30th annual William Booth Society Gala leaves tremendous impact in Tulsa
By: Brad Rowland
For three decades, lives have been changed through the impact of The Salvation Army’s William Booth Society Gala in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The annual event is a centerpiece of the fundraising and awareness effort of The Salvation Army in and around the city, with an impressive list of former guest speakers that includes former United States presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, as well as Joe Montana, Walter Cronkite, Emmitt Smith, Jay Leno, Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, Tony Dungy, and Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. On Tuesday, March 21, the 30th annual gala was held at the Cox Business Convention Center in downtown Tulsa, with more than 1,000 individuals coming together to raise more than $1.2 million to support The Salvation Army’s efforts.
Tim Tebow served as the keynote speaker for the evening, drawing in an interested audience through his passion and experience. Tebow, a former professional athlete, broadcaster, and three-time New York Times bestselling author, engaged with patrons before and after the event in addition to speaking extensively about his experience and urging those in attendance to display the love of Jesus Christ to others.
“I hope that we have a room full of people here tonight that are willing to continue to give, pray, serve, and love,” Tebow said. “Not just when it’s easy in a ballroom or at a dinner such as this, but even when it gets hard or when you have to be uncomfortable or even if it changes your life. Because the greatest form of love is not a feeling—the greatest form of love is a choice. When we talk about ‘Love Beyond,’ it’s a choice, not a feeling. The greatest form of love is the sacrificial love that Jesus has for us and that we’ve been commanded to live out as well.”
The Salvation Army Advisory Board and Women’s Auxiliary beautifully supported the event in conjunction with Major Sarah and Captain Dan Nelson, area commanders, and the dedicated staff of the Tulsa Area Command. Following a welcome from Kim Stewart, advisory board chairman, Major and Captain Nelson brought the invocation and struck a powerful chord for the evening.
Major Nelson told the extensive story of how her family, across generations, became connected with The Salvation Army through the work of an officer and a powerful tale of redemption.
“In a real sense, this is a significant part of my story because it explains to a degree, how a bridge was provided for a future generation, for me, to become a leader of The Salvation Army’s work in Tulsa,” said Major Nelson. “It was a moment, decades ago, when the sending work of God prompted the heart and feet and hands of a Salvation Army officer to go to a family in desperate need of help. It wasn’t an easy assignment… but he extended love and compassion and understanding, and he rescued my grandmother.
“As a result, subsequent generations of my family are preaching the gospel and serving suffering humanity today. This is the story of a family who was freed from poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence, and a host of other generational curses. This is the work we remain committed to in The Salvation Army. Please receive our deep gratitude in joining us for building bridges for children, women, and men who deserve a better future, because you just never know what the outcome might be.”
Captain Dan Nelson spoke about The Salvation Army’s “Tokens of Hope” initiative, used in many commands across the USA Southern Territory. This program encourages individuals to share tokens with those facing challenging circumstances, and the tokens direct them to The Salvation Army for a helping hand.
“We invite you to take these tokens home with you, not as something to keep for yourself, but to give to someone in search of a bridge out of their circumstances,” Captain Nelson said. “You’re bound to encounter someone with a cardboard sign that says ‘help.’ Offer them a token. Perhaps you’ll hear of a family facing eviction. Offer them a token. Maybe you’ll meet someone who has no place to go. Offer them a token of hope, and the sending, saving work of God will continue and it will continue through you.”
Julie Chin, a local television news anchor in the Tulsa area, served as mistress of ceremonies for the event, sharing the message of The Salvation Army and its programs while also conducting a question-and-answer session with Tebow near the conclusion of the evening. The ballroom entrance featured a theme of a bridge that The Salvation Army can be to others, and she outlined that connection and the feeling of community.
“When we share a token with you to share with others, this is just another way to take action and demonstrate our ‘Love Beyond’ message,” Chin said. “We hope that together, as a community, we can welcome folks to move toward a new future. When people come to our Center of Hope, we hope to give them a bridge to a brighter tomorrow.”
Videos were shown to inform attendees on the work happening at Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs in the region, as well as Tulsa’s Center of Hope. Program highlights were interspersed through the comments shared from the podium, and the William Booth Society Gala chairs, Angela & Sean Kouplen and Terri & Roger Ramseyer, hosted a two-minute “live ask” donation drive. The chairs diagrammed a challenge grant from ten individuals that pledged to match every dollar raised over the two-minute period, up to $52,000, in an effort to maximize the fundraising power of room such as this.
At the conclusion of the night, an art auction was held, as two paintings signed by Tebow netted considerable donations, all toward The Salvation Army’s mission. Prior to that final fundraising push, however, Tebow extolled the virtues of the Army’s work while also sharing his personal experiences.
After speaking on the work of his foundation in The Philippines and with those abroad, Tebow centered the impact that can be made close to home.
“You don’t have to go across the world to see people who are starving for hope,” he said. “You can simply walk outside. There are so many here who need you to be the bridge to finding hope. Gotham City doesn’t need you, but Tulsa does. The Salvation Army does. The Center of Hope does. The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Club does. And the question is whether we are willing to dive in and say yes.”
Tebow memorably intertwined his sporting experiences, while also engaging with the local crowd in a playful manner, but he was also consistent in driving home the real purpose of the evening.
“As fun as it is to talk about sports and to talk about other passions, hopefully we are all that much more passionate about why we’re here,” said Tebow. “What we’re doing here is eternal and it won’t be forgotten. When we’re talking about a Center of Hope, we’re not talking about an average, ordinary thing. We’re talking about people who are starving for hope, and they need you to be the bridge to that hope.”
“I believe that every single one of us, when we have breath, we have purpose, and that means we have a chance to make an impact in people’s lives. We have that chance tonight to be the bridge so that people can experience hope. And when we say hope, we don’t mean the hope of winning a game, that’s not the biblical hope. We look forward with confidence, expectation, and anticipation. The confidence that we have a really big God, the expectation that our God’s not done working, and the anticipation that our best days are ahead of us because heaven is ahead of us… Our hope is based on the promises of God that never change. They’re the same yesterday, today, and forever. So, when you are a bridge to hope, you’re not wishing on a star, it’s based on the promises of God.”
Finally, Tebow left an indelible image for many with a simple challenge to donors, board members, employees, soldiers, and officers in attendance on a night that will be remembered locally for a long time.
“My question to all of us tonight is will we not just love people when we feel like it, but we’ll love people because we’re willing to choose their best interest and we’re willing to act on their behalf. Whether we know them or not, or whether we’ve met them or not, because we know God loves them. We know we’re called to. We know they’re worth it. And that means that we’re going to love even when it hurts, because every single person is worth it. Can you imagine the impact we could make if we made that choice?”