Millions of people in 118 countries are helped by the Salvation Army, founded by William Booth, who was born April 10, 1829.
At the age of 13, Booth was sent to apprentice as a pawnbroker. His job made him aware of poverty, and the humiliation and degradation poor people suffered. Becoming a Christian as a teenager, Booth studied American preacher Charles G. Finney’s writings on revival and witnessed his faith to others.
At age 26, William married Catherine Mumford and together they founded the Christian Mission to minister to the poor, drunk, outcast and wretched on the dirty and dangerous streets of London’s East End slums. They fought to end sex-trafficking and teenage prostitution in England.
Catherine Booth said: “I felt as though I must go and walk the streets and besiege the dens where these hellish iniquities are going on. To keep quiet seemed like being a traitor to humanity.”
The Booths helped expose a child prostitution ring that took advantage of poor families by buying their young girls with the false promise of a giving them a better future, but instead sold them to brothels throughout Europe. The Booths arranged to buy a girl out of this trade, but those profiting from the prostitution entangled the Booths in a much-publicized trial. The Booths were absolved of any charges and the publicity increased their support to end this evil.
With the help of Josephine Butler, the Salvation Army worked to pass England’s Criminal Law Amendment Act in 1885, raising the age of consent, which before was only 13 years of age.
In 1884, the Salvation Army established the first rescue home for women and girls escaping sex trafficking and prostitution in London, England. In 30 years, the number of the Salvation Army rescue homes grew from one in Whitechapel to 117 homes around the world.
Adopting uniforms and a semi-military system of leadership, the Salvation Army ministered to the poor, drunk and outcast, while fighting sex-trafficking and teenage prostitution.
William Booth wrote:
While women weep, as they do now, I’ll fight;
while little children go hungry, I’ll fight;
while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I’ll fight –
while there is a drunkard left,
while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets,
where there remains one dark soul without the light of God – I’ll fight! I’ll fight to the very end!
Beginning in 1880, Catherine Booth grew concerned over “sweat labor” shops where women and children worked long hours in very poor conditions, particularly in match-making factories where white phosphorous was used. Exposure to white phosphorus caused one’s skin to yellow, hair to fall out, and phossy jaw, where the jaw glowed a greenish-white color, then turned black and rotted away, leading to death. The Booths’ efforts led to the adoption of safer matches which were struck on sandpaper.
William Booth said: “We must wake ourselves up! Or somebody else will take our place, and bear our cross, and thereby rob us of our crown.”
By 1879, the Salvation Army had grown to 81 mission stations staffed by 127 full-time evangelists with over 1,900 voluntary speakers holding 75,000 meetings a year. William Booth was awarded an honorary degree from Oxford. Booth met King Edward VII at Buckingham Palace, Winston Churchill, and was awarded the Badge of Honor on behalf of the city of London.
In 1880, the Salvation Army opened work in the United States, followed by missions in over 100 countries, including: France, Australia, India, Switzerland, Sweden, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Jamaica, Hong Kong and mainland China.
On March 28, 1885, the Salvation Army was organized in the United States. William Booth traveled to America where he met President Theodore Roosevelt, and later sent him a telegram, March 7, 1903: “I am more than impressed with the greatness of the Nation at whose head you have been placed by the Providence of God. I pray that He may spare you all the wisdom needed. … These kindly feelings which you are known to entertain towards those who grow in misery and helplessness even in this greatly favored country. … May the blessing of Him that maketh rich and addeth no sorrow be on the White House and the Nation it represents.”
William Booth opened a session of the United States Senate with prayer.
The editor of the Salvation Army’s Conqueror magazine, Major T.C. Marshall, sent a letter to Booker T. Washington, founder of the Tuskegee Institute, thanking him for his favorable comments regarding the Salvation Army’s effort to minister to African-Americans in the South.
Booker T. Washington replied, July 28, 1896: “I am very glad to hear that the Salvation Army is going to undertake work among my people in the southern states. I have always had the greatest respect for the work of the Salvation Army especially because I have noted that it draws no color line in religion. … In reaching the neglected and, I might say, outcasts of our people, I feel that your methods and work have peculiar value. … God bless you in all your unselfish Christian work for our country.”
Growing blind, William Booth finally died in 1912. Over 150,000 people viewed his casket with 40,000 attending his funeral, including the Queen of England.
William Booth stated: “The chief danger of the 20th century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, politics without God, and Heaven without Hell.”
In 1904, William Booth’s daughter, Evangeline, became the Commander of the Salvation Army’s United States forces. Under her leadership, the Salvation Army not only evangelized, but organized programs for unwed mothers, the homeless and disaster relief, especially after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and in U.S. Army canteens during World War I. For the Salvation Army’s work during the war, Evangeline Booth was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
The New York Times published an article on Aug. 7, 1927, titled: “Far-flung activity of Salvation Army; Wherever one goes in New York it is to be found ‘just around the corner.’ It has 47 institutions. These range through training schools to hospitals, nurseries, refuges and homes.”
When Evangeline became the Salvation Army’s International Commander-in-Chief, President Franklin D. Roosevelt sent her a telegram, Sept. 4, 1934, saying: “Please accept my sincere congratulations on your election as General of the Salvation Army throughout the world. In these troubled times it is particularly important that the leadership of all good forces shall work for the amelioration of human suffering and for the preservation of the highest spiritual ideals.”
FDR concluded: “Your efforts as Commander-in-Chief of the Salvation Army … have earned the gratitude and admiration of millions of your countrymen.”
On Dec. 1, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson remarked to the Salvation Army in New York: “For a century now, the Salvation Army has offered food to the hungry and shelter to the homeless – in clinics and children’s homes, through disaster relief, in prison and welfare work, and a thousand other endeavors. In that century you have proved time and again the power of a handshake, a meal, and a song. But you have not stopped there. You have demonstrated also the power of a great idea.”
President Lyndon Johnson continued: “The voice of the Salvation Army has reminded men that physical well-being is just not enough; that spiritual rebirth is the most pressing need of our time and of every time; that the world cannot be changed unless men change. That voice has been clear and courageous-and it has been heard. Even when other armies have disbanded, I hope that this one will still be on the firing line.”
Ronald Reagan stated: “The Salvation Army embodies compassion and Christian love in feeding the hungry, caring for the homeless, and attending to the afflicted and downtrodden.”
William Booth is credited with saying: “Most Christian organizations would like to send their workers to Bible college for five years. I would like to send our workers to Hell for five minutes. That would prepare them for a lifetime of compassionate ministry.”
William Booth wrote: “What are you living for? What is the deep secret purpose that controls and fashions your existence? What do you eat and drink for? What is the end of your marrying and giving in marriage – your money-making and toilings and plannings? Is it the salvation of souls, the overthrow of the kingdom of evil, and the setting up of the Kingdom of God? If not, you may be religious … but I don’t see how you can be a Christian.”
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