An Interview With General Brian Peddle
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
Southern Spirit (SS): How has COVID impacted the worldwide work of The Salvation Army?
The General: I start with a personal lament. The impact is often borne out in what you either gain or lose, and The Salvation Army has lost some things through COVID. The most incredible one for me is that we’ve lost in excess of 120 active officers. When an officer is commissioned, a silver star is issued to mentors and parents. When an active officer dies, we replace that star with a gold star. We have never had to replace so many silver stars—and that’s still happening. That does not include the impact on our soldiery and our employees during this time of COVID. We grieve over the pain and suffering that COVID has caused.
The international Salvation Army has weathered this storm very well so far. I put that down to the resilience of our people. It has been very challenging because social enterprises, fundraising, and income generation have been literally obliterated.
Some people don’t realize that when we go home, our work goes home with us. We look after millions of people and institutional realities, boarding schools for hundreds and thousands of children, and homes for vulnerable children. We couldn’t stop doing these things during COVID. Our teachers continued to teach when there’s been no guarantee of salary. We’ve seen people up front without all of the normal amenities of life available to them.
There is always a personal risk resulting in some losses. There is the potential of not only this pandemic but what comes next. How are we able to pivot and turn, recognizing things that are beyond our control? But we did pivot, mainly towards people in need. We repositioned ourselves. The Army has not been daunted. It’s excelled. I put it to the resilience and the confidence of our people in our mission.
We are an Army of Salvation at the heart of loss, challenge, and difficulty. The Army has stood fast around the world.
SS: What lessons have we learned from COVID?
The General: The lessons have been situational. What we have learned in the subcontinent of India or the continent of Africa would vary. In India, we found new courage. We are not the most favored of all peoples. We are a minority Christian church in a country that is predominantly Hindu.
Sometimes, our governments there don’t look at us with great value. But we have several hospitals across India. To have the government officials come to us and say, “Can we use McRoberts Hospital as a COVID hospital?” It’s like, “Thank you Lord! There’s a silver lining to this whole situation.” Or when the migrant workers were filling the train stations in Mumbai with no food. The only vehicles allowed in were our little white 4x4s with the red shield on it.
My hope is that we find favor and build on that just as we do here in the United States. It’s been wonderful to see that through the COVID response public favor towards The Salvation Army keeps building up. We want to be faithful in how we manage that trust in us.
SS: What are the greatest challenges facing The Salvation Army in 2022?
The General: There are several and they play out differently. How do we minister in the age in which we are living? How does The Salvation Army worldwide and in the USA Southern Territory remain faithful?
It’s about the Army of Salvation. It is about the main thing remaining the main thing. That’s why, as General, I’m tripping around the world, talking about God’s call to mission on The Salvation Army.
There are some very real and emerging challenges that we face. It is challenging to keep this outfit fit for mission when it comes to what the infrastructure requires, whether that’s governance, or good business systems or how we press forward in a way that speaks only of excellence.
We don’t want to be kicked out of a country because we have failed in our duty to strive for excellence, or how we do business, or how we fulfill our registered responsibilities and our legal right to work. Because there are threats, such as nationalism, that put restrictions on the General with regard to who I appoint in certain territories and give the responsibility of the Army to when governments call for national leaders, and not people from outside.
Moving people around the world is getting harder every day. There are restrictions concerning moving money in and out of countries. The United States is an incredible supporter of the international Salvation Army. We want to make funds available because they’re enabling the Army in Africa, in the South Pacific, in East Asia, and all across South Asia to grow.
I smile that we have Rwanda and Burundi linked together. Burundi doesn’t want an officer from Rwanda overseeing the Army’s work, so I’ve had to develop a Memorandum of Understanding with a lieutenant in Burundi to represent The Salvation Army. I don’t think any generals have had to do that. These nationalistic realities are threatening us.
Another thing is that our world is becoming so secularized and anti-biblical that it concerns me that there is less and less space for the value-added reality of faith. We have legislation created without any biblical view, often with extreme biblical illiteracy. How does The Salvation Army live in a secularized context and still be the Army of Salvation? These are some of the challenges we face, but God continues to be faithful. That’s the key element that emboldens me and countless others around the world.
SS: What are the greatest opportunities that The Salvation Army has at the present time?
The General: These are just bursting wherever I look. I have a panoramic view of the international Salvation Army. I was in Liberia a few weeks ago, and in Costa Rica with all of our family from Latin America North. Now, I’m here to engage with the mighty USA Southern Territory. I’m seeing the best of the best. God encourages and inspires me through that. If we still work in God’s will then we are in an incredible position of strength.
We are financially sound. We are biblically sound. We have mission frameworks that stand the test of time. We still have this very beautiful ability to acknowledge the need and turn all our resources towards that need. As long as we’re faithful in those things, the opportunities are unlimited.
We continue to grow. Last year, during COVID, we added 50,000 soldiers to our rolls while we lost very few. We just had a report at my office of the five new babies, the new openings in The Salvation Army. We’re looking very closely at three new countries within the next one to two years. I’m excited about The Salvation Army and what’s happening around the world.
I see the good and the bad, so this is a balanced response of optimism, of conviction that God has His hand of blessing upon us. God doesn’t call men and women to waste their lives. He has a future for the Army.
SS: What have you learned since being the General, that you could not have learned otherwise?
The General: That’s ongoing. Wherever we travel, I am so often surprised. You do not know how many times I have said, “I didn’t know we did that! I didn’t know we were engaged in that way.” It surprises me how people can do so much with so little. I am so impressed by them.
I used the word resilience earlier, but I use it again when I refer to the operations of the Army around the world. It’s being led by people who are incredibly strong, full of faith, totally convicted about what God wants from them. The Army stands on these wonderful principles of faithful living.
I’ve learned a lot about myself. For many years, I tried to not leave my handprints on my appointments. I always thought I should come and go and do my best, empower people, raise them up. Over these last years in my international context, God has changed me. I thank God I can’t have the same conversations anymore. I don’t talk about the weather, even though I live in London, England. Instead it’s the real heart issues of life and the troubles in our world. I speak differently. I think differently and I’ve learned more about myself than I ever could have in any other appointments I’ve held.
SS: What is the one thing you want The Salvation Army in the USA Southern Territory to know?
The General: I want them to know that God still has a plan for His world, for His creation. I want them to know that there is an incredible call upon every person of faith to find their place in what God is asking for from the Christian community.
Coming out of COVID we sense a lethargy. There are people who are not returning. There are people who are looking at life and saying, “Well, I managed without going to church for a while. I can keep doing that and be okay”. I would call anybody out who’s trying to find a way through that and say, “When we come together, we come together to worship Him. When we are dismissed through benediction, we are sent out to serve Him. Don’t think we do that so well in isolation.” At least, I don’t.
I would also say to the USA Southern Territory that you’ve got to help with the generations that are coming. We’ve got to engage our young people, the next generations. We’ve got to understand what is the shifting societal reality and how they fit into that. It might not be the way that this older person does it.
I also would say to the USA Southern Territory that, first and foremost, it’s the Army’s message of salvation. In everything that we do across this great territory, every service we provide, and every opportunity we have to have contact, it all has to be sacred encounters that have the possibility of talking about Jesus Christ, of praying for someone, or introducing someone to the possibility of a new beginning. These are the things that are central to who we are and what we do.
SS: What can you share about the current crisis in Europe?
The General: I have called to Colonel Pethybridge in Moldova (territorial commander, Eastern Europe Territory), who oversees our work in Ukraine. I’ve asked him, “Are people okay? Do we need to get people out? How do we support them?” I get this resounding reply that our officers are not going to leave. They’re going to stay, turning their homes and their halls into sleeping accommodations and sheltering facilities.
The difficulty we’re facing at the moment is getting things to them so they can serve well. They never had a lot to begin with, and perhaps even less right now. We are doing our best to support every initiative there. The world is being so responsive with their support. We have teams working alongside the team in Eastern Europe. We’re making sure that they have everything that they need.
The corresponding reality to that is Russia. Rosalie and I just celebrated an anniversary via a virtual congress with them. What do we do for our people in Russia? Two days before the banking system was prevented from operating, we were able to send funds into Russia, but what we sent won’t last very long. Our officers and soldiers in Russia are very concerned. In the end, of course, it’s always the people who suffer most.
We’re very conflicted around what’s happening in Europe right now. The Salvation Army shield is standing on the borders of Poland, Estonia, Latvia, and Slovakia to help and serve as a signpost to people. We’re going to keep doing that as long as we can and in every appropriate way that we can. More than anything, we’re praying for resolve, we’re praying for peace and we’re praying for a reconciliation of peoples and nations.