THE INTERNATIONAL head of the Salvation Army (SA) jetted into Lisbon last weekend for a two-day official visit. General John Larsson had the opportunity to speak to SA members from all over Portugal who paid him a visit at the capital.
On the first day, General Larsson met with pastors to offer teaching and encouragement, and with young members of the Youth Forum who were invited to pose questions. At the church’s Lisbon headquarters at Forum Lisboa, Alameda, there were musical concerts from each of the groups within Portugal, who presented something traditional from their respective regions. On Sunday, there was a morning service open to the public and an afternoon service focusing on children, to mark the International Year for Children and Youth.
General Larsson explained: “This is my second time in Portugal, although it is the first time since I’ve been in this post. We will be meeting with Salvationists and friends, holding services and hearing about the SA’s work in Portugal.”
On the road again
General Larsson spends a great part of the year travelling to visit many of the 109 countries where the SA is present, but says that it is “rewarding to see the Salvation Army at work in these different countries”.
The next place the General will be visiting is India, where the SA has been very much engaged in tsunami relief work. “We were able to help immediately because we have Salvationists at the spot where the waves hit, so we were on the job straight away, helping, providing food, blankets and other aid.
“Now we’re moving into the phase of rebuilding and have been assigned areas where we will be erecting hundreds of houses,” he added.
SA in Portugal
Discussing Portugal, where the SA has been present since 1971, Captain Jennifer Groves explained that the Army has 10 captains (pastors) and five Salvationists, with the rank of lieutenant, completing their two-year residential on-the-job training.
On an average Sunday, the evangelical Christian group’s services attract a congregation of between 35 to 50. “Our main role in Portugal is what the SA was founded for – to share the love of God with people, which we do through our five churches, and carry out a variety of social work,” said Capt. Groves.
Soup, soap and salvation
The Salvation Army runs a night shelter in Lisbon, in conjunction with Lisbon Câmara, which provides funding. The shelter caters for an average of 150 homeless people a night, giving them a bed, an evening meal and breakfast.
“These are homeless people who need somewhere to stay and someone to talk to. At the shelter, they have access to social workers and qualified staff who help them with their different needs,” she pointed out.
In Sintra, the SA runs a home for 14 children, up to the age of 12, often from broken homes, who have been sent there by the courts.
“Obviously, some people take note that we are not linked with the Catholic Church and that we are classed as a protestant evangelical denomination. But I would have to say that the faith difference isn’t huge and people come to us because they recognise that the SA is a church that cares for people,” she stressed.
“We certainly continue our founder William Booth’s original three-fold tenet of ‘soup, soap and salvation’, so we not only meet the spiritual needs of people, but also their physical needs,” said Capt. Groves. From the SA’s perspective, there is no point speaking to people about spiritual life if they are starving and have nowhere to sleep. Chris Graeme