In culmination of three years of planning and preparation, The Salvation Army commenced its 2015 international congress, Boundless – The Whole World Redeeming, on 1 July at The O2 Arena in London.
With approximately 15,000 delegates in attendance, the opening session commemorated the joyful manner in which The Salvation Army has spread the gospel over the past 150 years while also imploring delegates to continue that mission.
Lieut-Colonel Allan Hofer, chief secretary of the Switzerland, Austria and Hungary Territory, who planned the opening session, said he wanted delegates to leave the rally feeling ‘joyful, encouraged, renewed, and ready to do their part in the salvation of the world’.
After performances by the International Staff Band (ISB), transMission and London Citadel Timbrels, the celebration got under way with a video clip of General André Cox’s dream of ‘a committed, effective and joyful army, rooted and confident in the Word of God’.
After a spectacular opening sequence – blending video and live action – in which young people from around the world brought together the interlocking elements of the Boundless logo, the General and Commissioner Silvia Cox (World President of Women’s Ministries) entered the arena to loud applause. ‘God has been faithful to generations of Salvationists over 150 years,’ the General said. ‘We come with open hearts to hear what God is saying to The Salvation Army in these days. You didn’t come to sit in a chair and be a spectator.’
The Chief of the Staff (Commissioner William A. Roberts) led the opening song, ‘O Thou God of Every Nation’, which was accompanied by onstage scenes depicting Jesus calling the disciples to go out and proclaim the good news of the gospel, as well as a brief history of William and Catherine Booth’s destiny in east London.
Representatives from all five Salvation Army zones then entered the arena carrying flags from each of the countries represented at the congress, reflecting in the opening something of the Olympic Games. Each zone delivered a performance showcasing an element of its culture, including representations by ballet dancer Shaw Coleman (Europe), the South America West Dance Troupe (Americas and Caribbean) and the kapa haka group (South Pacific and East Asia). The sequence offered a snapshot of the vast expanse of the Army’s international ministry as the blood-and-fire flag was placed onstage to Dean Goffin’s arrangement of ‘O Boundless Salvation’.
Three delegates, including Lieut-Colonel Mani Kumari of the India Central Territory, shared their testimonies. Mani was led to Christ after her son became ill and a doctor declared he had no chance of survival. ‘I said, “If you are living God, please give life back to my son,”’ she said. ‘The Lord saw each tear that fell. He saw my suffering and pain. His unfailing love healed my son. God turned my sorrow into joy … I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal saviour and I surrendered my life to him.’
Cadet Chris Doborwicz shared his journey into the St Petersburg, Florida, Adult Rehabilitation Center. ‘I was court ordered and suffering with a severe drug and alcohol addiction,’ he said. ‘I was broken, suicidal and hopeless. I was at a place in my life where I honestly had given up, because I had spent years trying to get clean and sober. What could God do with someone like me – a junkie, a convict, a basket case?’ he asked. ‘I finally came face-to-face with Jesus and I decided to entrust my life to him and him alone.’ Now he is a cadet at the Evangeline Booth College, USA Southern Territory.
Music from the International Staff Songsters and ISB prepared the way for the General’s Bible message.
He recounted William Booth’s fears for the 20th century: ‘I consider that the chief dangers which confront the coming century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God and Heaven without Hell.’
The General observed, ‘If William Booth came back tonight, he’d still say the same things. In this battlefield, we need soldiers to be mobilised to fight for what is right.’
Addressing the persecution faced by many Christians in the Middle East and around the world, he said: ‘Increasingly we see … that following Christ comes at a great cost. No, my friends, this isn’t for the faint-hearted. Our faith does not shield us from the harshness, the difficulties, the struggles of life. But Jesus tells us, “I will be with you.”
‘I don’t know what your needs are,’ he said, inviting those in attendance to the mercy seat. ‘But I know the one that can meet your needs this evening.’
After a time of joyful worship, Commissioner Joash Malabi led the closing prayer and benediction in Swahili.