“God loves with a great love the man whose heart is bursting with a passion for the impossible.” William Booth
In his book, “The Heart of America: Ten Core Values That Make Our Country Great”, Bill Halamandaris listed ten core values that built America. Ten values with proven ability to build a world superpower:
Compassion Opportunity Responsibility Equality
Valour Ambition Liberty Unity Enterprise Spirituality
In this case study of the value Spirituality, we look at an individual who provides an excellent example of what it means and what it does for a nation.
William Booth was born on the 10th of April, 1829 in Sneinton, Nottingham, England and was the only son of four surviving children born to Samuel Booth and Mary Moss. He died on 20 August, 1912 at the age of 83 years in Hadley Wood, London.
At the age of 13, his father went bankrupt and that pushed the family into poverty. To support his mother and sisters, he was apprenticed to a pawn-broker where he soon became fully aware of what poor people faced and how it causes their humiliation and degradation. During his teenage years, he became a Christian and after his apprenticeship in 1848, he moved to London to work in the pawn broking trade. By 1852, he had trained himself in writing and in speech and became a fulltime Minister with the Methodist Church. He resigned from the Methodist Church in 1861.
William Booth came on the scene when certain parts of England had a lot of people living in abject poverty in the midst of wealth. The government, the wealthy and even the church, did very little to address the plight of these people but complained about the rise in social vices (very much like Nigeria today).
Booth committed his life, despite the constant verbal and physical attacks, to not only focus on preaching salvation but also advocating and implementing social reforms. He was a man who believed that sometimes social improvement will come before conversion. He strongly believed that the role of the church was to: “loose the chains of injustice, free the captive and oppressed, share food and home, cloth the naked, and carry out family responsibilities.” This was not an add-on service of the church but part of her calling.
In 1865, Booth formed ‘The Salvation Army’ as a vehicle for social reform alongside preaching the gospel. His impact on the world was revealed when at his lying in state, 100,000 to 150,000 people showed up to pay tribute to the man who not only talked, but acted for the masses. The funeral was held at a vast exhibition hall on Hammersmith Road, in London drawing 40,000 people, including Queen Mary, who sat next to an ex-prostitute, a convert of General Booth’s.
William Booth’s Spirituality in Action
William Booth, his wife and associates, were involved in feeding the poor through their “Food for the Million” shops (soup kitchens) and providing hostels for the homeless. The works of social compassion by the “Army” are legendary.
Almost every type of outreach and care for the poor and downtrodden imaginable were attempted and usually successfully implemented. According to the Salvation Army website, “Today and across the world, The Salvation Army has 20 general hospitals, 45 maternity hospitals and 123 health centres/clinics, 440 hostels for homeless people, 228 children’s homes, 116 homes for elderly people, 60 homes for disabled people, 12 homes for blind people, remand and probation homes, 41 homes for street children, 41 mother and baby homes, 77 care homes for vulnerable people, 104 centres for people seeking refuge and 204 residential programmes for people with addiction dependency. The Salvation Army also has 2,286 education institutions which offer similar opportunities for ministry.”
Through her Red Shield Services, The Salvation Army provides support services to the military in Germany and UK only. These services range from non-alcoholic leisure facilities in military training establishments, to operating and managing children’s groups and activities such as crèches, mothers and toddler groups, after school clubs in response to local need, to support families of military personnel left behind at base during wartime.
Since 1900 when she got involved in disaster relief efforts in the Galveston Hurricane in the US, William Booth’s The Salvation Army International has gone on to become one of the leading non-governmental relief agency and is usually among the first to arrive with help after natural or man-made disasters around the world. They work to alleviate suffering and help people rebuild their lives, including helping to retrieve and bury the dead, and survivors, rebuild homes, helping to reestablish the livelihood of the locals, supply drinking water, set up feeding units and kitchens and provide pastoral care to victims.
It must be noted that from the first and second world wars to the 2004, 2006 and 2011 tsunamis in Asia, to hurricanes in the US and the 9/11 terrorist attack, to drought and famine in Africa, small, medium and large scale relief work were carried out by her ‘soldiers’.
William Booth gave women officers in the Salvation Army equal responsibility with men for preaching and social work. This was in a society that had not accepted women as equal to men (women were not even allowed to vote) and the result was attacks from the Church of England, politicians, and activist groups. Some attacks were not just verbal but physical, as members were violently attacked and imprisoned.
Booth and his wife were also active in the campaign to improve the working conditions of women. One of the famous examples is the Bryant and May case. A large number of the women working for Bryant and May factory (a match factory) in the East End of London suffered from ‘Phossy Jaw’ (necrosis of the bone), caused by the toxic fumes of yellow phosphorus from the matches, which eventually led to their deaths. Meanwhile the women were poorly paid.
Booth suggested better alternatives to the company but these were rejected. To address this problem, the Salvation Army opened its own match factory in Old Ford, East London in 1891, using the harmless red phosphorus. It also paid twice what Bryant and May paid their workers. He did not stop there but went further to conduct tours for MPs and journalists, round the Salvation Army factory and the wretched homes of the Bryant and May workers. As a result of the bad publicity, the company stopped using the harmful yellow phosphorus. So, the ‘Army’ did not only stop the injustice against women but also used the opportunity to create jobs.
Booth used his influence to lobby the Royal Family, politicians and other influential personalities. In his book, In Darkest England and the Way Out, Booth advocated applying the gospel and its ethics to the problems of crime and poverty. He recommended establishing homes for the homeless; farm communities where the urban poor can be trained in agriculture; training and rehabilitation centers for prostitutes, released prisoners, drug addicts and alcoholics; financial aid for the poor; schemes for poor men’s lawyers, banks, clinics, industrial schools; qualitative education for children and strong parenting in the family.
He believed that if the state fails to meet its social obligations it will be the task of each Christian to step into the breach. This book was a blueprint for the rehabilitation of an entire nation, a grand social reconstruction plan a century ahead of its time. What Booth suggested forms the foundation for the Salvation Army’s modern social welfare schemes and had an impact in the establishment of the British Welfare System (including the National Health Service). Today, “The Salvation Army is one of the world’s largest providers of social aid, with expenditures including operating costs of $2.6 billion in 2004, helping more than 32 million people in the US alone.”
Nigerians are well known to be deeply religious and our leading faiths (Islam and Christianity) are the biggest influencers in our country. This means, the power to lead the infusion of the nation-building core values lies with our religious leaders. It also means, citizens of faith, who are in the significant majority have no excuse not to use their faith as a basis to live out all the nation-building core values and in doing so, transform Nigeria into a developed nation in one generation.
People of faith say that nothing is impossible to those that believe. As a person of faith and having learnt a bit from William booth, the question then is, “What difference will your belief in God make in Nigeria?“