Work is a blessing not reserved for the rich
Labor Day is an appropriate time to recall the historic keystones of Salvation Army ministry.
The Army’s social service programs were founded on the idea that work is accompanied by an identifiable spiritual element. God Himself gave the model in Genesis when he commanded Adam and Eve to care for creation.
In 1890, Salvation Army founder William Booth pleaded with England’s upper-class to help them understand their misplaced priorities. To illustrate, he used a common example of what was wrong with ignoring the plight of the desperately poor; sadly, cramming them into slums or leaving them to lie destitute on the streets had become common practice.
Booth believed humans were infinitely valuable and deserving of care because of “their immortal souls.” Thus came about his Cab Horse Charter: “When the cab horse is down he is helped up; while he lives he has food, shelter and work,” Booth wrote. The men and women of the slums were not treated half as nice.
Putting action to his beliefs, Booth tasked his followers to go into the slums and wage war against the scourge of poverty; most were women missionaries, lovingly called “Slum Sisters.”
An 1890 report from a Slum Sister named “Mrs. R.” read: “A.M. in the Dials. Was a great drunkard, thriftless, did not go to the trouble of seeking work. Was in the Slum meeting, heard the Captain speak on ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God!’ called out and said, ‘Do you mean that if I ask God for work, He will give it to me?’ Of course she said, ‘Yes.’ He was converted that night, found work and is now employed in the Gas Works, Old Kent Road.”
Booth felt that providing hand-outs was detrimental to the cause of the poor. In fact, one of his schemes was to create a model of work to house the poor, which would train them in a skill that would provide a living and give them an expertise to take them to new lands as immigrants. This plan included spiritual instruction and reformation, because Booth knew that without regeneration of the heart, man was lost eternally.
The plans were met with a mixture of adulation and accusations of insanity, or worse yet, dangerous radicalism. Aside from public sentiment, the biggest problems were perennial ones to this day – lack of sustainable funding and trained personnel. But the basic idea of helping the poor by giving them opportunity survived and found fertile ground, especially in the Army’s work in the United States.
Today, one of the clearest examples of William Booth’s influence are Salvation Army rehabilitation centers, where men and women enrolled in the free program are expected to do “work therapy” and attend Christian education programs (read a success story). The centers are nearly 100 percent funded through collection and sales of donated goods at Salvation Army Stores.
Many will spend this Labor Day mourning the last days of summer vacation. But remember to celebrate the God-given gift of work, and to not take that blessing for granted. The work of our hands and creativity is the mark of our soul created in His image.