Did You Know…

published on 27 Mar 2014

Did you know… 43,000,000 (yes, that’s 43 million!) pieces of literature – mainly Gospels and New Testaments – were distributed through Scripture Gift Mission during the First World War? 43 million!

Did you know… the literature was distributed in Russian, Flemish, French, Dutch and English to volunteers, nurses and civilians?

Did you know… the main target audience for the distribution was soldiers? For those who suddenly found themselves dragged into what would become one of the most brutal conflicts of all time: 15 million lives lost and countless others affected through bereavement, injury, loss of property and mental and emotional scars.

Did you know… the Scriptures distributed proved to be vital for millions as they discovered through its pages a hope in the hopelessness they saw all around, a purpose in all the meaningless slaughter and, most importantly, the fragrance of life in the midst of the stench of death?

Did you know… the Gospel was small enough to fit into the front pocket of a soldier’s tunic or shirt, and included hymns as well as a decision form at the back on which soldiers could sign their commitment to Jesus Christ?

Did you know… commemoration events planned for 2014 in connection with the centenary of the start of the First World War provides a tremendous opportunity for the Church to engage with our local communities in a strongly missional way!

Last night, I attended the launch of the First World War Anniversary Gospel at the Guards Museum. The venue was a treat in itself, surrounded as we were by the history of the Guards’ regiments and the records of some of the extraordinary feats of courage performed by guardsmen in the face of mortal danger. (If ever you wish to treat yourself to some British history, kindly note that I discovered the Guards Museum is closer to Buckingham Palace than to Horse Guards Parade, but only after being misdirected by military personnel to Horse Guards Parade!)

We had been invited by HOPE – a para-church ministry that specialises in resourcing the Church with ideas and materials for use in mission. As part of their focus on 2014 as a year of mission, HOPE and their partners have prepared resources to help churches to mark the centenary of the start of the First World War at the heart of local communities.

They partnered with SGM Lifewords in producing a replica of John’s Gospel, which was used to such amazing effect during the war. One soldier had written: ‘I never dreamed that I should use your little Testament and find a great consolation in lonely hours… When at night I have been on duty along with Him by my side and the Germans but 30 yards away, I realised that I needed more than my own courage to stand the strain.’

Some 125,000 of these replicas have been printed and the intention is that, as we become involved in our local communities and join in the commemoration events – in schools and communities – the Church will use this tremendous opportunity for missional engagement in the heart of community – where the Church should be and where, indeed, it was during those years of the Great War. (I believe there will have to be a reprint to handle the demand for these replica Gospels! Place orders for yourself and your corps or centre today!)

Carol services will be held in football stadiums –Manchester City, Newcastle United, Sunderland and Aston Villa are among the clubs that have agreed to host one! – to commemorate the Silent Night Miracle, which occurred on a Christmas Day during the war. I’ve been told that Salvation Army bands will be involved all over the UK.

During a national crisis – such as the bombing and massacre in Norway (22 July 2010) – when people’s foundations have been shaken, the spiritual dimension to life is sought after. People look for solace and perspective from the Church. I believe that these commemorative events – and especially the 4 August commemoration – will see an openness to the Church as it is recognised for the vital role it played both at home and on those foreign, blood-stained fields. Doors to the hearts and minds of people will be open – it’s like being in ‘Christmas mode’ throughout the year! Let’s grab hold of this opportunity to be at the heart of our communities with the good news of Jesus Christ, spreading hope and light as we commemorate the period when ‘the lights went out all over Europe’. In the words of the Executive Director of HOPE, Roy Crowne: ‘Let’s bring the Church to the heart of these remembrance moments. We have a significant part to play.’

Our evening at the Guards Museum began with a tremendous challenge in the form of a video, which outlined the sacrifice of so many during that ‘war to end all wars’. People were willing to die for their country, for their friends – then came the challenge: What are you prepared to die for? And what are you prepared to live for?

Let’s live for the dream of our halls packed, our corps growing, people experiencing the life-transforming power of Jesus and our communities being transformed.