Tag Archives: hope

I went to church in a prison: Part 2

The Salvation Army Midland Division’s communications department recently visited Graham Correctional Center in Hillsboro, Ill., in an effort to learn more about the Army’s services offered to prisoners. This is the second post in a two-part series about what they learned from their experience. This post is written by Ashley Kuenstler, Content Specialist for The Salvation Army and Cardinals fan extraordinaire. Part One can be found here.

Nathaniel knew his wife was cheating on him. He had been slamming drink after drink at a local bar when a friend called to tell him there was a man at his house who shouldn’t be there.

“We were technically separated, but I still had keys to the house. In my eyes, the only choice I had was to go to that house and take care of the situation,” he said. “The devil had me in his grips and I had no idea.”

Nathaniel arrived at the house to find neither his wife or a mysterious man. But after listening to her voicemails and confirming his friend’s allegations, Nathaniel was filled with a rage that sequestered any kind of normal thought process. He lit a piece of paper on fire, threw it on her bed, and left the house.

“I had no idea that my stepson was asleep inside,” Nathaniel said. “He died in that fire, and it’s my fault. It was the worst day of my life. I’ve spent 11 years in prison with that on my mind all day, every day.”

He paused for a moment and looked down to his folded hands. My mind could not physically grapple with what Nathaniel must endure to his mind and his spirit on a daily basis. I wanted to say something comforting to ease the pain I saw in his face, but the only thing my body could manage was a single tear that raced down my left cheek. My heart broke for him and it broke for the loss of his stepson. But for Nathaniel, this is what it took for him to change his life.

“Thanks to God, I’m not the same person anymore,” he said. “I’ve been surrounded by good people and I’ve been introduced to the word of God. I learned how to be a man and I’m blessed to be able to turn this situation into a chance to help others, to the be the kind of man others can look up to.”

Major Jack Holloway standing in front of Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, IL

Major Jack Holloway standing in front of Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, IL

Major Jack Holloway – The Salvation Army’s Correctional Services Secretary – said seeing this kind of transformation is what continually inspires him while working in the Army’s prison ministry.

“It’s an often forgotten population that I don’t want us to forget,” Major Holloway said. “I continually meet men who have no sense of value or future and I’m able to tell them, ‘Yes, you do have great value and purpose.’ And then I get to prove it to them through the word of God.”
Major Holloway has spent the last three years travelling to prisons throughout Missouri and Illinois, finding placement for inmates upon their release, helping them find employment, ministering to them, and getting to know them on a personal level.

“I meet with them on a one-on-one basis as often as I can to just talk,” Major Holloway said. “We talk about how their day is going, what’s weighing on their heart, and how God can help to fix it. They know what they did was wrong, and they realize there is a penalty for that action. They dream of a better life and a chance to start over, to make their lives worth something, and we are there to help them realize that dream.”

For Ollie – a former gang member imprisoned for murdering a man and trying to kill a woman – his faith and trust in The Salvation Army and its message was solidified when he realized Major Holloway knew his name.

“One day, I covered up my nametag to see if he would know my name. He knew it without missing a beat,” Ollie said. “And then it just hit me: I didn’t need the gang life or anything associated with it to be memorable. I just had to be a good and righteous man and lead by example.”

For Major Hollway – seeing the transformation firsthand is something that never fails to strike a chord.

“One of my most memorable experiences in the prison ministry was several months ago while I was giving a sermon on Sunday morning,” he said. “I was reading scripture and compared the men to clay and God to a potter. I said, ‘A potter’s clay is often marred and scarred and full of imperfections, but the potter will never throw his clay away. And as I looked out over the men in the congregation, I could just see it hit 20 of them right between the eyes. I saw it in their faces and I could see that transformation take place instantaneously. It struck such a chord with me and it’s something I’ll never forget.”

The Salvation Army offers volunteer opportunities in the prison system for people interested in working with inmates and furthering their transformation. In order to keep in accordance with prison regulations, the approval process can be long and complicated, but definitely rewarding. Volunteers can assist in fatherhood classes, general education, spiritual guidance, and more.

“There are people who volunteer their time and work with us on a regular basis,” Ollie said. “I’d never seen a man do anything for free – and they are doing that for me of all people? That changed my heart.

“To so many people, we are scum. We are not worth a second glance, we’re not worth anything at all,” Nathaniel said. “But The Salvation Army and Major Holloway realize that’s not true. God knows that’s not true.

“I am forever changed from this experience and have given my life to God. And when He allows me to leave this place, he will have me until it’s time for me to come home to Him.”

To learn more about The Salvation Army’s prison ministry or how you can volunteer, please visit http://www.stlsalvationarmy.org.

This March Madness, Join God’s Squad

By: Major K. Kendall Mathews, Columbia Salvation Army

K. Kendall Mathews played high school basketball in Detroit. This worn picture is of Mathews when he was a member of the varsity for the Detroit Mumford Mustangs in 1978.

March madness is upon us and many NCAA basketball teams are looking to extend their season to include the NCAA tournament. I know many players have worked hard in an attempt to be the superlative team in college basketball. For them winning is everything, as each team plays like it’s the last game.

God wants us to be focused on more than winning the basketball playoffs. He wants us to be a conqueror in our battle against sin and humiliation and to live each day as if it were our last. To prevail, we can’t be on God’s All-Glory team one moment, and be a bench warmer the next moment, just because life is not going our way. We must be on His team and playing by His rules that are found in the Holy Bible. “For all have sinned and fallen short of his glory of God.” – Romans 3:23

The question is, “Whose team are you on?” I hope you are playing on God’s squad. There is no losing while you’re practicing Christian standards or living out your salvation on God’s side. Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that Satan will leave you alone. He will not, so be prepared to work through the tough times of life. We are Christian winners because of the salvation offered to us by Jesus Christ. He promises to be a very present help in the time of dilemma. Because Jesus whitewashed sin by dying on the cross, rising from the dead and promising to return, we have a greater hope for eternal life.

God is our spiritual coach and we should surrender to his ways because He knows what’s best for us when life seems to overtake us. God compensates those who are submissive to his teachings. Playing on his team is saying, “Yes, Lord,” to his ways in all practical life situations. Our calling is to trust and obey Him, even when we don’t want to, because He is an everlasting-life coach. Jesus surrendered his life graciously when He relinquished it on that old rugged cross. You see, humility and “teachability” on God’s squad is responding to his voice without resistance, and being open to learning from his Son, Jesus Christ, as our supernatural team captain.

Playing on his team is our willingness to be taught by God, to put aside what we think and erasing from our heart any preconceived notions when we consider the possibilities that God might be taking us in new directions on his winning team. Winning isn’t everything, but being on God’s team surely has greater value and an everlasting benefit that will stand the test of time. With God as our coach, Jesus as our captain, and the Holy Spirit as our guide, we can not lose in this game of life. I don’t know about you, but I want to be undefeated on God’s squad. It may be March Madness, but for me it’s Mission Madness – my relationship and teamwork with God is first and foremost.

I recall a high school basketball game in Detroit, where there were three seconds left in the game. The coach called timeout and worked out a play where I was to take the last shot. I thought to myself, “I can win the game and be the hero.” Well, the ball came to me and I took the last second shot, only to miss it. We lost the game. I felt so bad, thinking that it was all my fault. In the locker room all my teammates reassured me that we lose as a team and win as a team.

Unlike that high school game, for those of us who are on God’s squad, we win every time; losing is not a part of this game of life. Although the Christian life is not a cakewalk, we will have our temptations and trials just like Christ. So, rejoice that our Christly captain took that last second shot for the world when he said to God our spiritual coach; I’ll surrender my life, I’ll give my all, so the unsaved may obtain salvation from sin. This fearless victory over death secures a win for those who receive it. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” – Isaiah 41:10

Healthy competition is a good thing when it is kept in the right perspective and proper intention. From a Christian point of view, however, it’s a competitive fight between good and evil, God and Satan. We have to play both offense and defense. We know that Jesus overcame Satan when He defeated death on the cross, but too many times we have to be reminded of that fact. In the game of life, our souls are being influenced by what’s around us and whether or not God is our spiritual coach. Our eternal future is on the line making it essential to come to blows with Satan and stay on God’s squad, truly connected to him. We read in Romans 8:35-39, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let’s team up with our Lord and captain Jesus Christ where losing is out of the question, but winning over sin becomes our eternal goal of Christian life.

Jesus did not tell us that all our drives to the basket will be easy, but He did tell us that He will show us the way. We know that sometimes we will need to use a full-court press, but we can’t lose if our daily practice includes keeping the faith and keeping our eyes on our captain. As March Madness begins, think of whose team you will play on from a Christian perspective. Will it be on God’s squad or Satan’s losing lineup? It’s your call, but I would strongly encourage you to pick Christ to be your captain and allow God to be your coach and a victorious life is but one shot away. Have you heard the song, Victory in Jesus by Eugene M. Bartlett (1885-1941): “I heard an old, old story, how the Saviour came from glory, How He gave life on Calvary to save a wretch life me; I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood’s atoning, Then I repented of my sins and won the victory. O victory in Jesus, my Saviour, forever. He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood; He loved me ere I knew Him, and all my love is due Him – He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood.”

So, when the final buzzer sounds, whose team will you be on, God’s squad or Satan’s losing lineup?

 

Have Hope and Be Holy

By: Captain AmyJo Ferguson, O’Fallon (MO) Community Center

1 Peter 1: 13 – 2: 3

Last year at The Salvation Army food pantry in O’Fallon, MO, about 25 to 35 families would come in every month.  This year, that number has increased to 250 to 350 families each month.  It is a sad statistic, one which my husband and I share a lot.  Without fail everyone blames the economy.  While the lack of jobs, the loss of retirement accounts, and the inability to pay off creditors is certainly partly to blame, I have seen another thing.  The food pantry used to be a place of last resort, a place that folks only visited after every other resource was expended, because there was always the hope that things would get better.  Folks would let their cupboards dwindle to nothingness, cut down on meals, spend money reserved for other bills on food because in just a few days, with just the next paycheck, things would get better.  Things were always bound to get better.  Today, this is not true.  For many of our clients, the food pantry is a regular weekly or monthly visit, a part life, because things are not going to get better.  The job will never be found.  The hours lost will never come back.  The bills never seem to get paid.  Although I am not sure we can quantify this so easily, it would seem that the food shelf has experienced a tenfold increase in need because there has been a tenfold decrease in hope.

It occurs to me that the same thing often happens in our Christian walk. We lose hope and as a result, we are not willing to give our all:  unwilling to share Christ with one more person because so many others have not listened, unwilling to give a tithe because we might not have enough left over for our needs, unwilling to take on any other responsibility because we might get burned out.  What’s the matter with us?  We have lost our hope:  the hope that God will be true and faithful to his promises.

Unfortunately, it is during these times of uncertainty and trouble that hope is even more important.  Peter wrote to people like us, people who were not sure what tomorrow would bring.  To those people, he said, “set your hope fully” (1 Peter 1: 13), hope perfectly, hope to the very end.    This was not a polite suggestion or a devotional thought thrown out to his readers.  It was an imperative, a command.  Do not doubt.  Do not waiver.  Hope.  Hope like a child who goes to bed on Christmas Eve with the absolutely certainty that Santa Clause will have arrived by morning.  Hope like the bride who stands at the back entrance of the church knowing that her groom awaits her in the front.  Peter is talking about a brave hope, a hope that creates action.  This is hope founded upon the assurance of our relationship with Jesus Christ.  Since he has saved our very souls, how could he ever let us down?

When we possess this kind of hope, it allows us to throw ourselves with abandon upon Jesus’ promises and to be the Holy people that God wills us to be.  Allow me to be bold here, because Peter certainly was.  If we are people of God, people with an eternal hope, then Holy people need not fear the next step, whatever next step God may be asking us to take:  feeding ten times the number of people that we fed a year ago, witnessing to a friend, giving whatever amount God has laid on our heart to give, agreeing to a new ministry.  Just as Peter challenged his readers to “love one another deeply” (1: Peter 1: 22) and “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” (1 Peter 2: 1); God is challenging us today.  Will we meet those challenges with a sort of resignation that we will do merely what we can or what we must? Or, will we step forward boldly and declare our hope to the world?

New Year, New Hope, New Challenges

NEW YEAR, NEW HOPE, NEW CHALLENGES: A BLOG SERIES

By: Danni Eickenhorst, Midland Division

The bellringers who usher in the Christmas season so brightly with the jingle of their bell have put away their kettles for another year, but the Tree of Lights campaign continues through the end of January, and the work we do will continue for as long as there is support.

365 days a year, The Salvation Army provides homeless services, food pantry assistance, rent and utility supplements, youth programming, senior services, emergency disaster response, ministry and more. 82 cents of every dollar we receive from our donors goes directly into programming that changes lives in the St. Louis area.

Because the facts and figures for 2011 aren’t quite in yet, let’s take a look at the work of The Salvation Army in 2010.

In 2010, The Salvation Army’s Midland Division (Missouri and Southern Illinois):

  • Provided recreation opportunities at local community centers for 115,000 individuals, primarily low-income youth.
  • Assisted 170 individuals with more than 5,000 nights of transitional housing.
  • Distributed more than 39,000 toys at Christmas to children and families in need.
  • Served more than 50,000 people through feeding programs such as our community center soup kitchens located throughout the division.
  • Provided more than 170 individuals with access to affordable workforce housing in the Downtown St. Louis area through our Railton apartments.
  • Served 4,503 individuals at our Harbor Light facility which provides housing and rehabilitation services to veterans and homeless men.
  • Visited with and ministered to shut-ins, patients in hospitals, nursing homes and infirmaries. Distributed more than 27,000 gifts and publications to these individuals.
  • Gave more than 1,200 backpacks filled with school supplies to needy children who would otherwise have had to go to school without supplies.

In 2011, The Salvation Army Midland Division continued to provide service daily in all of these areas and more, as needed, while facing significant shortages and reductions in government support through tax credits and other programs. Individuals who once supported The Salvation Army financially began coming to seek out their own assistance and donations began to diminish. Natural disasters came in large numbers and epic proportions, and we answered the call to serve every time.

In order to continue being good stewards of the gifts God and donors provide, The Salvation Army cannot spend money than it receives in donations. Because of the reduction in support and the increase in need, we have had to turn away more and more requests for assistance, and it breaks the hearts of our staff and officers to have to do so.

We are hopeful that in 2012 we will begin to see a groundswell of support, that as we share the stories of the work we do, hearts will be touched and support will be given so that we can continue to change lives throughout the New Year.

Exciting work is being done in the St. Louis area and we are proud to be doing it. Thank you for your support, whether it be in spirit, in time or in dollars given. We simply couldn’t do it without you.

To find out more about how you can get involved in helping us in 2012, please click here.

To learn more about The Salvation Army’s programs, click here.

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