Torchlighters Shine On: William And Catherine Booth And The Salvation Army

How can we raise a “cheerful giver” in an era of automatic withdrawals and online giving?  One annual opportunity to model cheerful giving to children, even as we check items off our Christmas to-do lists, presents itself each December: the ringing bell and bright red kettles of the Salvation Army.

Having been raised by a single mother with few resources, I was keenly aware of the value of just a few coins as a young girl. Perhaps that’s why I still remember how my grandmother made a point to drop coins into the red kettle of the Salvation Army, not once but every single time she saw one.  This generosity, small as it may seem, left an impression on my young heart as did her words, “Never pass the red kettle without giving. We can always spare something to help those in need.” To this day I think of her and this simple discipline when I fish a few coins or bills from my own purse to support the Salvation Army.  The inspiring founders of the Salvation Army, Torchlighters William and Catherine Booth, would certainly approve.

In the 1860’s the itinerant preacher-evangelist couple William and Catherine Booth focused their efforts on London’s East End, an area infamous for extreme poverty and moral decline. The Booths set out to bring the Good News of Christianity directly to the people who needed it most in the neighborhoods where they lived.  Here the Booths found poverty of body and spirit so great that they had to act. They founded The Christian Mission in East London in 1865 to minister to physical, emotional and spiritual needs of these societal outcasts who would not be welcomed into the churches of the day.

In 1878, as more people joined their efforts, William renamed the work “The Salvation Army.” He adopted army-style terminology to organize and motivate the “troops” toward even more good work.  With a novel focus on the whole person, the army went beyond immediate physical and spiritual needs to provide education, job training, and a sense of purpose and belonging. The work quickly grew and spread, and by 1885 there were over 3,000 army officers, with more than 1,000 stationed abroad!

Today the Salvation Army continues many of the Booths’ projects to reclaim lives in 130 countries worldwide, all dedicated to “preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in his name without discrimination.” Surely the Booths would be astonished to see their good work sown in faith now reaching into a third century and around the world.

The next time you see that familiar red kettle, take the opportunity to give generously to the work of the Salvation Army, even as you embrace a teachable moment with your children. In so doing you just might impart a lifelong habit of cheerful giving, perhaps even helping to carry the message and work of the Salvation Army into yet another century!

This post is part of an ongoing series sharing the lasting impact of Torchlighters heroes. You can introduce children to William and Catherine Booth through the Torchlighters episode portraying their lives and our free downloadable curriculum.

Photo credit: The Salvation Army US. Online donations welcome!