The Salvation Army and Christmas

Thursday, January 20, 2011
General William Booth

Each year during the Christmas season, we see the red kettles of the Salvation Army and the volunteers ringing the bells to collect donations for needy families, seniors, and the homeless. Money donated helps with Christmas dinners, clothing and toys for those in need. The Salvation Army endeavors to bring spiritual light and love to those it serves at Christmas so that the real meaning of the season is not forgotten.

I was curious to find out how the Salvation Army began and it all started with William Booth, the founder and first General. He was born in Nottingham, England on April 10th, 1829 and died August 20th, 1912. His father was a wealthy man, but made some bad investments that landed the family into poverty. His father then became an alcoholic, had gone bankrupt and could no longer afford his son's school fees. At the age of 13, William was sent to work as an apprentice in a pawnbroker's shop to help support his mother and sisters. This made him aware of the poverty in which people lived and how they were humiliated and degraded because of it. When he was a teen, he became a Christian and spent much of his time trying to persuade others to become Christians.

He spent several years as a Methodist minister but felt that God wanted more from him. He resigned and started preaching to crowds in streets and to the poor and wretched of the good news about Jesus Christ and His love for all men. He had found his destiny and formed his own movement "The Christian Mission". The mission began to grow but not without opposition from some. His wife wrote that he would 'stumble home night after night haggard with fatigue, often his clothes were torn and bloody bandages swathed his head where a stone had struck'. In time people converted, but it wasn't until 1878 when "The Christian Mission" changed it's name to the "Salvation Army" that things began to happen. The idea of an Army fighting sin and Booth's fiery sermons drove the message home and more and more people were able to leave their past behind and start a new life as a soldier in the Salvation Army.

 The early years were lean ones, but the Army persevered. In the early 1880s, operations were extended to other countries, notably the United States, France, Switzerland, Sweden and others, including to most of the countries of the British Empire: Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica, etc. During his lifetime, he established Army work in 58 countries and colonies, travelling extensively and holding, "salvation meetings."

In 1909 on a motor tour in the United Kingdom, he discovered he was blind in his right eye and the sight in his left eye was dimmed by cataracts. A surgeon at Guy's Hospital removed his right eye. Despite this setback, in 1910 he continued campaigning in Holland, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Italy, finally returning to England. He was 83 when he died. At his funeral procession were 10,000 uniformed Salvationists.
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