“I was once asked to travel from Seattle to London for a day of “strategic futuring” with all the heads of the Salvation Army from around the world. I agreed on one condition: that I could spend some personal time with General Linda Bond, the nineteenth general of the Salvation Army, the third woman ever to lead the organization. General Bond graciously agreed to my request, and after a long day of strategic scenarios and trends analysis, we sat down for dinner together. Each of us ordered steak; hers was bigger than mine.
The Salvation Army by-laws make the person holding the top office of the charity the fiduciary owner of all Salvation Army properties worldwide. In other words, even though she was paid a meager salary, I may have been having supper with the wealthiest woman in the world. “Do you have any idea why I asked for this time, General?” “No, I don’t. But I’m glad to share this meal with you.” “I only have one question. It’s about Joan Kroc, the widow of Ray Kroc, and her gift to the Army. Why did ‘St. Joan of the Arches,’ as I hear she was called, a liberal Democrat, give the Army over two billion dollars— the largest gift in the history of philanthropy? How did you broker that gift?” “Oh, she didn’t give the money to me,” the general replied. “She gave the money to the Salvation Army. And it wasn’t 2.2 billion. The check was for 1.6 billion, although with compound interest and all that, it did get a whole lot bigger.” “I know, I know,” I continued.
“But I also know that no one gives big bucks, especially over 90 percent of their estate, to an institution. They give to a person who represents that institution. Why did Joan Kroc trust Linda Bond enough to hand her a check for 1.6 billion dollars? What was it that cemented your relationship?” “Well, we did bond”— the general smiled at the inadvertent pun—“ when she found out I was the thirteenth child of a coal miner. My father was a coal miner in Nova Scotia; my mother was an illegitimate child of a maid and a British lord. She was adopted and taken to Canada at age seventeen, and I was the youngest of their thirteen children.”
“Why did your being the thirteenth child of a coal miner’s daughter make a difference to Joan Kroc?” I asked. “Rich girls don’t marry poor boys, and vice versa?” “Oh, no,” General Bond replied. “Joan was an exception to that rule. She had ‘humble beginnings,’ as she called it. She was brought up very poor in a bad section of St. Paul. During the Depression, her father was mostly unemployed, and he often left the family without food or money or his presence. Her mother did the best she could teaching music lessons, and always made sure Joan had money for music lessons. But many times they were without food and without heat, and didn’t know how they would make it through the week.
“The one thing Joan looked forward to as a child, that she knew was their salvation, was when a Salvation Army officer would come on Friday evening to deliver some bags of groceries. His arrival was the highlight of their week, she told me, because that meant she and her mother could be sure of food that coming week and not have to worry.” “I thought you had to go to the Salvation Army to get food,” I said. “Wasn’t that a bit unusual to have the food delivered to your home?” “Yes. But the Salvation Army officer didn’t just deliver food. He also sometimes came in, put the food on the table, and played with Joan— sometimes on the floor, sometimes on the table. He was a positive male figure for her as a child.” “In a sense, then, the person really responsible for this 1.6-billion-dollar gift is not Linda Bond but this Salvation Army officer.” “Yes,” she said smiling with her characteristic humility. “You’re exactly right.”
“Do you know his name?” “No. I don’t think anyone does.”
“Do you think he’s still alive?” “Almost positive he’s not.”
“So he died without knowing? He never knew the impact of his going the second mile, bringing some groceries to a home that might not have been able to get food any other way, and taking the time to play with a little girl whose father was often missing in her life.”
“Yes, you could say that.”
Here was a Salvation Army officer who, when he died, thought, Well, I served for decades without anything really special happening. Just an ordinary ministry doing ordinary Salvation Army things. Nothing unusual or spectacular on my watch. There’s a lesson in that for us. The greatest blessing you will ever bestow in your life you may never know. And you don’t need to know. We don’t have to do spectacular things. We just have to keep doing what God has called us to do. In a very real sense, that boils down to bringing people to the table, and trusting God to take what we’ve planted and sown to bring in a harvest decades or generations later.
Sweet, Leonard (2015-01-01). From Tablet to Table: Where Community Is Found and Identity Is Formed (pp. 159-160). NavPress. Kindle Edition.