All across America, one of the most common sights of the Christmas season is people standing next to red kettles ringing bells.
I used to enjoy hearing my change clink in one of those kettles as I exited a store at Christmas time. But as we convert to a cashless society, I find my bank card doesn’t generate loose change.
We’re all familiar with the Salvation Army, but a couple of paragraphs in David Jeremiah’s book, “Signs of Life” intrigued me into doing some research on this Christian organization that is so visible at Christmas.
Founded in 1865 in London, England, by William Booth and his wife, Catherine, it was originally called the East London Christian Mission. Booth was a Methodist minister but his insistence on preaching to the poor, the homeless, the hungry, and the destitute on the streets of London rather than from behind a pulpit led to disagreements with mainline church leaders and a split with the church.
Additionally, many churches did not accept Booth's followers because of their past. Undeterred, Booth challenged those Jesus had pulled from the pit to save others like themselves. Soon, they too were preaching and singing in the streets as a living testimony to the power of God.
From its inception, the Salvation Army drew controversy. Pub owners, who found their business falling off as alcoholics and other “frequenters of public houses” were converted, formed the “Skeleton Army” which disrupted Salvation Army meetings by throwing rocks, bones, rats, tar, and other debris at members.
In fact, the bonnet designed for women by Catherine Booth in the early days of the Salvation Army was designed to deflect projectiles like these as the ladies ministered in high-risk areas of London.
The familiar Salvation Army brass bands were originally formed by a father and his three sons to protect William Booth from attacks by hooligans.
Historian E. H. McKinley wrote that Booth’s concept of the Salvation Army was for “wife-beaters, cheats and bullies, prostitutes, boys who had stolen the family food money, unfaithful husbands, burglars, and teamsters who had been cruel to their horses.”
Apparently, there was no shortage of “those people” at the time as 250,000 came to Jesus through the Salvation Army between 1881 and 1885.
Today, the Salvation Army operates in over 125 countries and provides services in 175 different languages. It has over 1.1 million soldiers and 4.5 million volunteers.
It is one the world’s largest social aid organizations in the world with 2004 operating costs in excess of $2.6 billion. It is the second largest charity in the United States and helps more than 32 million people in the United States per year. (That’s just over 10% of the population.)
The Salvation Army has been instrumental in relief and aid for both natural and man-made disasters for over a century. They are often the first organization on the scene of a disaster.
Since 1885, it has operated a tracing service to help find missing loved ones. It has missions to help veterans, prisoners, the elderly, the homeless, the hungry, to combat human trafficking, to offer youth camps, to help with Christmas gifts, and to free people from addictions.
Oh, and the tradition of those red kettles goes back to 1891 when Salvation Army Captain Joseph McFee was at a loss as to how to fund a Christmas dinner for 1,000 of San Francisco’s poor.
I think Christmas might be just a little merrier if I were to stop by the bank and pick up a roll of quarters.
God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-31 NIV)