by Major Jenny Ortman and Lt. Natalie Austin
More and more, the College for Officer Training (CFOT) is reflecting the world as corps embrace the diversity of their neighborhoods, local leaders are developed and then come to the CFOT, following God’s calling on their lives to become Salvation Army officers. As an Army we are celebrating the diversity of all people made in the image of God.
Currently 28 percent of cadets were born and raised outside of the contiguous United States with 10 different languages spoken. Cadets and staff native to Puerto Rico, Cuba, Jamaica and Belize are interacting with cadets from Australia, Ethiopia, the Congo—and even Nebraska.
On any given weekend night, you will find cadets and staff informally sharing their cultures through good food and fellowship. Formal opportunities on campus support an active awareness of interculturalism while fostering a mutual openness to the viewpoints of others.
To learn more about culture beyond food and language, cadets participate in an intercultural class and midweek practicums in their first year. The class includes time for sacred conversations and discussing perspectives of others who are not from the same culture. Representatives from the Territorial Intercultural Department and other professionals in the field share their knowledge on topics such as cultural intelligence, discrimination, immigration and creating a multiethnic church. Practicums take cadets off campus and purposefully expose them to how ministry is working in places where they may not have much experience such as at the Red Shield Center in Englewood, Ill., the Chicago Central Adult Rehabilitation Center and more traditional midweek programs at the Norridge, Ill., Corps, where many attendees have an Eastern European heritage.
Attending the ONE Conference themed “Undivided: One in the Body of Christ” proved a great opportunity for 10 cadets to share, learn and acquire ideas and resources to utilize in their future ministries.
The cadets’ experiences at the conference, in the intercultural class and during practicums help them form a base from which to offer unconditional love and consistent grace to those they will meet throughout their ministry. Helping more people become more like Jesus, in this context, is listening to understand and speaking to be understood. Often this means making sure things are translation friendly between those who do not share the same first language. “What’s the word for …?” is a frequent question on campus; communicating through gestures is also common. The intent to connect with others easily translates with many strong cross-cultural campus friendships formed and the language of love and the gospel needing no interpretation.
Cadets’ and staff’s children are part of the unification process at the CFOT. Whether showing up at the door of another family to play or sitting together in the dining hall, the intercultural experiences children have help inform their view of themselves.
What does the Kingdom of Heaven look like on earth? For those at the CFOT, we have a glimpse, being different but unified in Christ, looking forward to the day as Revelation 7:9 foretells: “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the lamb.”