Retiring Salvation Army General John Larsson and Commissioner Freda Larsson made their final overseas tour as the organization’s international leaders with a visit to New Zealand and Fiji.
Visiting New Zealand and Fiji for their last overseas visit was a very deliberate choice, Larsson said, adding that they "look back on our years in the New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga Territory with tremendous warmth." Ten years earlier, the Larssons served as territorial leaders of New Zealand, Fiji and Tonga.
"It really does feel like coming home," stated Larsson, according to a report by The Salvation Army.
During the visit, which coincided with the final week of a year of "24-7 Prayer," the retiring general commended the territory’s Salvationists for keeping the social and religious aspects of the Army’s work together. Larsson said their work reflected "a large vision of what it means to bring salvation to the whole person."
The evangelical Christian organization, which operates in 111 countries and provides services in 175 different languages, is the world's second largest provider of social aid – after the United Nations – helping more than 30 million people. Its membership includes more than 17,000 active and more than 8,700 retired officers, around 100,000 other employees and more than 4.5 million volunteers. Larsson, who has held the position of general since 2002, will be retiring in April.
On Tuesday, near the end of the visit, the general spoke at a cafe-style evening in Auckland, towards the top of New Zealand’s North Island, attended by 400 Midland and Northern Division Salvationists.
When questioned by local television personality and Christian communicator Rob Harley about The Salvation Army’s strengths and weaknesses, Larsson noted that the Army’s strength is in its enthusiasm.
"The Salvation Army has no passengers," he said. "We are a mobilized people."
As for the organization’s weaknesses, Larsson said, "The Army’s potential weakness could be weariness."
"We need to retain the passion," he exclaimed. The general exhorted those present to remain faithful and be encouraged.
The Larssons were also asked about their retirement plans as well as their hopes and fears for The Salvation Army.
"Every aspect of life has some thanksgiving and I am so glad I said ‘yes’ to God’s call," responded Freda. The Larssons said they faced the future confident the next stage in their lives was merely another "change of appointment."
Upon the Larssons’ retirement from the position at midnight on Apr.1, 2006 – the date of the general’s 68th birthday - Commissioner Shaw Clifton, the territorial commander for the United Kingdom and Ireland, will become the 18th general of The Salvation Army. Clifton was elected to the position at the ninth day of the High Council’s election meeting on Jan. 28, 2006.