Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: The journey and experience of a Salvation Army bell-ringer
By: Renee Davis
With your help, The Salvation Army’s mission continues as it always has, to meet human need wherever it exists. So whenever you see one of our famous red kettles and smiling bell-ringers, we hope it serves as a reminder that Hope Marches On. And like Mrs. Renee Davis, a volunteer from the Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi Division who shares her experiences of bellringing in the message below, we hope the gift you give is as much a blessing to you as to those who receive it.
Have you ever wondered about The Salvation Army bell ringers during the holiday season? I have to be frank and admit that mostly I didn’t care one way or the other. However, I’m grateful to God this year for opening my eyes and heart to be His hands and feet for others through The Salvation Army.
While my husband and I were eating at a pancake breakfast, a Salvation Army officer and friend from another community service organization joined our table. Through these men, God allowed me to see two sides of myself. One man was utterly weighed down and overwhelmed by the stress and preoccupation of this life and its worries. He was physically in the room but not present. How many times has that been me?
The second man had once been at the very bottom of life. Yet, through many years of hard, humble work and prayer, he was lifted from homelessness into a position of significant authority. Though busy with many responsibilities, he was a man of peace, calm and assured; not cocky, just grateful. The same God that saved him sent him on a mission to help his fellow man—and to help me as well.
We talked like old friends catching up and sharing our journeys. I could tell my story mattered to him — I mattered to him. He never asked or twisted my arm to volunteer; he didn’t have to. God already had my attention and told me He had equipped me for this very mission.
Reflecting on the day I volunteered to ring a bell for the Army reminds me of the Charles Dickens novella, “A Christmas Carol.” I was the Scrooge gifted one day to see Christmas present, past, and future. It was an experience I shall carry with me for the rest of my days.
The weather was perfect on that day, sunny and breezy at 70 degrees. My husband and I checked in at the local Wal-Mart and set up in front of the store. I was so anxious to begin that I started ringing the bell about 6 minutes early! We quickly began to see and learn many things about ourselves, people in the community, and His mission — Salvation. I learned it takes an Army to do God’s work.
I had started the day by wanting to collect the most significant amount in a Kettle that Christmas season! I had planned to be festive and entertaining and bring numerous props. Well, life happens, and I woke up with a case of vertigo and nausea. Sometimes, God will slow you down not to miss the important stuff. So God shifted my focus from making it all about a show into making a difference in the lives of others.
My husband and I did our best to recognize, be polite, and speak to each soul we encountered. To some, it softened their rigid exteriors. To others, we were still invisible as their lives were too busy or too overwhelming to see anything else.
I was reminded of my younger self as I watched some walk far around to the side of the building to avoid me, the bell-ringer and unwanted panhandler asking for money. We heard all the excuses that we had, at one time or another, felt the need to tell the bell ringer. “I don’t have any cash.” “I am in a hurry.” “I will catch you on the way out.” “I already gave at another store.”
We never directly asked for money or were pushy. We just greeted them and wished them well. God is not intrusive. He rings the bell and waits for us to develop a giving and thankful heart for His Mercies.
Some gladly sought me out to put money in the Kettle and would share their story of a time when the Army had helped them or a close friend during life’s lowest points.
One lady thanked me, saying, “I could hear that bell as soon as I got out of my car, and it reminded me to bring some cash in with me in this plastic world because I know the Army is doing good in this community.”
I so loved seeing the children come to the Kettle. Parents would give them change and instruct them to put it in the Kettle. Some freely did so, while others had difficulty letting go of the shiny coins! I remember those childhood years when I, too, wanted to keep all the money and had no idea about the gift of sharing or caring. Yet, their expressions, words, and actions all made my day better!
I also was given the gift of seeing my future self, and it was humbling. God showed me seasoned couples dedicated to serving their significant others in the twilight of their lives. Men would park and stand with a cane on unsure feet and slowly make their way to find a motorized cart for their partners, helping them out of their vehicles and onto the scooters. I prayed God would keep my husband and me together to help each other through our Golden years.
I also saw sadness in the elderly single men and women that passed by, alone, forgotten by time, technology, and busyness, and being rushed to the next life by those who saw them as no longer significant. I prayed this would not be my fate, but I also prayed that I would walk in His faith and power and purpose if I am alone, as I saw many single, seasoned adults do.
Others came on canes, walkers, and other devices, and some persisted in walking even though a machine might have made their lives easier. Some were lonely and just needed to talk and be heard.
As one woman approached me with her fingers in her ears, God reminded me that not everyone’s ailment was visible. As I silenced the bell, she thanked me and apologized for overly sensitive hearing. So many times, we are blind to the invisible pain in others. If only we would slow down and recognize that we all have struggles and are not the same, but we are all His and loved by Him.
I tried hard to recognize the frontline workers we saw this day. If they were wearing scrubs and a hospital ID tag or military or law enforcement uniforms, I thanked them for their brave and challenging service. The people I recognized were appreciative that someone noticed them and their sacrifices of service and self.
At the end of the shift, the red kettle could barely hold another bill or coin. The Salvation Army van drove up and collected our kettle, they said they would count the kettles overnight and let us know the good we had done that day. Whether I ever get a number or not on that kettle, I know we did good for others that day, and we were blessed for the experience.
As the van was packing up and we were packing up to go, a lady came out with money in her hand and asked if it was too late to donate. Not this night! The money went into the kettle before the van drove away. I pray the Lord is patient with you and me and that we are in the kettle of God’s will for our soul when he comes to gather.