Pawars share their ministry in the United Kingdom
By: Lt. Colonel Allen Satterlee
SS: What was the first thing that struck you that was different about corps work in the UK from the United States?
Captain Ashish: The Southwark Corps is made up of multicultural communities, people from different nations. You have the Africans, Asians, Brits. Not a traditional corps. The singing and how people came to eat together after the service made for a beautiful family atmosphere of people really caring and loving each other.
Major Sandra: The corps in the UK have a lot less resources than we do. Fewer employees. We just had one. There are less administrative tasks to do. Officers ended up doing a lot, but they were also allowed a bit more freedom to be creative in what they did. There wasn’t a strict like, “This is what you do: youth programs, Home League, women’s ministry, men’s club.” They were allowed to do what their community needed.
Captain Ashish: There is nothing wrong with the programs that we do here. It’s just they were trying to find out what are the needs of the community. For example, one of the corps, a traditional church, was not working for them so they changed to sit around on couches for a conversational style church. They did “messy church” where you sit around the table, play with the family and have a community aspect towards it. That was really fun to watch how they did that. Mission-wise it’s the same thing—to love and serve our brothers and sisters. Each corps looked a little different from the other.
Major Sandra: Even what they wore. We wore typical tunic and full uniform on a Sunday, but some of them were in full uniform, some were in classroom uniform, and some would be in a Salvation Army tee shirt and jeans depending on what style of worship they had, what community.
The way they did social services was very different. Here, if we had someone who needed a place to stay at the shelter, we could just call and they would usually give us a bed. Whereas in the UK, there’s a whole other system that required you to go through the town council.
Captain Ashish: The council had a lot of say about the homeless ministry and what happened. To have shelter, the homeless person had to go through the council to be put on a waiting list and get any shelter that’s available. It could be Salvation Army or any other. The Salvation Army still does great with shelters that they have but it’s a government contract governing how the shelters are run. They have a chaplaincy presence, so if there’s any spiritual need chaplains are available for them.
Major Sandra: Homeless people had to be registered within that community to get on the waiting list to go to a shelter. Ashish found that when he had a lunch for homeless people on Wednesdays, if he wanted to help them it was challenging. A lot of them were from Europe, and so they were not registered in that community.
SS: What did you do when you had a situation where they can’t be registered?
Captain Ashish: Just before we got there the caseworker at the corps had resigned due to family situations. So, it was just me handling the homeless ministry. And it was massive. It’s right in the middle of London where there’s a lot of people who are homeless. We would have a drop-in center where people came in to shower and have a warm meal. We had a Bible study after that. We tried to be creative like have karaoke for them where they can come and sing. We offered the basic needs. But when it came to shelters, we had to look for places that were doing night shelters and then you find something else.
I got in touch with a couple of Salvation Army shelters asking if they could get them in. The process is long. I had to connect with the council, talk to them about individuals that needed housing. If they were not on the list, you have to go to the council and put them on the list to do a proper case study. There are not a lot of jobs available. A lot of people were paid under the table, really minimal wages.
Major Sandra: At night sometimes he would go out. He helped people with blankets if they were people that he knew from their lunch.
Captain Ashish: Just trying to see where people are. Some people were sleeping under the bridge so we hung out with them to see how they’re doing. Right in the middle of the cities, you have a hidden thing going on with the homeless brothers and sisters, both men and women. Every night we toured to see where they were. I knew exactly which corner. Sad, because that’s their house in cold, in summer.
It was a beautiful blessing to connect with them not just with the feeding program, but on a deeper level, understanding their stories, where they come from. Some of them had made wrong choices that ruined their lives. But it’s beautiful how they came and we became a family eating meals together around the table. We didn’t hand out food. We prepared the table for them. We sat around the table, with proper cutleries for them. A nice warm meal was served to them.
Major Sandra: Sometimes it was only Ashish and the cook with up to 60 people in this tiny back room. He allowed them to shower, served them, and he had to clean it. Here we have people that clean the building. But in the UK, we have nobody and so, he would clean the bathrooms.
Captain Ashish: I put an apron on and got on with it. I didn’t mind.
A lot of the people had mental health issues. I remember this guy had an argument while we’re eating. I went to separate them. I told this one guy, “Stay. I want to talk to you.” When I asked him what happened he did not have anything. He went outside the building, and said, “When you come out, I’m going to get you.” I said, “Charles, I just want to talk to you.” “No, no, no, you finish this and I’m going to come get you.” I finished cleaning up. Charles was sitting outside waiting for me. One of the other homeless guys came in and he said, “Don’t go out yet because he’s still angry and waiting for you.”
I saw him there and started walking towards our house. He followed me, and then I somehow missed him, and went home. I didn’t see him for two months. Later he showed up. I said, “You okay, man? I just want to help you.” He walked in and said, “I just want to apologize to you.” He gave me the biggest hug. He became my best friend. If there’s something happened, he would say, “No, this is the church. You need to help this church. We can’t be doing this here.” He became the best support system. In fact, he and some other homeless people planned a farewell for me in one of our drop-ins. One of the best farewells I’ve ever received. I still have a card they bought. They collected a few coins from each other, went and bought it. On that card, there are scribbles where people can’t write or different languages. I was blown away by that.
SS: What do you miss most about the UK?
Major Sandra: I missed the diversity, about being aware of other cultures, their needs and how they worship and how they live. I miss London. Who doesn’t? It was beautiful.
Captain Ashish: I miss the corps people. They are still in touch, still send messages. I miss my brothers and sisters from the homeless drop-in center. Sometimes I wonder what’s happening with Charles or what’s happening with James, people I knew so well.
I miss connecting with other churches there. We ran a winter shelter with all the other church- es around the community. We call it ‘A Ropes Project’ where churches would open their church one night for two or three months during the wintertime. Our church opened. People came and slept in our church, had breakfast, and then went home. That oneness to work together was beautiful.
SS: What do you wish people understood about the Army in the UK?
Major Sandra: It’s a beautiful Salvation Army. It has a mixture of honoring the history of The Salvation Army, but also embracing creativity and innovation. It’s open to new ideas, maybe a little bit more freedom to know what your community needs, and to meet those needs, not try and focus on everything and do every ministry, but focus on things that you’re good at and to make them really good.
There’s a lot of corps do “Moms and Tots” ministry, which I hadn’t seen in the States. There was a lot of discipleship happening. When we go to the training college, it felt like you were surrounded by this cloud of witnesses.
One of the things in the UK that I love is they have Pioneers, a ministry where you can just do things out of the box and live. In a community, if there’s a Salvation Army, that’s in a bad community, the officers live there on the estates and work with that.
Captain Ashish: Sandra did a biblical justice conference where we brought out different issues that a church could look into, support and learn from. We had different speakers all three years. We were able to take a mission trip with young people and some adults to Athens, Greece and help with the refugee crisis within The Salvation Army. We learned about what it means to serve the refugees. It’s one thing to see it on the news but to see people in person and hear their stories, impacts you.
Major Sandra: What I appreciate about The Salvation Army in the UK is, they don’t have a lot of resources, but they make the most of what they have. They had empty space at the training college. They opened six apartments up to six refugee families from Syria. The whole training college got behind them and helped them.
What I want people to know is that God is doing amazing things there, creative things, officers are hard-working with not a lot, but they make the most of that.