Just moments after you were elected as General, you spoke about feeling an immense sense of privilege and awe. How does it feel now that you have experienced the reality and responsibility of your role?
There are still days when I pinch myself and ask if this is really true. It is a huge privilege but remains a huge responsibility. In the ensuing weeks there has been a sense of peace as I have accepted that this is the Lord’s will for me. I don’t think the sense of awe and privilege ever goes away because all of a sudden something hits you that you’ve got to deal with. Privilege and responsibility remain much the same.
Already you have visited a number of territories; how do you adjust to different cultures, climates, time zones and jet lag?
I have always had a fascination and openness to explore other cultures, partly because of my upbringing, and also because we have lived in five territories – so that’s a positive. Sometimes it does push us out of our comfort zone, but that helps us to grow. In humid climates we have to pay particular attention to keeping hydrated. As soon as we step aboard a plane we reset our watches and try to live within the next time zone. In flight, we try to sleep so that we can function throughout the day upon arrival. Disciplines such as these have helped us to cope better than we first thought.
Is there an experience from one of your visits that you can share?
At the Freedom Congress in Australia Eastern I was deeply moved by the testimony of a man who had gone into one of our social institutions because he had alcohol problems. On a whim, he bought a trombone on eBay but had no idea how to play. The major in charge of that institution played trombone in the corps band, and taught him to play. Through this mentoring, the man began to gain a foothold back into the reality of life and change started to happen. Then he lost his trombone – it was stolen – but bandsmen at the corps clubbed together to buy him another, and it was there he was later enrolled as a soldier and now plays in the band. When in South America I heard another moving story: a young officer testified that her mother found the home league and the family found Jesus – and as a result of that she is an officer today.
At Recovery Church in New Zealand I saw how the lives of people with drug and alcohol addictions are being transformed and in the USA, at the welcome to the new national leaders, there were testimonies of transformation. That’s what drives us – it still works!
At your welcome you spoke of your dream of an Army on its knees – a committed, effective and joyful Army, rooted and confident in the word of God. How do you see your dream becoming reality?
It will become reality only if it changes something in the way we live. Someone wrote to me and said, ‘I want that dream to become a reality in my life’; it was a prayerful response and that’s the key. We can dream of a better world and yet people in The Philippines are living in disaster. What it means is that I have to be touched by that and do something.
Family members, including your mother, your daughters and granddaughters, attended your welcome. How do you balance the responsibilities of General with the responsibilities to your family?
It’s a huge challenge – but our family remains important. We visit them two or three times a year and I keep regular telephone contact with my mother. We use Skype a lot and that’s a good way to connect. On Silvia’s birthday we had all the family on Skype at different times of the day! If the Wi-Fi is good we can sometimes manage it on our travels.
You have asked young people aged 7 to 25 to tell you what they think of The Salvation Army. Why are you reaching out to young people in this way and what are you hoping to gain from the feedback?
I think the best people to ask are the young people themselves. I have been encouraged by the responses – we’ve had so many. I don’t get a sense that the young people feel that we’ve not listened to them, or are not interested in them, but I’m not sure that we always hear what they’re saying.
I was encouraged in Australia Eastern when we had a tea and cake meeting with seniors there. They were asking, ‘How can we help the young people – what can we do?’ I just said: ‘You’ve got to be role models and encouragers.’
We then went to a prayer breakfast with the young leaders of the territory who spoke in such wonderful terms about ‘those in the Army who went before us’. I began to see how it should work. There shouldn’t be a generation gap; it’s not ‘us’ and ‘them’. Young people are not the Army of the future; they’re the Army of the present because they are the ones who can most effectively reach their own generation.
I do wonder if the Cabinet structure in the Army really serves us best when it comes to programme. Often the Secretary for Programme in larger territories has to represent a whole spectrum of interests. I imagine a number of people could feel that they are not being heard because they don’t really know how they are being represented during Cabinet discussions – this applies to our young people and to others as well.
This month, the General’s Consultative Council will focus specifically on youth and young people. We want to use their voices to speak to leadership and take it forward at the International Conference Of Leaders later in the year. I’m not only thinking about officer leadership, but also the development of our young people. I had a glimpse in Australia Eastern of how it should be. We ought to be thankful for everyone we have, and in particular for our young people and for the energy, vision and passion they bring – but they need mentors to stand by them. I certainly want youth to be heard at the International Congress in 2015. I don’t want them to be relegated to a secondary platform somewhere else – I want them to be directly involved in every meeting – part of the main platform, not a sideshow.
In a recent Move Your Money score card Reliance Bank scored highly as a moral and ethical bank. One of the recommendations to improve the score was for there to be more women on the board. Do you think the same could be said for other areas of Salvation Army administration?
I have sought to ensure – not in a token way – that we have good representation of women on boards. It has always added something, because men and women regularly bring different perspectives to a discussion, leading, ultimately, to more fully thought-through decisions. In every territory I have worked to bring women on board. We have done the same here at IHQ in the international appointment boards and aim to identify more women leaders.
I think we are now well beyond mere tokenism in making such appointments. Of course, a bank is a bank – but there are a lot of women who have great financial expertise. I certainly would hope that we can identify suitable women to appoint to those positions, not least because the difference in ways of thinking enriches the whole.
You have embraced today’s technology with a new website and the use of Facebook and Twitter. What benefits do you find in communicating in this way? Are there any downsides?
One of the great things about using Facebook or Twitter is that it allows me to open windows to the world. It is instantaneous and wherever in the world we can connect to a network we can post pictures and text. One of the things I am really passionate about, and hope to develop further, is shining a spotlight on some of the harsh realities of our world by posting pictures and brief sound bites. Also, then, to illustrate the impact of the Army in such situations and demonstrate that God is still changing lives! On the other side, I don’t live my life or feel valued by having so many ‘followers’ or ‘likes’ – I don’t think relationships are built up this way. I have no time to read the trivia or unwise things that are said through social networking sites.
In the UK Territory, and possibly others, we are in a time of transition. As the Army approaches its 150th anniversary, are there areas of our unique identity that must remain unchanged?
Everyone will have their own personal take on this. In some ways I get a feeling that the economic crisis we have been through – the uncertainty it has caused and the realisation of what naked greed can do – is driving us back to our origins and our calling as The Salvation Army. In Europe we’re seeing things beginning to grow as people begin to intentionally re-engage with their communities – some things have almost come full circle. I believe that we need to be identifiable as the Army – for our visibility opens up unique opportunities. Visibility is an issue to me that is non-negotiable – if we all disappeared into civvies and became God’s secret service what impact would that have? I think the fact that we are a covenanted people should remain strong – I address officers councils around the world, but whatever our culture we have the same calling and commitment. Forms of worship will change; we don’t have to stick with the old ways but must adapt. One of the things that is making a change is the worldwide prayer meeting. We have participated in it in many different places and people say ‘we pray – this is our prayer watch’. The internationalism of the Army is one of God’s greatest gifts and I hope that we will see some of that at the International Congress in 2015. We witnessed snippets of it during our visit to South America West when four countries came together in their respective national dress. It was an image of Heaven – so beautiful – and I hope that the quality of internationalism will remain strong.