The Salvation Army is familiar to everyone. We’ve all seen the bell ringers at Christmas and probably been to one of their thrift shops, but this is only a part of the services they have been providing humanity for the past 150 years.

Becky Bitah, director of Salvation Army Rose Senior Center over at Sandy Blvd. and 18th, told The Southeast Examiner the story of how this nationwide institution began.

William Booth, originally a British Methodist preacher, founded The Salvation Army in 1865, London. Booth was not satisfied with the confines of his lay ministry so he began to evangelize to the destitute and poor on London’s lower east end.

He was charismatic and began to draw the crowds to hear his words of the love and hope, convincing the down- trodden that there was something more.

People from another charitable institution in the area were so impressed by his preaching that they set up a tent on an old Quaker burial ground and invited the public. Booth’s ministry mission took off from there.

The name Salvation Army is a coincidental twist of fate that occurred when his secretary referred to them as a volunteer army but he saw them as a army for salvation.

Ministers are referred to as officers and the congregation as soldiers.

Their dress is military, an instant identifier during times of crisis  and they have their own flag and music – mostly Christian songs put to popular folk tunes of the times

It was the music that first attracted Becky Bitah to the organization. She played flute in high school and when her uncle asked her to fill in for a missing band member at a Salvation Army concert she said yes.

She wouldn’t be able to wear the uniform if she wasn’t a member, so she joined and has been on a journey with this organization ever since.

The Salvation Army has been described as “Christianity with it’s sleeves rolled up”.

Booth’s theory was that there needs to be food in a person’s belly before anything can be done for the soul. The combination of a strong work ethic, food, housing and community worship are the driving principles of this Christian based organization.

According to Bitah, it is closest to the Nazarene and Weslyn Christian theology with some Quaker influence.

They were the forerunners to the twelve-step program because Booth realized early on that addicts needed to find a higher power to help raise them out of their problems, otherwise it seemed to impossible.

Bitah was an officer until she recently retired and came back to her hometown of Portland. During her tenure as an officer, she and family moved many times and saw a lot of the U.S.

At a recent conference in London there were 126 countries represented by members of The Salvation Army.

Booth’s idealism was to abolish vice and poverty by picking up where the state leaves off.  He was forward-thinking, realizing that government can’t do everything.

He wanted to provide homes for the homeless, farm communities where the urban poor could learn to grow food, training centers for emigrants and places for the dispossessed.

Today’s Salvation Army addresses the problems of the modern world, not that different than those of the past.

They offer programs for domestic violence, feeding programs/food boxes, veterans programs, residential programs for adolescents and pregnant and parenting teens, shelter services for men and women experiencing homelessness, recreational activities for families and seniors, utility assistance, disaster relief and a back-to-school assistance program.

The Rose Senior Center is for all seniors in the greater Portland area regardless of race, religion, creed, sex or income level. Activities take place everyday and are free or a minimal charge.

The Center has their own bus to take seniors on outings to places like Mt. Rainier, Mt. Angel, Depoe Bay and other cultural and civic events around Oregon and Washington.

Reaching out to The Southeast Examiner’s community, Bitah hopes to inform more seniors about the Rose Center’s daily lunch. There’s room in the dining area for more people.

“We make everything from scratch on site and we have really good cooks,” Bitah said. Depending on the financial status, the meal is either $3 or $4.50.

Salvation Army sponsors after school programs for children and teens, food boxes, sailing club, women and mens clubs and low-income senior housing.

Many young people are training to become officers in The Salvation Army. NT

For more information about The Salvation Army Rose Senior Center call 503.239.1221, 211 NE 18th Ave, or online portland.salvationarmy.org.