Soldiers’ Congress renews faith, restores hope and refocuses vision
As the world began to emerge from the pandemic, the Central Territory’s first virtual Soldiers’ Congress, themed “Indescribable Grace, Confident Hope,” felt like a deep and reassuring breath—coming at just the right moment to renew faith, restore hope and refocus our vision.
“We have heard about and seen first-hand how soldiers have stepped up in unprecedented, Spirit-empowered ways all throughout the territory,” said Territorial Commander Commissioner Brad Bailey in thanking soldiers across the Midwest who have shared the Good News and cared for others during COVID-19. “This Congress is designed to celebrate mission advancement and inspire us onward to even greater things.”
“The good news is that we have a God who through Jesus Christ pours out indescribable grace on all who call on Him, and, therefore, as soldiers of the cross we can live victorious lives now and move into the future with an unshakable, confident hope!” exclaimed Commissioner Heidi Bailey, territorial leader for leader development, in the keynote session Resilient Hope.
Advocating there were no better people to inspire and encourage, the Baileys introduced The General and Commissioner Rosalie Peddle (WPWM). The international leaders virtually greeted the territory. Wearing a Cubs jersey, The General quipped, “I always know how to pick the right team, and in regard to spiritual warfare I pick our soldiers who are battle-ready and help us daily in this salvation war!”
More than 1,300 registered delegates attended the livestreamed Congress, a hybrid of prerecorded and live elements, which was viewed in watch gatherings in corps, camps and homes across the territory, with several thousand soldiers, officers and friends tuning in for one or more of its components.
Throughout the meeting soldiers were featured including an eloquent prayer by Sharlene Olivera; a beautiful guitar medley by Carlos Navarro, Jr.; testimonies by four soldiers from the Indianapolis, Ind., Fountain Square Corps who spoke of finding peace in Christ and purpose in the Army; and a mesmerizing sacred dance by Paola Giraldo.
An undoubted high point was the live Q & A with The General and Commissioner Peddle moderated by soldier Angela Weekley, whose casual manner belied the challenging inquiries about complex subjects she pitched the international leaders, who hit each one out of the park. With answers unequivocally grounded in God’s Word, they responded articulately and compassionately to questions about racism and social justice, LGBTQ+, and sexism. They encouraged Salvationists to be engaged positively in the conversation about important issues and to be a people of reconciliation.
“It was a privilege to listen to The General and Commissioner Rosalie,” said Alfredo Martinez, Aurora, Ill., soldier. “I particularly enjoyed the questions and answers segment with them. It gave me great hope as a Hispanic soldier that The Salvation Army is interested in me, and that I can feel welcome as a member of this wonderful church.”
The morning meeting culminated with a powerful message from the General, who identified himself first as a soldier, then spoke about God’s role for the Army and its continuing relevance.
“I remain confident that this raised up Army, with its unique DNA within the body of Christ, can
survive a non-believing culture, and in fact, as people shift their values and nations abandon belief, pushing faith to the margins, our presence, our uniforms, our witness, remains as a beacon in a desolate, dark, and depraved landscape while we actively point people to the Savior,” he said.
The territorial commander then led a time of response, reminding delegates that in any circumstance, whether everyday struggles or life-changing events, strength and resilience are found in Christ.
Delegates could access a virtual prayer room, manned by 30 officer and soldier counselors, at the end of each meeting. “Our passion for supporting seekers doesn’t take a back seat to technology,” said Major Rachel Stouder who with Mark Bender organized this ministry in English and Spanish. Of course, many delegates could pray in person with their corps officers in watch gatherings throughout the territory.
In Burlington, Iowa, corps officer Captain Dennis Jolly said what resonated most were the messages by the General and Commissioner Peddle. He surmised, “I believe it gave my corps members the excitement to start doing more.”
Zoom workshops focused on the soldier’s role in the holistic mission. The most popular workshop was presented by National Ambassadors for Holiness Dr. Bill and Diane Ury, who drilled down on this foundational Army doctrine. Another popular session on evangelism was given by well-known pastor, speaker and author Steve Carter.
“For me, the Congress brought life to the mission,” said Neisha McNeal, Norridge Citadel, Ill., soldier and Adult Rehabilitation Centers Command employee. “As a new soldier, I sought a deeper investment into The Salvation Army. Each segment, breakout session and prayer meeting allowed me to feel a great pride in the corps and workplace that I choose each day to be a part of.”
The Chicago Staff Band, led by Bandmaster Dr. Harold Burgmayer, gave a short dynamic concert, “Hemispheres—Music from Around the World” which ushered in an evening meeting that shared uplifting stories of God’s work around the globe and revealed a World Services/Self-Denial In-gathering total of more than $10 million!
Alongside ongoing programs from the Congo to India were highlighted snapshots of sacrificial service by Salvationists during the pandemic from Spain to Thailand.
Speaking frankly about the hardships and loss in the last year, the General testified to God’s faithfulness, saying the Almighty had prepared the Army for such as time as this, and gave incredible examples of God’s grace and goodness. He thanked the Central Territory for its generosity and commended its corps for their creativity in pivoting to meet the needs of their communities.
Among the meeting’s enriching music was “Floodgates” performed by the Central Territorial Staff Songsters and “Sigues Sidendo Dias” (You are God) written for the Congress by Jose Sanchez and performed by the Mokan Spanish Singers.
Commissioner Rosalie made an impassioned case for increasing our faith in God whose love is everlasting and who is still at work in the world even when we can’t see it, when loss is overwhelming and lives are changed. She cautioned Salvationists to be aware of three common perspectives (disobedience, forgetfulness and lack of expectation) that limit God and urged them instead, “Don’t put limits on God, and don’t let the world put limits on you…Join me in the fight for the Kingdom of God!”