General William Booth: Inspiration for Our Times
What person over a hundred years ago, drew a larger crowd of mourners at his death than did Princess Diana in 1997? This was not so amazing, considering the hope he brought to thousands of British citizens in his day.
Times were wretched in England in the mid to late 1800s. The Industrial Revolution brought many farm families to London seeking work. What they found was cheap, filthy tenement houses where space was tight. As a result of these destitute conditions, people often drowned their depression in alcohol.
Gin shops sprouted all over London. Conditions were so bleak that these shops even had special steps built beside the bar so young children could order drinks. Five-year-olds became alcoholics.
Hunger did unusual things to otherwise moral people. Innocent young girls became prostitutes to keep from starving. Thievery became a way of life for small children if they wanted to survive.
Into this world stepped William Bramwell Booth. Born in 1829, he became a Christian at age 15 and eventually sensed the enormous need of Great Britain’s citizens. Deciding to attack society’s ills from a militant Christian stand, Booth recruited groups of Christian young people into what he called the Salvation Army. Stressing hard work and fervent preaching and praying, he became The General and organized preaching campaigns.
Booth used unusual tactics to attract people’s attention. He would preach from a platform on street corners, encouraging the crowd of people to repent of their sins and let Jesus Christ save them and make them ready for heaven. He sometimes preached outside taverns and received threats and severe persecution.
Although the prospect of heaven was attractive to the destitute of London, Booth wisely attacked the here-and-now problems of the masses also. Realizing they needed food for their bodies as well as their souls, he established soup kitchens where anyone could buy a cup of soup for a quarter of a penny, and an entire meal for six cents.
He held evening preaching services where drunkards, prostitutes and thieves could attend, regardless of their social status. Specially trained volunteers taught their converts self-discipline and the values of hard work. “Soup, soap and salvation” became buzz words for the corps of volunteers.
During this time of social upheaval, amazing transformations came about through the efforts of this one man who cared little for the comforts of life as long as he could bring souls into a right relationship with God and make them useful to mankind.
Booth’s funeral procession wound through London’s streets, drawing an estimated two million people, from all walks of life. Tramps, prostitutes and thieves mingled with blue-bloods of British society as they mourned the loss of an ordinary man who allowed God to use him to minister to the needs of London’s vast sea of humanity.
The New York Times then stated, “No man of his time did more for the benefit of the people than William Booth.”
What about you? Have you ever volunteered at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen? Share your experience below.