From the top: Thoughts from the General
by General John Larsson
MY wife, Freda, and I are still living in the afterglow of the reception we received when we visited the village of Kanejpur in Bangladesh. The villagers had turned out in force and, as we made our way around the village on the narrow mud pathways, the happy crowd of well-wishers – adults and children – surged all around us. They left us in no doubt that we were most welcome. The genial presence of a police sergeant in full dress uniform, by courtesy of the Jessore authorities, added to the pomp of the scene.
Kanejpur lies about half an hour’s drive from Jessore. The track got narrower as we approached, and when we entered the village about the first thing we saw was the Salvation Army hall. As the crowd pressed in, the corps officer spoke to us about the practical and spiritual ministry to the villagers that emanates from that building. And on the tour of the village we saw the simple structure where the Army runs its educational programmes for young children.
I could not help contrasting the warmth of the welcome that we met in Kanejpur with the hostility that the Army’s pioneer in the Indian subcontinent, Major Frederick Booth-Tucker, met when he and his young companion, Arnold Weerasooriya, tried to enter the village of Kheda. The story has become part of Salvation Army folklore.
Major Booth-Tucker and Arnold Weerasooriya, dressed in the style of holy men as they sought to communicate the gospel of Jesus in a relevant way, wanted to lodge in the village but the villagers refused them hospitality. The two men therefore retreated to a spot just outside the village and took rest under a tamarind tree.
They eventually fell asleep, and some of the more curious villagers gathered round them as they slept. They were amazed to find that the Sahib – Booth-Tucker – was barefoot, and that his feet were blistered and full of sores. They said to one another, ‘This man has sacrificed for us and we have turned him away without food and shelter.’
Conscience-stricken, they sat down at some distance and watched. When Major Booth-Tucker woke up he took out his Bible and began to read. The villagers gathered round and soon began asking questions. The major found his opportunity to share the good news. The villagers were so impressed that they invited them back into the village and summoned everyone there to hear the visitors.
Frederick Booth-Tucker was later famously to remark: ‘I preached my best sermon with my feet.’ And the Army he established on that great subcontinent has taken that as its watchword. It is sacrificial service and sacrificial proclamation that makes an impact.
The rapturous welcome that Freda and I received when entering Kanejpur was, in a sense, the villagers saying thank you to The Salvation Army for the many years that such service has been rendered in that part of the world. In the Indian subcontinent as a whole we are talking about more than 120 years. But the Army has been back in Bangladesh – and the word ‘back’ is right for Frederick Booth-Tucker pioneered in that area over a century ago – for over 30 years. It recommenced in 1970 as a relief operation following a severe cyclone.
The work is expanding rapidly. There are twice as many Bangladeshi officers now as there were five years ago. And a new session of officer-cadets was about to begin the training programme when we were there. When one visits the clinics and schools, the corps and social centres, sees what is being accomplished by programmes meeting specific needs, and hears the stories of those whose circumstances have been transformed by the Army’s microcredit programmes – one can understand the great warmth of the welcome we received when we arrived in Kanejpur.
For our part, Freda and I want to thank those whose sacrificial service motivated the welcome. It was really they who should have been there! General John Larsson is the international leader of The Salvation Army.