The Chief of the Staff (Commissioner William Roberts) and Commissioner Nancy Roberts (World Secretary for Women’s Ministries) saw examples of ministry during a visit to officially open Salvation Army work in Slovakia. The country is now part of the newly named The Netherlands, Czech Republic and Slovakia Territory.
Spontaneous hallelujahs and enthusiastic applause resounded through the hall in Bratislava when the Chief of the Staff – on behalf of the General – declared Slovakia to be the 127th country in which The Salvation Army is at work. Mr Ján Hero, from the Ministry of the Interior, Office of the Government for Roma Communities, told the congregationthat the new opening was something that many people had been waiting to happen for 25 years! The Salvation Army had been active in Czechoslovakia from 1919 to 1950, when it was suppressed by the Communist government. It returned to the Czech Republic in 1990, 25 years ago.
The day had begun with an open-air meeting at a housing estate in a deprived area of Bratislava. Initially, the inhabitants had reacted sceptically, even aggressively, to the presence of The Salvation Army but, as the Amsterdam Staff Songsters sang and Slovakian- and Czech-speaking Salvationists interacted with the curious onlookers, the atmosphere changed and many people accepted the invitation to have a cup of coffee while enjoying the music.
At the official inauguration meeting representatives from the Slovakian Government, local municipalities, churches and non-governmental organisations joined Salvationist and friends from many countries in Europe in a joyful celebration. The Amsterdam Staff Songsters and a worship group from Brno Corps in the Czech Republic engaged the congregation in worship and adoration. The congregation was reminded that Jesus is the centre of attention in all Salvation Army ministry.
In a simple yet solemn ceremony the Chief of the Staff handed over a new Slovakian Salvation Army flag to Commissioner Hans van Vliet (Territorial Commander, The Netherlands, Czech Republic and Slovakia) with the words: ‘Commissioner, here is your flag, under which The Salvation Army will fight against sin, help people in need and seek salvation for those who need it.’ Commissioner van Vliet in turn called on Captains Vitalie and Inna Chiriac, as the new regional leaders for Slovakia, Majors Tonnie and Ria Scholtens, as officers-in-charge for the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Captains Josef and Stáňa Knofliček, who had pioneered the work in Slovakia, to remember the words of the Chief. Before handing over the flag, he charged them to 'take up your responsibility, go for the mission, serve our God and serve people’.
In his address the Chief of the Staff reminded the congregation of the words from Isaiah 43:19 where the Lord says: 'See, I am doing a new thing.' He challenged people to open their eyes and see what God could do for them and through them in Slovakia. In response, many people knelt at the improvised mercy seat to receive Jesus as Lord and Saviour and to commit their lives to him.
The day concluded with a concert by the Amsterdam Staff Songsters. The group's passionate singing inspired people to stand, clap and even dance in a celebration of God.
On Sunday morning an open-air concert was held in a small Roma settlement outside the town of Pezinok, before the weekend culminated in another celebration meeting in the Roma village of Plavecký Štvrtok. The hall was packed beyond the last chair as Commissioner Hans van Vliet recognised three new corps (churches) in Slovakia and installed Captains Vitalie and Inna Chiriac as regional officers.
The Chief of the Staff acknowledged that people could easily be distracted by the new things The Salvation Army was introducing them to, but challenged the congregation not to forget the Lord. He encouraged everyone present to consider the question: ‘Where would you be without the Lord?'
The meeting concluded with a rousing rendition of ‘O Boundless Salvation!’ before the Amsterdam Staff Songsters spread out through the congregation and encouraged everybody to join in singing ‘Praise His Holy Name’.
Among the many people who were involved in this historic weekend, special recognition was given to Envoy Pavla Vopelakova (Czech Republic), who made and managed most of the arrangements.