoram and surrounding states. These Salvationists have felt the call of God to leave home to become missioners for Christ. It is cross-cultural mission they engage in, for each state is a different world, with a different language and different customs. Some go as couples, some as family units and some go alone.
The Soldiers of the Cross visit homes, work with the local people in their paddy fields, open small centres where they preach the gospel and offer basic education for children. They serve their communities in practical ways and get involved with the challenges facing them, including health education. They give out Bibles – and pray. They are sponsored and supported by the Army’s headquarters, and also by friends, or a corps, or a home league. But their conditions of service can only be described as very tough.
Why do Salvationists in Mizoram offer to become Soldiers of the Cross and engage in this costly form of ministry? One thing is certain, there is no one externally who tells them they have to do it! In fact nobody would blame them if they did not set out on their demanding missions.
It can only be that they, like Captain Grant of old in Antigua, feel a deep burning in their bones – a passion born of God. And even though they don’t have to, they nevertheless want to respond to that compelling call within. They do so joyfully – and with a sense of privilege.
This is the spirit that made The Salvation Army what it is. Thank God it is still alive today in the lives of thousands of Salvationists around the world.