In August, 1886, William Booth delivered a stirring challenge at London’s Exeter Hall, encouraging support of the Salvation Army so it could expand its ministries around the globe. In the audience sat Salvation Army Major John Carleton, a one-time Irish textile executive. He was surrounded by wealthy “civilians” who jotted lavish sums on their “canaries,” the Army’s term for the yellow pledge cards individuals submitted.
Carleton was already living on a shoestring budget. Unlike the well-to-do people all around him, he had no discretionary funds with which to work. Suddenly he was struck with an idea of how he could contribute to this special offering. On his pledge card he wrote: “By going without pudding every day for a year, I calculate I can save 50 shillings. This I will do, and will remit the amount named as quickly as possible.”
This offer touched Booth more deeply than any of the generous pledges made that day. But the thought of one of his officers skimping on his meals for an entire year did not set well with him. The next morning he burst into the office where his son Bramwell and Major Carleton were working. He had come up with a unique plan of his own. No member of the Salvation Army should have to go without something for an entire year. Instead, they could all unite to deny themselves some normal expense for a week and donate the money saved to Army funds.
The first Self-Denial Week was confined to the United Kingdom and raised a whopping 4,820 pounds (equaling over $24,000). To Booth’s delight, the bulk of that amount came in pennies and halfpennies. His aides were troubled by the scarcity of gold coins but the General stated enthusiastically, “Never mind! There is plenty of copper.” He realized that many had given their coppers at greater sacrifice to themselves than when gold and silver coins were contributed by wealthier individuals.
Self-Denial Week became an annual event in the Salvation Army. It was observed wherever Salvationists ministered throughout the world and came to be held one week each spring. Booth always contributed ten pounds to the special offering. Despite his overwhelming schedule, he kept bees and invested the proceeds from the honey sales to the cause. Bramwell and his family lived on bread and water for a week to support the fund. Officers trimmed each other’s hair to save a sixpenny which could then be donated.
When the Salvation Army came to Zululand in South Africa’s eastern republic of Natal, an elderly, half-blind Zulu widow named Maria begged a local farmer for a single week’s work hoeing Indian corn. Touched by her strong faith and desire, he eventually consented, stipulating that this woman in her eighties could work in the fields for a week at the same rate as the village girls—sixpence a day and her food.
During the service at the Army hall the following Sunday morning, the presiding officer invited congregants to present their Self-Denial offering envelopes at the altar. Led by the hand by a young girl, Maria made her way to the altar with an envelope containing her week’s wages. Kneeling, she lifted her largely sightless eyes heavenward and prayed: “Lord Jesus, take my gift. I wish it were more, but it is all I have. May this help You to send light to people who are in greater darkness than I am.”
* * *
My book Timeless Stories, God’s Incredible Work in the Lives of Inspiring Christians contains a chapter on “Stewardship.” The chapter is full of inspiring and instructive examples of how committed Christians viewed their material possessions and sought to use them to the glory of Christ and in the service of His kingdom.
Copyright 2014 by Vance E. Christie