â¢ We believe in changing lives
The 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 1920s. he church moved to Akwa Ibom State and is currently present in 22 states across the country. As members celebrate 100 years in Nigeria today, the Territorial Commander of Nigeria Territory, COLONEL VICTOR LESLIE spoke to ISAAC TAIWO about the church’s activities over the past 100 years, future plans and of the state of the nation, among others.
What have been the activities of this church over the past 100 years?
The Salvation Army in Nigeria has been involved in a variety of programs. 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 perform eye surgeries. We have good patronage and a few other village programs in different states. We have churches in 365 villages and communities, as well as youth programs, where we teach people about music, drama, sports evangelism and football. We are in the process of starting a university. The Salvation Army has made a lot of changes in people’s lives from the beginning to this day.
What is your motto and mission statement?
The first and the last is the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. We are a military army, which means movement. We are not still. We are the military army of the end of time and we are moving forward. As an army, we are on the move, hastily accomplishing God’s work militarily in Nigeria, in service to mankind and others. We identify with people in disaster situations, just as we work in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). For example, we go to Benue State and other states, where we feed the people of those places.
The Salvation Army always goes to refugee camps where people are asking for help and we do so without discrimination. We take care of people, regardless of their religion or where they come from. Wherever there is a need; you will find the Salvation Army.
Salvation is our message, while âthe armyâ 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 a mission to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, as well as to meet human needs without discrimination. We are in 122 countries; Nigeria being one of them. It is therefore an international organization.
Do you collaborate with other Christian organizations?
Sure! 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 the 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 must not forget the past. So this is the reason for our celebration, and to hope for a better 100 years to come. So the reason for our celebration is to remember the past, to use it as a springboard for the future, so that we can celebrate our plan.
We want people to know that the military has been here and that we are not going to live in the present because we have a generation of Nigerians to serve. We started from the smaller church and move on. We have events for youth, adult men and women, as well as a variety of activities. We celebrate to recognize the goodness of the Lord and give thanks for bringing us here. Although we spent time in the wilderness in the early 1940s, we thank God for our arrival in Canaan. We still have more land to cover.
Who are the dignitaries expected to honor the celebratory service today?
We are expecting the Vice-President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo and the Governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu, who is the host. Others are former President Olusegun Obasanjo, former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi, as well as state governors, including one of the archbishops of the 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, although we may change our methodology as we are in a dynamic era of innovation. We want to empower our young people and make sure that there is a good intervention in the areas where there is a need for it. What we are doing is empowering them through training, skills development and investing in small businesses. We will continue to keep the church because our focus is Christ and with Christ anything is possible.
Our theme this year, âGrowing in Christ, Limitless Possibilities,â tells you that once we are linked with Jesus, the possibilities are endless. Our activities are based on faith. We will go to the communities and provide water to those who need it. And the communities where agriculture is desired, we will interact with their leaders. Indeed, we will demand for their needs and assist them, according to the available resources. We have centralized community projects, which we call, Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene. Besides that, we also have spiritual development programs because we know that everyone needs Jesus. Salvation is our message.
Which community (ies) have benefited from these projects?
The beneficiaries are the communities of Lagos, including Surulere, Bariga and Badagry, among others. There are also communities in states such as Akwa-Ibom, Imo, Abia, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Anambra, Benue, Kogi, Osun, Jos, Kano, Kaduna, and Abuja, among others.
How did you help build the nation?
We train our young people to be great citizens and also encourage people to be law abiding. We believe that good citizenship begins at home, and that is why we love to develop families and give them hope for tomorrow, to teach our men and women to be respectful and to be role models in society. . We teach our young people to embrace education and skills development, among other things.
For example, in the 1950s, the Salvation Army opened many schools in Akwa-Ibom and in several towns, including in the riparian areas. However, the government took our schools back, but we fought to get them back. We realized that the community still needed help. Thus, we have reopened new private schools to develop students in the riverside areas. We started teaching them to write and use the computer, among other things. We have a school in this complex because we believe that education changes lives and develops the mind. This is the future of today’s society, so that people can think for themselves and analyze situations and transfer knowledge into family behavior. It is one thing to read and another to understand. So, we try to teach our students the art of reading, writing and arithmetic or math as a basic foundation. We want them to move from reading to applying knowledge in life.
Regarding our university in Badagry and Ondo have interacted with the communities and they are donating land to us, so that we can build a university in their community and we will partner with them. A few days ago, our secretary went to do the first shovelful of soil. We start from the nursery, from kindergarten to primary 1 and from SS2 to higher, it is the hope of tomorrow and that is why we are involved. Recently, the Anambra State government returned eight of our schools to us because we believe in education.
What is your plan for the spiritual development of young people?
We just opened a music studio because everyone knows Davido and other talented singers. Here all children can sing and dance. The Salvation Army will soon have what we call the Nigerian Idol. This is the reason why we invite our young people to audition through technology, to record their performance and after a series of eliminations 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 each year, the Salvation Army dedicates the first month of January to a 21-day prayer. We have studies and devotional programs to develop and strengthen our youth. We have a young adult discipleship program where they study the Bible and then they graduate.
This year we have 53 certificates for young people who got involved in this program. We have theology and other areas to develop our young people spiritually. We also have what we call Monday morning days, which is the love of radio. What we do is reach out to generations. So any day of the week you find us in prayer meetings, women’s groups, retreats, things that have to do with family values ââand life.
How do you see the state of the nation?
The church has a role to play and we follow CAN and CCN guidelines. We do not want to get involved in political quarrels, criticize or elevate 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 advice do you give to the leaders of the country?
My advice is that the government should strive to enable Nigerians to live together in harmony. If, as a country, we fight on the inside, strangers would take our heritage. So, I advise Nigerians to live in peace with each other. We are 36 different states, and each state has its own local government. Today, each state has different problems. So we need to ratify and rectify all the issues and bring healing and hope and help at the local, state and national levels, and things would get better.
Nobody likes insecurity, nobody likes banditry and kidnappings and I don’t think the government likes them either. We must respond to realities and hope that with God’s help there will be peace and healing.