The General’s Christmas Challenge

by Pastor George Pearsons

Gen. William Booth is not a familiar name to most. He was a military man—of sorts. His arsenal was not stocked with rifles and cannons, but rather with Bibles, food, clothing and the message of salvation. He was a soldier of The LORD.

In the early days of his ministry, the Rev. William Booth was a prominent Methodist evangelist. He majored on the necessity of repentance and the promise of God’s love and Redemption for all mankind.

Returning late one cold evening from an evangelistic service, Booth took notice of the poor sleeping under the London Bridge and was overcome with compassion. At that moment, he knew he had to do something to help the homeless.

The LORD called, and Booth answered.

The Salvation Army was born.

In 1865 he and his wife, Catherine, opened The Christian Revival Society in the east end of London. There, they conducted services every evening and on Sundays—ministering to society’s most needy, including alcoholics, criminals and prostitutes.

Soon after, they established the “Food for the Million” soup kitchens. Large bowls of soup and bread were offered to the poor. Lodging houses provided the homeless with a safe haven from the bitter winters.

In 1878 the name of the organization was changed to “Salvation Army.” It was modeled after the military, complete with its own flag, uniforms and marching bands. The “soldiers” would “put on the armor” for evangelistic meetings and ministry work.

William Booth became known as “The General.”

The army grew rapidly. Operations spread all over the world—the United States, France, Switzerland, Sweden, Australia, Canada, India, South Africa, New Zealand and Jamaica—58 countries in all. Booth preached more than 60,000 sermons and traveled some 5 million miles.

No small task for one man. And, certainly no small army to keep motivated and inspired.

Christmas was always the most demanding time of the year. Everyone, it seemed, needed extra help. That is why Booth would send a telegram to his “soldiers” every Christmas Eve. His annual message was always a welcome encouragement to the weary servants of God.


A Word to Encourage

Christmas of 1911 would be Booth’s last on earth. He went home to heaven the following year. How significant this final Christmas Eve communication would turn out to be.

He sat down to compose the telegram.

A paragraph of heartfelt words flowed from his pen. Surely, the troops would be uplifted by his Christmas charge. But, upon realizing the cost of the telegram—and driven by his passion to minister to as many as possible, he began to edit his message.

The paragraph became three sentences.

Then, one sentence.

Booth kept writing, editing—struggling to summarize his yearly charge in three words. Even at that, three words were still too many.

Finally, he decided to send only one word—one word that would have to inspire an entire army to win souls, feed the hungry and provide shelter on this Christmas Eve.

Finally, that one word came. The word that would help his troops make it through the night.

It was simply the word…“others.”

What was born in Booth’s heart after seeing the homeless became a lifetime of service to others.

The soldiers of the Salvation Army were inspired on that Christmas Eve of 1911. They carried on their work with bravery, courage—and especially compassion. They were able to take their eyes off themselves and meet the needs of…others.

As we celebrate this holy season and worship the King of kings, let us reach out to others in a fresh, loving and compassionate way.

Let othersbe our mission.

Let othersbe our purpose.

Let othersbe our passion.

After all, for God so loved othersthat He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

May your Christmas season be filled with joy, celebration and…others!VICTORY