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‘We’re celebrating to remember the past, consolidate for future’

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• We Believe In Changing Lives
Salvation Army, which was founded in London in 1865 by Mary Catherin Booth, was established in Nigeria in 1920. It first landed in Lagos and progressed to Igbo land in the 20s. Later, the church moved to Akwa Ibom State and currently has its presence in 22 states in the country. As members celebrate 100 years of existence in Nigeria, today, the Territorial Commander of Nigeria Territory, COLONEL VICTOR LESLIE spoke to ISAAC TAIWO on the church’s activities in the last 100 years, future plans and state of the nation, among others.

What have been this church’s activities in the last 100 years?
SALVATION Army in Nigeria has been involved in a variety of programmes. We started with schools, which we now have in about 12 states. For example, we have primary and secondary schools in Jos, Plateau State and Lagos, among others. We also have hospitals and clinics where we carry out eye surgery. We have good patronage and a couple of other village programmes in different states. We have churches in 365 villages and communities, as well as youth programmes, where we teach people music, drama, sports evangelism and football. We are in the process of starting a university. Salvation Army has effected a lot of changes in people’s lives from the time we started till date.

What is your motto and mission statement?
The first and final is the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We are military army, which means movement. We are not standing still. We are end-time military army and we are advancing. As an army, we are on the move, hastily doing the work of God in a military way in Nigeria, serving mankind and others. We identify with people experiencing disaster, just as we work in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps. For instance, we go to Benue State and other states, where we feed the people these places.

Salvation Army is always going to refugee camps where people are seeking help and we do it without discrimination. We attend to people, regardless of their religion or where they come from. Anywhere there is a need; you will find Salvation Army.

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Salvation is our message, while ‘Army’ is our method. The Salvation Army is an international humanitarian movement. It is an evangelical part of the Christian Church, and our message is based on the Bible. We are motivated by the love of God, and we have the mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as meet human needs without discrimination. We are in 122 countries; Nigeria being one of them. So, it is an international organisation.

Do you collaborate with other Christian bodies?
Of course! We have our presence in the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). Our representative at the national level is the National Director of Ecumenism, Dr. Levi Monanu. So, whatever CAN does or whatever Christian Council of Nigeria (CCN) does, we are part of it.

What is the significance of this centenary celebration?
God says in the Bible that we should not forget the past. So, this is the reason for our celebration, and to look forward to better and improved 100 years to come. So, the reason behind our celebration is to remember the past, use it as a springboard for the future, so that we can celebrate our plan.

We want people to know that the Army has been here and we are not going to live in the present because we have a generation of Nigerians to serve. We started from the smallest church and we are marching forward. We have events for youth, male and female adults, as well as a variety of activities. We are celebrating to recognise the Lord’s goodness and give Him thanks for taking us thus far. Even though we spent some time in the wilderness in the early 40’s, we thank God for our arrival at Canaan. We still have more land to cover.

Who are the dignitaries expected to grace the celebration service today?
We are expecting the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo and governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who is the host. Others are former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi, as well as state governors, including one of the Archbishops of Anglican Church, among others.

Are there things you would like to do differently in the next 100 years?
We are not going to change our philosophy, though we can change our methodology because we are in a dynamic age of innovations. We want to empower our youths and ensure that there is good intervention in areas where there are needs for such. What we do is to empower them through training, skill acquisition and small business investment. We will continue to keep the church because our focus is Christ and with Christ, all things are possible.

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Our theme this year: “Growing in Christ, boundless possibilities,” tells you that once we are tied to Jesus, possibilities are endless. Our activities are faith-based. We will be going into communities and providing water for those who need it. And communities where agriculture is desired, we will interact with their leaders. Indeed, we will demand for their needs and attend to them, according to available resources. We have centralised community projects, which we call, cater, sanitation and hygiene. Aside that, we also have programmes for spiritual development because we know that everybody needs Jesus. Salvation is our message.

Which community (ies) have benefitted from these projects?
The beneficiaries are communities in Lagos, which include Surulere, Bariga and Badagry, among others. There are also communities in such states as Akwa-Ibom, Imo, Abia, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Anambra, Benue, Kogi, Osun, Jos, Kano, Kaduna and Abuja, among others.

How have you been contributing to nation building?
We train our young people to be great citizens and also encourage people to be law-abiding. We believe that good citizenship starts in the home, and this is why we like to develop families and give them hope for tomorrow, teach our men and women to be respectful and be role models in the society. We teach our young people to embrace education and skill development, among others.

For instance, in the ’50s, Salvation Army opened many schools in Akwa-Ibom and in several cities, including in riverine areas. However, the government took over our schools, but we struggled to regain them. We realised that the community still needed help. So, we re-opened new private schools to develop students in riverine areas. We began to teach them how to write and use the computer, among others. We have a school in this compound because we believe that education changes life and develops the mind. It is the future of today’s society, so that people can think for themselves and analyse situations and transfer knowledge into family behaviour. It is one thing to read and another thing to understand. So, we try to teach our students the art of reading, writing and arithmetic or mathematics as the basic foundation. We want them to move from reading to application of knowledge in life.

Concerning our university in Badagry and Ondo have interacted with communities and they are in the process of donating land to us, so that we can build a university in their community and we shall partner with them. Few days ago, our Secretary went to do the groundbreaking. We are starting from crèche, nursery to primary 1 and from SS2 to tertiary education, which is the hope of tomorrow and that is why we are involved. Recently, Anambra State government gave us back eight of our schools because we believe in education.

What is your plan for youths’ spiritual development?
We have just opened a music studio because everybody knows Davido and other talented singers. Every child here can sing and dance. Salvation Army will soon have what we call the Nigerian idol. That is the reason we are inviting our young people to audition through technology, recording their performance and after series of elimination, we have a winner while in the evening we have a gala show. For the spiritual, we have Bible studies, discipleship classes, worship sessions and prayer meetings. At the beginning of every year, Salvation Army spends the first month in January for 21-day prayer. We have devotional studies and programmes to develop and strengthen our young people. We have discipleship programme for young adults, where they study the Bible and at the end, they become graduates.

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This year, we have 53 certificates for young people who got involved in this programme. We have theology and other areas to develop our youth spiritually. We also have what we call Monday morning days, which is, radio love. What we do is to reach to generations. So any day of the week, you find us in prayer meetings, women group, retreats, things that have to do with family values and life.

What is your take on state of the nation?
The church has a role to play and we follow CAN and CCN’s guidelines. We do not want to get involved in political tussle, criticising or uplifting any form of government. What we want to do is change people’s lives. We allow CAN to be our spokesperson and CCN our local spokesperson.

What is your advice to the country’s leadership?
My advice is that the government should endeavour to enable Nigerians live together in harmony. If as a country we are fighting internally, strangers would take our inheritance. So, I advise that Nigerians should live in peace with one another. We are 36 different states, and each state has its own local government. Presently, each state is experiencing different issues. So, we have to ratify and rectify all the issues and bring healing, hope and help at the local, state and national levels, and things would improve.

Nobody likes insecurity, nobody likes banditry and kidnapping and I do not think that the government likes them either. We have to respond to realities and hope that with God’s help, there will be peace and healing.

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In this article:
Colonel Victor Leslie
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