A General for the World
General André Cox reflects on the change and transformation the Army generates internationally.
War Cry: What is the state of The Salvation Army internationally?
The General: What we have seen as we travel around is greatly encouraging and engenders optimism. The Salvation Army in many places around the world is still as relevant as it was in 1865 when William and Catherine Booth commenced the work. The Army is at its best when it is actively involved in communities, not just in the business of providing social programs and support to people but working with them to give a hand up rather than a handout.
We have been greatly energized by what we have seen, especially when people in our corps and institutions understand and embody the mission of The Salvation Army, which is both to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and meet human needs in His name without discrimination. Corps that are active in their communities are thriving. I have been energized by the success stories of change and transformation in people’s lives.
The Army continues to grow internationally, although we struggle in some areas and have been for a number of decades. There is much to celebrate, but there are also many challenges. There is no question in terms of the need for and relevance of the Army. When we do it right, there are positive results.
War Cry: How is the Army progressing with what has been termed the “Accountability Movement?”
The General: It is a culture change on a scale we have not seen before. I am convinced of the urgency of the things we have been addressing. The demands placed upon The Salvation Army and the expectations of the public, donors and regulatory authorities increase almost on a daily basis. It is important that we have in place sound administrative and accounting structures. The Accountability Movement is not just about administration and finance, it also ensures engagement in the reality of people’s lives, investing ourselves in the communities where we are present for maximum impact and transformation.
We now begin to roll out the new international finance and accounting standards (IFAS). One of the exciting things has been the involvement of so many people around the world, bringing together the great depth and wealth of expertise we have within our own organization in terms of human resources. Once implemented, The Salvation Army will be compliant with the highest guidelines of the international standard of accounting. In terms of the governance review, a fast-growing number of territories have now understood their vulnerabilities and the need to get the governance piece right. There has been a great focus on failings with governance in both businesses and charitable organizations. It was time for us to ensure that our systems are fit for the 21st Century. We have three territories now moving into this new reality and that number will continue to increase. In places like Africa, the Army grows no matter what we do, but the Accountability Movement and focus on being a mobilized Army has energized many of our African territories who readily admit the temptation to be complacent. The physical and spiritual battles we are engaged in are far from won, but there is always the temptation to settle down and become complacent. The Accountability Movement will not be over when I step down on August 2; it has gained enough momentum now and is on the right track. There are sufficient people with the correct expertise who share the passion and commitment to get it right.
War Cry: What progress is being made toward self-support in developing countries?
The General: We have been shifting away from the continued drain from the International Self-Denial fund. We are looking to supporting territories to help with development in more strategic ways. We have been able to free up over $3 million in the past couple of years as territories move toward greater responsibility to sustain themselves. We are also exploring many opportunities that are available, but that have not been exploited in the past. In the past, the ability to fund and sustain new openings was problematic, but that is much more possible today because of the positive steps territories are taking. We have many places that have existed for more than 130 years that are still highly dependent on the International Self-Denial fund. That is beginning to change. The progress we have made puts the Army in a better position to consider new openings in the immediate and mid-term future.
War Cry: As General, what has given you the most gratification?
The General: I can explain that by an illustration. In the India South Eastern Territory. We attended a meeting of self-help groups. These are groups of women who join together in cooperatives and are involved in microcredit schemes and community development projects. During the meeting one woman stood before a congregation of 600-700 and testified “The people didn’t look at me as a Hindu or see me as an HIV positive person. They came in and met me at my point of need and the situation in which I now live is so much better.” It’s these stories of change and transformation brought about through Army ministry that are much more meaningful than numbers. Gratification comes from seeing the impact of our ministry when we get the mission right.
War Cry: What gives you the most concern?
The General: There are both internal and external factors that give cause for concern. Our world is far from being a settled and peaceful place. There continues to be rising divisions and conflicts in a number of places throughout the world. Unless something changes and we opt for a different way, such concerns, divisions and conflicts will escalate. The focus some countries place on military spending, rearming and ensuring they have the largest arsenal of weapons needs to be seen in the light of increasing poverty and marginalization. The reality is a growing need for the work and ministry of The Salvation Army, which poses a challenge in terms of our resources and ability to respond. The future may well hold difficult decisions about the sustainability of our services. Given such external factors, the work of The Salvation Army is nowhere near completion.
I continue to encounter Salvationists who are satisfied with the comfortable life they have. Such satisfaction contains an inherent danger of becoming disconnected from our mission and our constituency. We need to recapture and maintain that vision William Booth had in his book In Darkest England and the Way Out. People are still lost in the raging seas and we need to get out, man the lifeboats and “rescue the perishing” with the transforming power of the Gospel. There is work for us to do! We need to get our sleeves rolled up and get on with it!
War Cry: What have you learned or experienced that you could not have had you not been the General?
The General: It is not possible to have a broader perspective than that of a General. What a wonderfully international Army we have! There are numerous languages and cultures throughout our 128 countries, yet we belong to one family. Many people say it is increasingly difficult to maintain such unity in a fractured and divided world, which is a tension we cannot ignore. Having said that, I have experienced a deep unity and closeness of relationship due to being brothers and sisters in Christ and sharing a covenant lifestyle. Wherever a Salvationist is in the world, you feel at home because we are members of the one family. Our internationalism and unity of covenant are some of God’s greatest gifts to us.
War Cry: What do you wish people understood about the Army?
The General: I don’t mind people having difficulty defining who we are. I want people to recognize that what drives us is our faith and calling from God to be salt and light in the world. I hear many people speak in glowing terms of The Salvation Army. We must not become disconnected from our spiritual calling lived out in practical ways. You cannot separate who we are, what we are and what we do.
War Cry: What would the Founder say about the Army in the 21st Century?
The General: In some ways he would give us a kick where we need it, telling us to get out and be red hot in our faith and desire to reach a lost world for Christ. I’ve seen many things that would make him extremely proud. One hundred and fifty-three years into our history there are still people who embody the mission of The Salvation Army.
I’ve just been reflecting on the life of Jared Plesic from Cleveland, who was brutally murdered while he was going about his mission. In reading about his life, influence and the impact this 21-year-old had, I’m absolutely certain that William Booth would stand and salute. There are countless others— corps, institutions and individuals—to whom William and Catherine would say, “Well done, you’ve got it. You’re still faithful to what God has placed on our hearts in starting this Salvation Army.” Where people are complacent and settled I could imagine he would have some strong words. “Get out there and do something!”
War Cry: Anything else?
The General: These five years have been an immense privilege. In my personal journey, it has not always been easy, but God has been incredibly faithful. I am thankful for this opportunity and for what the Army is doing today. I am thankful to the countless officers, soldiers, adherents and volunteers who do incredible things every day. They are the ones who make the reputation of the Army, not a General.
General André Cox is the international leader of The Salvation Army, which is at work in 128 countries.
Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee is the Editor-in-Chief and National Literary Secretary.