Category Archives: Conference of Leaders

Stories are signposts

Walking in Singapore today towards Chinatown I passed several places where a god was worshipped. First I walked by St. Andrews Church. Then almost next to each other on South Bridge road was a Mosque, a Hindu Temple and a Buddhist temple. It is a relevant question today for people – is there a one-and-only, living God?

I think that one simple and still decisive way through which one can get on the right track to God, is to follow the stories. Stories, testimonies are like signposts. Good stories will lead to a good God. And the “signposts” leading in the same direction will somehow be connected by using tha same “colour-combinations” although all are put there by different people.

In our morning Bible Study Groups (during International Conference of Leaders) personal stories often came up as a way of understanding God’s word. Some were shared by Colonel Prema Varughese who together with her husband Wilfred are leaders in India Northern Territory. This is a story she retold.

OrissaIn the state of Orissa there is a lady in the Salvation Army working with self-help groups among Hindu women. She came to hear about a man who was in need of blood transfusion for an operation. No one in his community offered to give theirs so the woman said that she could do it. The man was a bit worried as the thinking is that it is not OK to mix hindu blood and Christian blood (and a woman on top of that). But he had no choice and accepted the donor as the blood groups matched. The operation went well and he was healed. When he came home he went to his community leaders, and specially the priests, and said: “Look here, I was in need of blood and you did not help me but this Christian woman did. And you consider them enemies and prosecute them! I saw real love in them and I’m going to join this group.”

Colonel Prema does not know what has happened after that but she will follow this up. I’m praying that there will be another good story to tell.

Self-help groups, by the way, are organized in areas where Christians are not allowed to preach or to pray. They are reaching out to women, who are considered second-class citizens and traditionally not allowed to handle money. They are teaching the women to address issues in their society, get micro-credits to start small businesses and generally empower them and lift them socially.

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Colonels Prema and Wilfrid Varughese

This story encourages me. So different from explanations I read in the buddhist temple during my walk. There were descriptions of several halls, all with 16 places of punishment where people fall until they have completed the punishment. Thank God for the story about Jesus. And he is creating ongoing stories which leaves signposts coloured by forgivness and grace.

Impact and accountability. 2014 ICL

Since we are not a philosophical society but ”A God-raised, Spirit-filled Army” it should be an outcome of our nature that we do not dwell on words but are ready to go into action. The theme Measuring Impact gives the idea of spirit-filled people being agents for God, changing lives, making an impact that is visible. So, the Bible passage for Thursday’s theme at the International Conference of Leaders was interesting. We read from Luke 4:16-30, when Jesus, at the beginning of his three year mission, stands in Nazareth’s Synagogue and reads from the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

That was words. No one saw anything of that happening in front of them. Yet he said “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

The conclusion for me is that Jesus makes visions into a reality before we see them actually happen. Because he is who he is. His Kingdom has come, although not fully realized. And that way of linking the future to the present is his gift to us.

The next theme in the conference was to hear many good words about what Impact Measurement is. We were not too sure about the meaning of it all after the presentation. But then stories were shared about children from many parts of the world whose lives had been changed. Because some steps of actions and involvement by Spirit-filled people had brought good news and freedom into their lives or turned a theory of hope into a reality of hope.

I will not dwell more on explanations and questions that were frequent but take to my heart that it is good to constantly learn and re-examine what we do and its effect – not just “serving but also solving”. It was said that “this is not a Programme based tool but People focused”. Which gave me the idea that we perhaps shall change the title of the Programme Secretary to the Secretary for Transformation of People!?

Friday’s theme was Accountability. Not difficult to find Bible references there. The parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19:12-27 has many lessons to tell but the main point here being that Jesus entrusts us with responsibility. And nine out of ten people actually do well – although results are different.

The presentation talked about being accountable for people, for programmes and for money and assets. In groups we discussed about the characteristics of an accountable leader.

Many words again. We can’t do without them. But, learning from the parable from the morning I understand that Jesus wants us to go into action. There shall not be a culture of fear for doing mistakes and keeping our “mina”, our talent unused in a safe place. The culture of a Spirit-filled Army is to enjoy the freedom to dare, to do and seeing it as natural to be accountable to our Lord. If Jesus is happy, people will also be happy with our effort. Although I can’t deny we need some human systems in place too.

I think this blog-post turned a bit philosophical. And even that can be part of a Spirit-filled Army. We have the good example of our founder William Booth. The Impact measurement day started with looking at his map of Darkest England and the way out. It was based on hard facts but described a clear vision of the impact he felt called to make and the “Social Campaign” to get there.Darkest bild

 

A listening and learning conference 2014 ICL

Conferences are a venue where people talk. And that is true of the 2014 International Conference of Leaders too. But I personally find that the dominant factor here is that we listen. Salvation Army leaders from all Territories and Commands in the world and from International Headquarters are listening to each other. And fundamentally it is listening to what our Triune God is saying. To us, in this time.

As I write we are halfway through the week we spend in Singapore. Every morning starts with small-groups, sharing and and praying around Bible passages relating to the subject of the day.

The first two subjects were Adherent membership and Leadership development. We listened and shared and usually come to some points where there are varieties, often for cultural reasons, as well as finding a common foundation and goal of embodying the life and message of Jesus so the world can be saved into God’s Kingdom

Cultural differences in connection with a personal Christian faith can concern serious issues but also be quite funny. I had breakfast with a couple from Eastern India now serving in England. He at first thought it so strange to sing about the sun and using words like “there is sunshine in my life” as a metaphor for knowing Jesus. In my country, he said, we go and hide from the sun.

The overall subject for the last one and a half day has been lifestyle issues. There my listening has really given me new knowledge and understanding of the complexities when it comes to being a disciple of Jesus and giving guidelines for salvationists in various cultures. For example, in Hindu and Muslim dominated areas people come to faith in Jesus but do not dare put their name in a roll book.

Another example and question is, what constitutes a Christian marriage? Is a couple properly married when they register legally or have the church ceremony or when the dowry is paid, which can be years later? There is no use talking about exchanging rings in our international ceremony book as that never happens in many countries. You give a cup of tea or tie a string or slaughter an animal. Not to mention polygamy, whether it is official or unofficial. What shall be required of the man when he gets saved or if it is one of the wives?

The Church and homosexuality had a thorough presentation and we listen to the great variety of how this is a big or small issue in various countries. A general difference between Asian-African cultures and the West is that the West is very individualistic in its view of marriage while it is a matter for the whole family in many cultures.

Truly, my impression so far is that this conference is a learning and listening experience. We will see what will come out of the next half. New issues are on the agenda – Impact measurement and Accountability. It will be interesting to see which biblical passages they have found to prepare for that.

Skärmklipp India East

They come from a country where you hide from the sun.

Here is a link to the official Conference reports.

The end is near – and still there is hope (Toronto 7)

It is the fifth day of the conference and although it is a day with the same schedule as all the other days (apart from the outing to the Niagara Falls) we are feeling the vibrations of departure.

We have got our respective times for transport pick up to the airport tomorrow and a bit more coffee and tea is needed to keep us alert in the afternoon.

And even though we have all the comforts here that we possibly can ask for – air condition, plenty of food, fruits, coffee, tea and cakes, a comfortable room and amazing fellowship – we are reminded in various ways that this is a privilege enjoyed by a minority in the world.

When a person from Africa has been the officer of the day, which includes saying a prayer before meals, they have always included praying for those who have no food. And I seem to hear that they have plenty of faces that comes to their mind.

In the morning Bible study the theme One Army – In Hope also brought up examples of how different peoples’ circumstances are. There are all the people without hope in the affluent world because they see no meaning in life. There are the students in India who commit suicide because they fail their exams and dare not come home because no exam means no income to pay back the loan the family took to pay for university fees.

And here we are, experiencing the foundation of all hope – that God’s promises are true and that hope is guaranteed in the atonement and resurrection of Christ.

This serious, but also hopeful, theme continued with the first paper about the marginalized. It is people that society generally do not bother with, who can not just pull themselves together or who just suffer silently. But we were reminded about God’s passion for justice and redemption for all. I felt renewed in my conviction that it is God’s idea to have a Salvation Army to reach these individuals with his love.

The afternoon session about Integrated Mission connected to this. I was interested to hear that they have practised this for some time in Argentina. And there was no need for employing extra people or having more halls. For example, the officer and some soldiers went from door to door in a poor village. They asked what the people saw as the biggest problem in the community. The most common answer was that none collected their garbage. They gathered the people in someone’s home and the officer just facilitated the discussion and the local people came up with a solution to their problem. Of coursed they shared encouragement and prayers and came regularly to follow up on things. A few years later there is an outpost in the village.

I am quite sure we can adapt that way of thinking and building relationships, also called Faith Based Facilitation, to the situation in Sweden.

Ending the day with a walk in the little nearby park, I enjoyed the local wildlife – rabbits, squirrels (black ones!), birds, a butterfly and something rattling in the grass that I did not see what it was.

Soon it is Saturday, which will my big day here.

Not one without the other (Toronto 6)

Thursday morning at the conference means an early breakfast in order to be in time for the 7.30 worldwide prayer meeting. No gain without pain.

The simplicity of these prayer meetings makes it so profound. First a short reminder from General Linda Bond about Ezekiel 37 and particularly verse 9. We shall do what is our part – speak, proclaim the prophesy, the word of God. God will do what only he can do – fill the dead bodies with his Spirit.

Then, a song and prayers. We were asked to pray short, a few sentences. And, lo and behold, we did. Not long prayer sermons. The prayers were flowing one after the other as a constant trickle of living water. So empowering!

Our family-prayer group looked at One Army – In Fellowship. An old issue but still a challenge. What is true fellowship? The definition from Acts 4:32 stuck in my mind. “One in heart and mind.” Both heart and mind. Not one without the other.

First presentation was about evangelism and discipleship. It is both about reaching the neighbour you know and the unknown person at the open-air meeting. Perhaps the open-air of the internet as one said. I heard for the first time about SAVN.tv from USA West. Specially designed to reach those who don’t know what believing in Jesus is all about.

I found the second subject of the day also very interesting. Leadership. How do we make sure that the Salvation Army in the world will continue to have officers who have competencies and experience to lead us to fulfil our mission?

Both in administration and field work. Leaders in senior positions who are both women and men and not at least married women. Leaders who are both extrovert and introvert. Leaders with less years as officers who take on greater responsibilitiesand as well as those with long experience. We can’t have one without the other.

With many different cultures in the world represented I think you can imagine we came up with many interesting possibilities and challenges.

Hearing about the qualities that are needed in good leadership it can scare the most brave person off. I found great encouragement in one of the last comments from a delegate. We need to learn to develop teams where we can “lean on each other”. We are not called to be lone ranger cowboys but shepherds living with the flock.

Having said that, I will soon lean my head on the pillow and rest in the fellowship of God’s Trinitarian team.

Ansikte mot ansikte (Toronto 5)

Denna morgon satt vi ansikte mot ansikte i vår samtalsgrupp och läste i bibeln om sanningen. En armé – i sanning. Det kan se ut som ett naivt påstående. Bara i min grupp kommer vi från Indien, Nya Zeeland, Uganda, Australien, Argentina, Ghana, Hong Kong och Sverige. Vilken enskild sanning kan vara relevant i alla dessa kulturer?

Naturligtvis så handlar det om Jesus. Men inte främst som en tro formulerad i en samling doktriner utan som Guds inkarnation och framför allt utifrån sanningen att vi alla kan ha en relation med honom. En sanning som ständigt öppnar sig med nya uppenbarelser.

Med dag två avslutad så har vi också börjat känna oss bekväma med dagsrytmen och upplägget av konferensen. Det är en mycket viktig del. Man får inte till utveckling, utbyte och samverkan bara för att man placerar 130 personer i samma rum. Organisatörerna måste tänka ut ett upplägg som tillåter och uppmuntrar engagemang. Det har man verkligen lyckats med på ett fint sätt. Så här går det till.

Dagens första presentation handlade om studiematerial. En serie med häften håller på att framställas som kommer att kompletteras med filmade inslag. Serien heter En Armé och varje häfte tar upp ett ämne som t.ex: I Kristus, i kallelsen, i förbundet, i sanning etc. Det kommer också att finnas en version för ungdomar.

Efter presentationen går vi till våra smågrupper med några förslag på frågor att samtala om. Och, vad händer sedan? Ofta handlar konferenser om att man skall formulera en gemensam rekommendation. Inte här. Vi samtalar fritt och delar varandras uppfattningar. Den sista kvarten av grupp-tiden skall vi skriva ner våra egna förslag och idéer.

Var och en har ett papper med två frågor. Den första handlar om vad i denna fråga jag tänker följa upp hemma i mitt territorium. Jag tycker det är en positiv utmaning. Vi är alla ansvariga ledare och det ligger i vårt mandat att vi skall ha insikt i vilka behov och möjligheter som finns i vårt land. Och jag har större ansvarskännande för en förslag jag kommit fram till själv till skillnad från en kompromiss som den stora gruppen enats om.

Den andra frågan på papperet handlar om vad vi tycker Internationella Högkvarteret borde göra i frågan.

Därefter möts vi alla i storgrupp och det är tid för vittnesbörd. Vem som vill får dela det som man skrivit ner på sitt papper. Alla papperna samlas ihop och Generalen och Stabschefen kommer under den sista dagen att ge en respons på frågorna som ställts till IHK.

Det är att mötas ansikte mot ansikte – alla står upp för att ta ansvar för det mandat man har i sin ledaruppgift. Samma procedur följde på dagens andra presentation, om barn och ungdomar.

Dagen avlutades med ett möte ansikte mot ansikte mellan de territorier som är partners med varandra. Sverige och Norge är partners med Uganda, Sydafrika och Indien sydväst. Vi möttes, lärde känna varandra och kom på en del idéer om hur vi kan bidra till varandras utveckling.

Det här var ännu en god dag i mitt liv. Tack Gud.

Face to face (Toronto 5)

This morning we sat face to face in our Spiritual Life group reading the Bible and sharing about the truth. One Army – In truth. Just like that, it looks very naïve. In my group alone we come from India, New Zealand, Australia, Uganda, Ghana, Argentina, Hong Kong and Sweden. What single truth can be relevant in all these cultures?

Naturally it all comes down to Jesus. But not just as statements in our doctrines but as Christ, the incarnation of God and, above all, through our relationship with him. A truth that constantly gives room for new revelations.

With the second day completed we are also settling into the rhythm of the format of the conference. That is very important. You don’t get development, exchange and interaction just because you put 130 people in the same room. The organisers have to provide a format that allows for and encourage involvement. That has truly been achieved in a good way. This is what happens.

Today’s first presentation was about teaching resources. A series of booklets is being prepared that will interact with video presentations. The name is One Army and each booklet will be on a subject like: In Christ, in calling, in covenant, in truth etc. There will also be a youth version.

After the presentation we go to our groups with some questions to discuss. And then, what happens? Often conferences are about agreeing on a recommendation. Not here. We discuss freely and share our ideas and opinions. The last bit of group-time we individually write down our conclusions.

Everyone gets a paper with just two questions. The first one is about what from this issue I plan to do something about in my own Territory. I find that a positive challenge. We are all senior leaders and it shall be within our capacity to understand the needs and possibilities of our countries. And I feel more ownership of issues that I have identified myself than to what was a compromised agreement in a large group.

The second question on the sheet is what we suggest International Headquarters shall do something about.

Then we all meet and there is testimony time. Anyone is free to share what we have written down on our papers. All papers are collected and the General and Chief of Staff will give a response to all the suggestions concerning IHQ (as far as they can) by the end of the conference.

That is face to face work – everyone facing up to the mandate that he/she has been given. The same procedure followed on the presentation of children and youth.

Today ended with a face to face meeting between partner Territories.Sweden and Norway are partners with Uganda, South Africa and India South West. We met, talked and found ideas of contributing to each others development.

This was yet another good day in my life. Thank you God.