Last Saturday, I was dragged down memory-lane – not kicking and screaming, mind you – I went gladly, enjoying every minute of the trip into nostalgia. I should have anticipated it, I suppose – after all, I was meeting someone whom I had not seen since I was a young teenager! And, whereas I had guessed we would talk about those times we shared together, I was surprised by a photo album which was produced.
It was going through that album and seeing photos from my childhood that hastened the headlong rush into my past. I was transported into the late Sixties and early Seventies, rapidly moving from one memory to the next: a number of which I articulated animatedly, sharing with the mainly captive audience – though two escaped to the kitchen several times on the pretext, I’d like to think, of sorting out the meal!
I was meeting Major Constance Whiting, who, with her husband, Major Phil, served for seven years as the corps officers of my home corps, Claremont Temple, in Cape Town. Although Majors Whiting were actually the third corps leaders I remember, they are the first who directly impacted my life from my perspective. (Majors Abrahamse and Captains du Plessis, whom I recall as warm and friendly people, were in the corps when I was too young to recall any direct interaction between us.) The Whitings made a deep impression on me – their love for the Lord, for his Word and for us, his people, was very evident, even to a young junior soldier. There was a graciousness and a dignity that was equally on display in their leadership as was their spiritual authority. They showed interest in, and care for, us. I felt that I belonged in that large, and often loud, family of Salvationists, and that I was as important as the corps stalwarts, those spiritual giants – whose illustrious ranks included my saintly grandfather – whom we looked up to both literally and spiritually. We were embraced by and through grace, modelled by the Whitings as they led the corps lovingly for what was, in those days, a long period. In turn, they were loved and respected by us.
We enjoyed a good time reminiscing. I saw several photos of myself, my brothers and childhood friends – in scout uniform, in the singing company, in the YP band, in the corps cadets – and, especially, other photos of saints I had known when I was growing up in the corps. I have since recalled how those corps stalwarts from a previous generation invested of their time, gifts and patience – some were more patient than others – into our lives. We were taught what we believed, what it meant to be ‘Salvationist’ – what commitment was.
I write this, deeply grateful for that grounding in the faith and in Salvationism – I am what I am, in part, because of those people. Many of us emerged into adulthood from that wholesome upbringing strong in faith and committed to serving God in the Army. I feel certain that, over the years of our childhood, these leaders – including the Whitings – must have had moments of questioning, of doubt and even of despair – was the effort and the investment with the accompanying bother worth it? I suspect that, in the short-term, they may have struggled to see as many positives as there were challenges.
"Often, it is only when you look back that you see God’s hand – after you have done something challenging at his direction!" Commissioner Vibeke Krommenhoek, preaching at the 125th Anniversary Congress in Oslo on John 21 (in which Jesus instructs the deflated disciples to throw out their empty nets once more, despite the night of failure) highlighted the importance of trusting God even when it meant doing what does not seem to make sense or seem productive, because, looking back some time in the future, you will be able to trace God’s hand of blessing from that moment of obedience.
I feel sure that, as she looks back, and hears how her junior soldiers are doing 45 years later, Mrs Whiting can see God’s hand. However, equally, I feel sure there were “fished-all-night-and-caught-nothing” moments for her and those other Claremont leaders as they poured themselves into our lives. There were probably moments that were very demanding (not that I'm admitting to being a difficult junior, of course – though I noticed she did not protest wildly when it was suggested that I must have been a handful!).
It is an important principle for us to absorb, nurturing the next generation is challenging. It can be demanding, frustrating, exhausting – but do as the Master directs, go where the Master sends, you may have to wait 45 years to look at God’s handiwork effected through your obedience but, considering how the Lord has led many pictured in those photos, I think you’ll find Mrs Whiting will say it is worth it.
From my perspective, I am deeply grateful she lived in obedience before me and my peers! I suspect many of those peers feel the same way. So, go on! Throw out those nets again! There’s a huge catch waiting to be hauled in. The hauling in may be done by someone else, but that’s hardly the point, is it!
As a nostalgic aside, the photo (below) was particularly special. It is a shot of the band carolling outside our house, and my paternal grandfather is the bandmaster; my dad is playing the euphonium; while my mom and maternal grandmother look on in the background. A priceless bit of nostalgia!