Over in Helsinki, Finland, we suspect Salvation Army Capt. Hannu Lindholm, a corps officer posted in Thompson between 2005 and 2007, must think his prayers were answered last week when he received word that Betty-Lou Topping, the new corps officer here, has arrived on the local scene like something akin to a force of nature.
On Aug. 2, she and her helpers distributed 100 hotdogs to the homeless in the municipal parking lot used mainly by Canadian Tire customers near the Thompson Homeless Shelter, or Nanatowiho Wikamik Homeless Shelter, as it is also called, at 115 Churchill Dr. It's not a soup kitchen and it's not a solution to homelessness. But it is someone new in town doing something without waiting for committee approval or permission to make a difference on a given day. Our front page photo this week captures one of those lunch-hour moments last Thursday: "This lady asked for prayer, so we prayed! Bless the Lord," Topping said.
A day earlier in a letter to the editor, Topping wrote, "It's true I am appointed first and foremost to The Salvation Army Church to be their pastor, spiritual leader, supporter and friend, but I'm also appointed to this community to be a voice, advocate, and facilitator to those who need to experience the love in God in practice. Heart to God, hand to man, is who we are supposed to be."
Lindholm last year appended a comment online to the bottom of an earlier letter to the editor in reference to homelessness in Thompson, saying, "The difficulties within the community of the less fortunate seems to be ongoing."
Local resident Addie Colbourne in his letter in reference to a March 23, 2011 news story headlined: "Thompson Christian Council and other churches should practice what they preach, reader writes" had asked what are [local churches] doing for [the] homeless 364 days per year? According to the article there were on average of 40 individuals turned away nightly during the cold of winter from the shelter, due to fire code requirements. If we had "outreach ministries" in our communities, I believe that we could provide shelter in these 11 buildings we call churches in our communities," he wrote.
Lindholm noted in his response to Colbourne's letter, "When my wife and I were the officers in charge of The Salvation Army from 2005-2007 we welcomed and went out to meet the citizens of Thompson on the streets often giving hot coffee. Our facility at the Army was open anytime for overflow from the shelter but we never received any calls to help people out of the cold.
"I do agree with this article in many ways it states the truth. As a body of Christ the various denominations do speak but neglect to act. This is why I am a Salvationist first and officer of The Army because we take practical religion into our streets.
"Presently we are serving here in Kajaani, Finland and though we are 10,000 kilometres from Thompson we face the same difficulty here. Often churches talk about helping and uniting to help those in the community. But we see very little when push comes to shove or helping those who have fallen between the cracks.
"There are often many reasons for not reaching out and the most common is the lack of willing workers within our separate denominations. This is true! However it is a lame excuse especially when I have seen here in Europe many people getting together with others from other organizations to make one team of strong willing workers.
"I can't speak for or against anyone in Thompson. There are many wonderful people there within various denominations that do wonderful work for Jesus our Lord and Saviour. But if we are not answering the call as Jesus spoke in Matthew 25:31-46 ... when I was hungry ... when I was thirsty... when I needed clothing ...when I was in prison ... you came ... but I tell you the truth what ever you did not do for the least of these you did not do for me.
"Christianity is only a word if we do not live in out in our everyday lives in a practical way. Thompson is a wonderful place to live and serve the Lord. Jesus our Lord calls those who profess to be Christians to standout and be different by serving others as he did by example. Learn to love our neighbour unconditionally and pray them into the kingdom of God.
"Quoting scripture and pretending to be a Christian doesn't cut it when our brothers and sisters are hungry and cold," said Lindholm. "Invite them to eat at our table and give them a place to sleep ... is that too difficult. ... if it is! Open our church doors even if it means we have to watch over those sleeping all night long. This is the least we should do... after all we never know if it will be us in the food line tomorrow. God's blessings on all in Thompson."
Lindholm, a former marksman with the Canadian Armed Forces, knows something of hardship from his personal life. It's why he is a Salvation Army officer today. A recovering alcoholic, on a cold February night in 1995, he passed near the Kingston, Ont., tavern where he used to drink and pulled over to the curb. In the darkness, he slumped over the steering wheel and prayed: "God, if you save me from this compulsion to drink, I will serve you to my last breath. Suddenly he felt as if two strong arms embraced him, and he was flooded with joy as the urge to drink left him forever," according to a Salvation Army account published in June 2006.
There's a new major in town and she's here to make some noise and live out loud. Welcome, Betty-Lou Topping.