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Reaching beyond ourselves

Lyn Edge and team

e-connect talks with the four mission department heads, Major Jenny Begent (head of social mission), Captain Stuart Glover (head of community engagement), Dr Elli McGavin (head of policy, research and social justice) and Captain Steven Smith (head of mission resources).

There is a sagacious quote attributed to the venerable Chinese wit, Lao Tzu: ‘If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.’ Its relevance applies to the Salvos, as it does to all churches, NGOs and faith-based organisations.

So, are we heading in the right direction? The Salvation Army in Australia wants to move freely across the things that divide us as Australians, the better to fulfil its mission… The bigger story embraces our lonely, scared, desperate, hurting, neglected and mistreated brothers and sisters.
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Captain Stuart Glover says that ‘we need to reflect our communities, so if our communities have people who don’t have English as their first language, of course we need to reflect that. If we are not reflecting that, then we are not engaging with our communities. We are importing a version of a community that is not natural in that space.

‘What a community looks like “now” is maybe different to what it looked like 20 years ago; we need to be onto that change process … I know that people have change fatigue, but that is the nature of what we are living through. We need to reflect the community that we are in. If we are not, then we need to ask hard questions about how we are serving that community well; because I don’t think we are, if we do not reflect the community.

‘That’s all aspects of mission, holistically; if we are not engaging with the people in a community, for whatever reason – practice or culture or whatever – then we are not doing what we are supposed to be doing.’

Dr Elli McGavin hopes that in her role she can bring together research and advocacy to bear more seamlessly. ‘That can drive excellence across the organisation and support what it happening out in the field, and be a conduit for the organisation to know about itself, and to know about the research that is out there,’ she explains. ‘We can set a policy direction that really reflects us as an organisation, and guides our mission.’

Captain Steven Smith calls on Salvos to find ‘courage for the big thing’. ‘Listen to what God’s doing in the Australian community, what is breaking His heart and how are we listening… responding to that. My hope is that we learn to do that in a new, coordinated way in Australia.

‘It’s not really about the survival of The Salvation Army. I really believe The Salvation Army is a great-hearted people, and it awakens the great heart in people. My hope is that I can play a part in the broader story.’

The bigger story is tied to our mates and our families, our neighbours and co-workers, our fellow students, and the people we don’t always notice.

Rough sleepers, beggars, homeless people.

Mentally ill Australians without support, or resources to gain support.

People going without meals so they can feed their kids.
Young and old who can’t afford to bathe, or wash their clothes, or pay for education or training, or receive fillings or dentures.

Women and men and children who are too scared to fall asleep for fear of what will happen to them when they are unconscious.

The bigger story embraces our lonely, scared, desperate, hurting, neglected and mistreated brothers and sisters.

Like her colleagues, Major Jenny Begent wants to change the world. ‘In 50 years’ time, I’d like for people to look back at this team and say, “That was the team that actually started a renewal around The Salvation Army in this country; that helped make a real dent in homelessness. Historically, you’d be able to judge that.’

Imagine, if you can, living in 2068 and looking back at 2018; pinpointing that ‘that was when things started to get better for the Australian public’.

While there is an understandable desire for the Salvos to be faithful to their calling, and to grow as a church, the more broad conversation focuses on the holistic goal as expressed by Jesus Christ of loving God and loving others.

As Major Begent puts it, ‘I care that we are part of the fabric of Australian communities; that we wear well and stand up to the rough and tumble of everyday life.’

It’s a big ambition that, as Captain Smith notes, takes courage. Captain Glover thinks in terms of communities being transformed and saying, ‘“We are really glad The Salvation Army is in our community because they add to it… We are a better people for that.”

‘I think the sad thing would be for The Salvation Army to be in a community and for the community to not know we were there;’ he adds. ‘To have not made a noticeable difference for them. That’s would be a failure of The Salvation Army, if that was the case.’

Facilitating these kinds of dreams and aspirations is challenging. Supporting the provisions of care and counsel is constant. As Captain Glover says, ‘The Salvation Army “on the ground” needs to be engaged with their communities. Those communities will be better places because of it.’