While most of us will be enjoying Christmas round a glowing fire, having dined sumptuously on seasonal fare, prepared Nigella Lawson style, many others will be homeless, desperate and hungry.
A multitude of charities will be striving to bring some Christmas cheer into the lives of thousands of the needy and the lonely, the outcast and the migrant. Foremost among that group of carers will be members of the Salvation Army.
150 years ago, William Booth, an ordained minister in a small Methodist grouping, founded the East London Mission in Mile End Road. He was dismayed by the poverty, drunkenness and irreligion he found in the capital’s crowded streets. He wrote to his wife, “As I passed the door of the flaming gin palaces tonight, I seemed to hear a voice suddenly in my ears, ‘Where can you find such heathen as these and where is there so great a need for your labours?’ I felt as though I ought, at every cost, to stop and preach to these East End multitudes.”
The Mission Booth started in 1865 morphed into the Salvation Army, becoming proactive in challenging drunkenness, going into pubs with copies of the Army’s magazine, ‘The War Cry’. Seeing homeless men sleeping on London’s bridges, he opened hostels which to this day provide much needed shelter for those in need and distress. And his stand against child prostitution resulted in the raising of the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen. Booth was prepared to use unorthodox methods to spread the gospel. Challenged once by Rudyard Kipling about his methods, Booth declared that he would be prepared to stand on his head, playing the tambourine with his feet, if it would help convert one lost soul. Not surprisingly, his actions attracted attention and opposition, with Army bands being attacked by unruly mobs. Troops had to be called in on one occasion when a mob of 4,000 people attacked Salvation Army members and property. However, by their compassion and integrity Booth’s Army soon won popular respect. If a collection box should cross you vision this Christmas, be as generous as you can. You will be helping to make Christmas special for some needy soul.