Our Mission, Our MandateA Battle for the Future of Everything
Raised as a son of officers in The Salvation Army, for most of my life I have been involved in or around ministry efforts to those experiencing homelessness. In that time, I have learned several lessons regarding homelessness. It afflicts people from every conceivable background. I have met sons of millionaires caught in the grip of homelessness; former professors with PhDs; infants abandoned in public restrooms; the elderly suffering with serious disease; teenagers stuck in abusive relationships; grandmothers living in their cars while working as janitors in a suburban bar; immigrants limping from bus stop to bus stop because of a bullet still lodged in their leg. This lesson was most vividly communicated to me in high school. My dad picked me up from school on a day like most others, except that we had an unusually stern substitute teacher in AP English. We rode into Ft. Lauderdale and stopped by the Area Command where his office was so he could pick up something. As I sat in his parked car in front of the shelter, I saw a man exit the shelter who looked vaguely familiar. Then it struck me like lightening who it was—that same substitute teacher. It turned out that he was a resident at the Broward County Shelter.
Spend any significant amount of time with someone experiencing homelessness and it soon becomes clear that the environment that surrounds them each day is dramatically different from the one you might be fortunate enough to inhabit. Simply put, an individual experiencing homelessness might as well be living on another planet in comparison. The threat of theft, violence, sexual assault and all other forms of harm is exponentially greater for those in homelessness. The degradation of one’s body due to malnutrition, dangerous terrain, violence, poor hygiene, pests and lack of resources can cause a man in his fifties to appear three decades older. This brief description is inadequate to the task of describing this other world fully. Language really does fail to do so, but also something else is at play. I was once talking to someone who had recently began experiencing homelessness who had just left downtown Atlanta and moved north to our more suburban community. I asked him why he had left downtown when the majority of the social service providers were there. I expected a response I had heard many times before; that it was safer where we were. Instead, he simply said, “To get away from the demons.”
The young man’s response might be viewed by some as mere hyperbole or a crude characterization of merely material and circumstantial difficulty. However, the witness of scripture, along with the accounts of human depravity experienced by those we serve compellingly, suggests otherwise. In a world where physical proximity has been replaced by its faux digital equivalent, we find the grittiness of life hidden behind digital filters and sleek virtual ecosystems. Talk of the demonic in such an atmosphere can feel foreign or anachronistic. Yet, when confronted with the ministry of Jesus, the demonic is impossible to ignore.
Jesus is everywhere at all times exorcising demons and pushing back the forces of the enemy. In Luke’s depiction of the Wilderness Temptation, Jesus fights back against the temptation of Satan by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4). The last temptation Satan presents to Jesus, as recorded the Gospel of Luke, takes place at the Temple in Jerusalem. Scholars see this as a foreshadowing of Christ’s ultimate victory over the devil in Jerusalem on Good Friday. The whole gospel is framed as an epic tale of spiritual warfare as Jesus establishes a kingdom in conflict with the kingdoms of this world, which is under the authority of the prince of lies. The rest of the New Testament is no less ambiguous about the reality of spiritual battle against, as Paul aptly puts it, “the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).
RECRUITED BY CHRIST
The church is, therefore, a militant outfit, an army, created for combat with such forces, putting on the full armor of God. This reality is so transparent for Paul that he calls Timothy a soldier and exhorts him to not get entangled in matters of everyday life. Paul knew that he and Timothy were recruited by Christ to wage war in a cosmic battle for the future of everything—a battle already lost by an enemy hellbent on taking as many casualties as it can while headed to its ultimate demise. The Salvation Army was raised up by God to take this fight into territory that many had thought to be already lost. This fight was waged through a variety of means and continues to this very day. The mission of The Salvation Army reflects this multipronged assault behind enemy lines.
“Preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ and meeting human need in His name without discrimination” are elements of the Army’s mission enacted simultaneously to give the enemy no cover from which to hunker down. Jesus perfected this twofold tactic. Look only to His healing of the paralyzed man to see Him execute the move with impeccable precision.
Four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof [and] lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.” But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is He saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so He asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk?’ … Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!’” And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers (see Mark 2:3-12).
Jesus demonstrates to His detractors His authority to heal the man and to forgive His sins. In so doing, Jesus establishes for His band of spiritual warriors that His mission was to rescue the whole person, mind, body and spirit. For the Christian, no lesser endeavor will do. We could be no Salvation Army if we were to forfeit one of these two actions in our mission. If we are to properly understand the mission of God, then we must always see it in its totality—God’s all-out assault on all that afflicts and enslaves His children. For the individual Christian called to take up his or her cross and follow Jesus into the fray, any arrangement that does not combine both elements is untenable.
We have been enlisted, rescued from our own corner of the enemy’s camp, to spread far and wide the news of God’s advance upon the principalities, the rulers of this world. We have been marshalled for no lesser task than the entire transformation of lost persons by the selfless, holy love of the Triune God. We have been assembled as one body, the resurrected body of Jesus, to usher men, women, boys and girls into our ranks as we press onward to take the next hill in our campaign. And as we crest over that hill to find in the valley more souls in need of rescue, we do so following after our captain, Jesus, who leads us on, having already conquered the world. And the faithful charge ahead, raising with one voice our everlasting battle cry, “Victory! Victory! Victory!”
Caleb Louden of Atlanta is the Youth Character Building and Camp Program Director for The Salvation Army USA Southern Territory. He holds Master of Divinity and Master of Theology in Biblical Studies degrees from Asbury Theological Seminary.