Tag Archives: the salvation army

Granite City Vacation Bible School

During the week of August 5, children learned as a group about heaven. The theme for Vacation Bible School was Heaven and How to Get There.

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Smallest of the bunch

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Playing together

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Wordless book crafting

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Having a great time

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Getting ready for rehearsal

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Snack time

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“I Can Only Imagine” Musical

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Reception cake

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Enjoying cake

 

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I went to church in a prison: Part 1

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 first post in a two-part series about what they learned from their experience. This post is written by Ashley Kuenstler, Content Specialist at The Salvation Army and Cardinals fan extraordinaire. 

The barbed-wire fences of Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, IL; one of the prisons where The Salvation Army ministers to on a regular basis.

The barbed-wire fences of Graham Correctional Facility in Hillsboro, IL; one of the prisons where The Salvation Army ministers to on a regular basis.

I visited a state prison for the first time Sunday, and I have to say, watching The Shawshank Redemption a million times was no help in preparing me for what I would experience while there.

I admit I was more than a little apprehensive as I approached Graham Correctional Center. The drive from my St. Louis office to the Hillsboro, Ill., facility provided more than enough time for my naïve sensibilities to play out every possible negative scenario. I was half-heartedly expecting to be led down a hallway of prison cells, dodging derogatory comments left and right. I expected an overall feeling of fear and a constantly erratic heartbeat. Thankfully, I wasn’t alone; I had two coworkers in tow who seemed pretty confident and self-assured that everything would be just fine.

When I entered the prison’s chapel, I was greeted by three men dressed in blue. One was incarcerated for burning his wife’s house down – not knowing his stepson was asleep inside; another for inciting an altercation with police; and a third for killing a man and attempting to kill a woman. According to every example Hollywood has given me, I should have been “shaking in my boots” to be in their presence. But there wasn’t an ounce of fear in my bones.

Sitting just 10 feet from me and unrestrained, the inmates were kind, respectful, and above all – remorseful. They had all resigned the arrogant and selfish mentalities that landed them in prison and replaced them with a strong sense of empathy, humility, and faith.

After hearing their stories (which I’ll share in a subsequent blog post later next week), my colleagues and I were led to the area of the chapel where Sunday worship took place. We sat quietly in the back of the room, among more than 200 prisoners. The praise band started to play and the prisoners filled the room with song. The room resembled a church sanctuary; the voices were jubilant, bibles were in every hand, and everyone’s feet were keeping the beat – including those of my coworkers. Men had their hands raised, eyes closed, and sang as if their lives depended on it; and for some of them, maybe that was true. If God hadn’t heard them before, he was certainly hearing them in that moment.

I looked out across the room and saw the weathered faces of men who had seen and endured enough hardship to embed permanent creases across their brow. And, surprisingly, the fear I had struggled with leading up to this visit was quickly replaced with my own humility.

These men were not monsters like Hollywood led me to believe. They were men who made life-altering mistakes for whatever reason and were desperate for forgiveness, to turn their misguided lives over to someone who could show them how to be the type of men mothers envision their sons to be.

At the end of the service, Major Jack Holloway – The Salvation Army’s Correctional Services Secretary – asked for any man being released that week to come forward for prayer. Two men walked confidently to the front of the room and were later joined by a third.

“Are you going home, too?” Major Holloway asked the third man.

“No,” he answered. “I just wanted to stand beside my brother and pray with him.”

And as the prisoners prayed together, it was obvious they were not in that chapel for something to do to pass the time. They were there because they knew that’s where they belonged, that this was the way to find the path to redemption they were so desperately searching for.

No one said a single mean-spirited comment to me while I was there. I wasn’t on the receiving end of any cross looks and I didn’t get shanked. But I was introduced to a population served by The Salvation Army that not many people know about. These men have lost everything and they realize it’s a consequence of their actions. But they’re ready to try again. And I can’t express how proud I am to be part of an organization that not only recognizes them, but does everything in its power to ensure they succeed this time around.

Even The Shawshank Redemption had a happy ending. And I have no doubt these men have one in their future, too.

To support our efforts to reach out to prisoners or to support any of our other programs, please donate here. And thank you.

Fathers and Father-Figures, We Love You!

Major Kris Wood goofing around with kids at the Maplewood corps

 

 

Father’s Day is all about celebrating our fathers and father-figures who have dedicated their lives to helping and guiding us. We respect those who influence and motivate us and lead us in the right direction.

 

Major Jack Holloway with his sons
Grant (left), entering the College for Officer’s Training
Brain (right), Marines Gunnery Sergeant

 

The mission of The Salvation Army is to help those in times of need and our officers do just that. As our leaders, they show us how a little attention can go a long way and brighten the faces of children in numerous communities.

Thank you to the officers for going the extra mile.
Happy Father’s Day!

 

OKC + Joplin: Partners in Recovery

Two years ago in our division, we saw one of the worst disasters Missouri had ever seen.

We all know about the devastation that occurred in Joplin in 2011; the EF-5 tornado that left miles of destruction and families and neighbors who had lost their lives from the impact. And to this day, they are still working to rebuild their city with the help of The Salvation Army. During this time when families pulled their loved ones out of the rubble, our neighbor to the southwest–the great state of Oklahoma–came to the aid of Joplin and brought supplies, volunteers, and emotional support.

So when Moore, Okla. was hit with an EF-5 tornado two days before the two year anniversary of Joplin, there was no question that we needed to support our neighbors. The Salvation Army’s Joplin Corps Community Center immediately started taking up a collection of supplies to give to those – who just like them – lost everything. Joplin Corps officers Lt. James and Jamie Curry spearheaded the effort and the supplies were taken to Oklahoma.

We are proud to show you the supplies that the Joplin community collected to send to Oklahoma, and we are so proud to give back to those who gave so much to us two years ago.

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Where is Your Spirit?

CFD Flyer 2013

The Great Midwest Football League has started its 7th season and is coming to Mehlville High School. St. Louis Spirit will be playing against MO Valley Pitbulls on June 8 for Family Christian Weekend. Dedicating their 2013 Spring/Summer season to alleviate homelessness in the St. Louis area, St. Louis Spirit is partnering with The Salvation Army to help the community.

St. Louis Spirit is an adult amateur football team in the Great Midwest Football League. The team is invested in community support and devotes each season to a specific charitable effort. The team is unpaid for their time but playing for St. Louis Spirit allows the players to strengthen their skills to possibly advance to a college or professional football career while also helping the community.

In an effort to “Sack Homelessness,” St. Louis Spirit will hold six events this season: Armed Forces Day, Christian Family Day (6/8), Fatherhood Celebration (6/22), Youth Celebration Day (7/6), Sack Homelessness (8/3), and Ladies Night (7/20).

Christian Family Weekend will be on June 8 at Mehlville High School. This event will be full of fun with a live Gospel Concert and football game. The concert will begin at 1:30 PM and kickoff between St. Louis Spirit and MO Valley Pitbulls will be at 3:30 PM. St. Louis Spirit is partnering with The Salvation Army for this event. If you donate a canned good to The Salvation Army, you will get a free drink. Tickets and information can be found at spiritfootball.org.

Our motivation

Our motivation

This hangs in our Divisional Headquarters in St. Louis. It is a constant reminder for why The Salvation Army was founded, and the vast amount of work that still remains. This motivates us everyday. What keeps you going?

Day of Unity Video – Joplin

One year ago this week, a tornado changed the lives of thousands in Joplin, and thousands more who gave of their time and heart to work toward rebuilding. It was a wonderful experience this week to take a break from the work and reflect on how far the community has come. We continue to be a driving force in the recovery there daily.

We hold this community in our hearts and prayers, and look forward to another year of even greater strides and impressive improvements.

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?

 

Volunteers Needed – No, YOU are needed

By: Sheila R. Davis, Volunteer Coordinator

Have you ever read the volunteer opportunities listed by an organization and thought, “hmm, nothing here applies to my skills and/or interest?”  For various reasons (often monetary, time and or staff limitations, etc.,) non-profits post what can appear to be generic position descriptions.  Instead of being the end point, I believe these position descriptions can be a jumping off point to match talented, creative volunteers with meaningful projects. However, it will take effort for organizations and potential volunteers to make this happen. 

The next time you come across a volunteer opportunity that doesn’t seem to fit your interests or skills, don’t just move on.  Think about it; maybe the position can be tweaked to better match your skills or maybe the description can be a springboard to another opportunity tailor made for your skill set.  For example an organization has an opening for a food pantry volunteer. Maybe stocking shelves is not your cup of tea, but you have experience as a dietician.  You could offer your services to educate the pantry clients on cost effective ways to make healthy, nutritious meals on limited budget.  An organization lists a position as “youth activities aide”, you may not have experience working with children or teens, but you’re a computer programmer.  You could offer to teach a workshop on Programming 101. Who knows, you may end up inspiring the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  Let’s say you have experience in Human Resources, you could offer to help the Volunteer Coordinator (hint, hint) update the current volunteer descriptions or create new ones.

Experts call this “skills-based volunteering”, which means leveraging the specialized skills and talents of individuals to strengthen the infrastructure of nonprofits, helping them build and sustain their capacity to successfully achieve their missions.

There are many benefits to skill based volunteering for both the organization and for the volunteer. The nonprofit is able to take advantage of the volunteer’s professional knowledge and business expertise and, at the same time, the volunteer receives cost-effective training and development. For volunteers, skills-based volunteering provides the opportunity to use their expertise to make a measurable impact on issues they care about.

To learn more about skills based volunteering, click here.

To learn more about volunteering with The Salvation Army in Missouri and Southern Illinois, click here.

A Baptism of Forgiving Tears

By: Major Kris Wood, Maplewood Officer

On a bitter cold and windy December Saturday in the year 2010, a Salvation Army bell ringer named Derek was about three hours into an eight hour shift when the wind shifted and blasted the bone chilling cold into his face, followed by small projectiles of ice crystals that pelted him in the face and bounced to the concrete at his feet. Derek shivered, and pulled his collar tighter around his thick football player’s neck. A woman passed by the kettle without noticing either the bell or Derek. “Merry Christmas,” Derek said with a smile on his face. He did not feel merry at the moment. It had been a long and bitter bell ringing season and his body was reaching its limit of enduring the battering of the winter weather and the constant echoing of the bell in his right hand. Derek told himself that he could make it through another day; suffering through the cold was worth it when he thought of all the people he was helping by raising money for The Salvation Army. He pictured a little girl he had seen at The Salvation Army building standing half hidden behind her Mommy’s leg as they waited for a bag of groceries from the food pantry. He knew that his bell ringing was making a difference in that little girl’s life so he rang the bell with more energy and forced that smile to stay upon his face.

“You stupid, &$#@#$!” someone said, standing only inches to his left, shouting at the top of his lungs the most horrible of all racial slurs. “Shut that bell up and go home where you belong!” the angry man continued. Derek, a large and muscular man, felt his fists tighten at his sides; the deep anger that only an African American man can understand when someone degrades him once again in such a brutal manner; well up inside of him. Derek stepped back, ready to defend himself from the angry man’s assault. “You heard me, boy!” the man shouted, and then entered the store that Derek was assigned to stand beside for the day. Catching himself before saying or doing something in response, Derek called out to the man, “Sir, You have a Merry Christmas!” With that, the life changing confrontation ended. The man was gone and Derek was left alone standing outside the store, ringing the bell, enduring the cold. Inside Derek’s mind words bounced around, questions arose and his anger seethed throughout his body. Derek decided to do what his Grandmother had taught him to do when someone mocked him or made fun of him; he prayed.
“Dear Lord. Please help that man. He’s so angry. Forgive him and help me to forgive him. Amen.”
Derek finished the day with a vehement purpose to make eye contact with and smile upon every person coming in and out of the store. By the time the Salvation Army van pulled up, Derek had seen customers fill two kettles with money; his best day ever on the kettles. The officer driving the van asked sincerely, “How was your day, Derek?” He smiled and reached out his hand to shake Derek’s hand. Derek hesitated just a moment, and then looked his friend, the officer, in the eyes. He saw caring and acceptance from his friend and shook his hand in return, nearly breaking the bones in the officer’s hand.
“What’s wrong?” the officer asked, seeing the momentary pause in the greeting, so unusual for the usually jolly bell ringer.
“Nothing,” Derek muttered as he took his place seated with the other bell ringers. The officer and everyone else in the van knew that something was wrong as Derek stared silently out of the van window as they drove toward the next kettle location. Derek usually filled the van with his joyful laughter and casual joking with his fellow bell ringers. He was known for his strong pats on the back, loud outbursts of laughter and his huge smile. Everyone loved Derek because Derek freely gave from his loving heart to everyone he met, no matter who they were, where they were from or what they had done. This day, there had been a change in Derek and all the bell ringers rode in silence, disturbed by Derek’s distance from each of them as his eyes scanned the trees rushing past the window.

After all the other bell ringers had left for home, Derek pulled his Salvation Army officer friend aside and told him about the angry man and the disturbing confrontation earlier in the day. The officer was upset and shaken by the entire event. He promised Derek that he would never have to go back to that location again. He promised that all people in the world did not look at others through bigoted eyes, scarred by prejudice and rage, but that most people were caring and kind and would never hate someone because of their race. Derek knew that it was all just a weak attempt to make him feel better but it was not working. “Major,” Derek interrupted. “That man, he ain’t so different from most others. I seen it all before. People do hate people cuz of their skin. It aint nothin’ new to me. Black men learn to accept it as just the way things are in the world.” The major was silent, embarrassed that his words had rung empty, the reality of the world crashing them to the ground.
“I’m sorry, Derek,” he said, unsure of what else to say.
“It’s all good, Major,” Derek said. “I look at it this way. That man needed to hear my Merry Christmas more than anyone else I have ever seen on the kettle. If he didn’t like me then that’s his problem. My job was to tell him to have a Merry Christmas and I did my job. I’ve got to let it go now or it will make me angry just like him, so I’m letting it go.” Derek waved his hands from side to side above his head as if releasing responsibility, stress and shame. Derek smiled and bear hugged the officer. “Put me back there tomorrow, Major,” he demanded.
“You sure, Derek?” the officer asked.
Derek smiled and said, “If I don’t go back and raise the money for the kids then that man and evil people like him win and I aint gonna let him win!”

One year later the wind was warm and blowing across the same parking lot moving spring like air into Derek’s face. What a difference a year makes. Sunshine was blinding his eyes and he rang the bell in his shirt sleeves, wearing no jacket. He was smiling and ringing the bell wishing everyone that past a Merry Christmas. A little old lady, so typical of little old ladies; small, hunched over, wearing a wool winter coat topped by a red scarf, glasses perched on the tip of her nose; smiled at Derek and said, “You are a jolly elf aren’t you?” Derek smiled and said thank you to the kind woman who put her money into the kettle. “I remember you from last year,” she said. “You have such a sweet smile.” Derek smiled his broadest smile.
“Thank you, Ma’am,” he said. “Merry Christmas to you.” The little old lady shuffled away behind her shopping cart, waving at Derek as she left. Derek looked forward to those moments when someone shared a kind moment with him, as if they brought hope back into a world that seemed to be getting harder to live in and in which to make a living.
“I’ve been looking for you,” a familiar voice said, once again catching Derek by surprise as he stood inches from his face off to the left of the kettle stand. The voice was THE voice of the man from the year before. Derek felt his heart start to beat rapidly; fear made his palms sweat and the hair stand up on the back of his neck.
“You didn’t listen to me, did you?” the man asked. Derek turned to look into the gray sunken eyes of the man. He looked older than Derek remembered, stress lines edging his eyes and dark shadows hanging beneath them.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Derek said. “But, I had to stay here and ring my bell so that we can help the little kids that need help. I wasn’t about to let you make me leave. You can hate me as much as you want, but I ring for the kids.” The man hesitated and stared into Derek’s eyes. Derek kept ringing the bell and met the empty stare with his own filled with kindness.
“I’ve hated you every day for the past year,” the man said. Derek was silent.
“I’ve hated you every day because of what you said,” the man continued. He looked down at the tops of his brown leather shoes and dug his hands into the front pockets of his jeans. Derek kept watching and ringing the bell.
“I have hated you because you told me to have a Merry Christmas after I looked you in the eye and called you the most horrible thing I could think of calling you.” Derek smiled in response. The man began to cry. Long streams of tears rolled down his wrinkled cheeks and his shoulders began to shake. He tried to continue telling Derek his story. “I’ve hated you because,…” He paused to wipe the tears from his cheeks. “Because when I was so horrible to you, you showed me kindness. I, I, … I didn’t deserve kindness, I deserved for you to hit me, to yell at me, to do something to hurt me back, but you didn’t. You didn’t and every single day of this year I have thought about that. Every day I have thought about why you didn’t yell back at me or punch me in the mouth, but every day I keep seeing you smile and tell me to have a Merry Christmas.”
The man began to sob again, this time turning his back to Derek to hide his shame. Derek put his large paw of a right hand on the man’s shoulder and said, “It’s alright, sir.” The man turned and buried his face into Derek’s shoulder and reached his arms awkwardly around Derek’s back. “I’m so, sorry,” he said. “I’m so, so sorry.” He cried out loud, sounding like a small child in Derek’s strong embrace. “It’s okay, sir,” Derek repeated.
“No, it’s not okay,” the man said. “It will never be okay. I shouldn’t have done that, I shouldn’t have…. Will you ever be able to forgive me?” he asked looking up at Derek as he continued crying against his shoulder. Derek gently moved the man away from himself and said, “I already forgave you last year when I told you, Merry Christmas.”
The man looked at Derek; bewildered, unsure, not trusting. It was too much to believe, too much to handle.
“You forgave me?” he asked Derek.

Derek gave his big, kind smile and said, “A year ago, sir. I forgave you a year ago.” The man backed away from Derek and prepared to walk away. Then, he stopped and turned back to face Derek and said, “You keep ringing that bell to help the kids and you have a Merry Christmas.”

Derek felt the healing of tears well up in his eyes and they flowed freely down his cheeks cleansing him of the past, freeing him from the pain; a baptism of forgiving. “Merry Christmas!” Derek yelled out to the parking lot in the man’s direction. The man turned and smiled at Derek and waved his hand high in return. Indeed, it was a Merry Christmas.

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