The Soldiers’ and Aviators’ Scripture Readers Association

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The Soldiers' & Airmen's Scripture Readers Association

Project Home: Part One

Home Doormat

‘A soldier’s is proverbially not the calling suited to a coward. Men whose “trade” it is to go with their lives in their hand and to be willing, at any moment, to face the enemy’s bullet or the thrust of his bayonet, must be endowed, in no scant measure, with physical courage and endurance. And though now the soldiers of Christ have not, as in the early days of the Church, to follow Him…’

The work of SASRA has been shaped by the work of hundreds of faithful servants of Christ who have gone before. The history that has affected what the organisation is at the present is still relevant because of the legacy that continues today. A significant aspect of that history is the work of the Soldiers’ Homes.

HOME

noun

/həʊm/

‘Home’ is undeniably an aspect of every person’s life that deeply affects them. The word ‘home’ here not in the dictionary definition sense, which would be, ‘the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household.’ But rather, ‘home’ in the deeper sense of what it means to be human. Home should be the place you are at rest and secure, or where the people are who you know and love and in turn, are known and loved by. But in our broken world, this is often not the case.

As Christians, we can relate to the people of Israel who were exiles in Babylon, as we are exiles in this world. There is a sense of homesickness as we await the coming of Christ’s Kingdom, our restoration and the new creation. But until He comes, or we go to Him, our home is here, and there is joy and beauty even amid the brokenness.

Over 150 years ago in Northen Ireland, the lives of soldiers were in many ways, the same as today. Most of them were far from home.

Two young girls of around fifteen, Elise Sandes and Mary Fry, were inspired to dedicate their lives to serving the Lord and sharing the gospel. At this time, regiments of British soldiers were stationed in many parts of Ireland. Mary was particularly moved with compassion for the young soldiers of eighteen – or sometimes even younger – who were being drawn into bad company and falling deeper into sin.

Open Bible

So, what did she do? Mary began to invite the young soldiers into her own home and encouraged them to ask questions about faith. Elise began to work with her, and together they laboured and prayed to serve these soldiers. Tragically, Mary died not long after their outreach began, but before she left earth, she asked Elise to seek out and befriend a soldier who lived near Mary’s home in Tralee. So, in 1869, Elise invited that young soldier and his friends to her mother’s home for regular Bible studies, prayer meetings, hymn singing and even reading and writing lessons. Rather than scorning this invitation as might be expected, soldiers readily and gladly accepted.

After two years, the meeting place had to be moved to accommodate the numbers. The meetings no longer took place in a home, but the very real sense of home remained when they gathered. The regiment in Tralee was posted to Cork and when Elise went to visit, the soldiers told her how they missed the fellowship and friendly atmosphere of the rooms in Tralee. Since the regiment was posted, many of the soldiers had also begun to return to alcohol and needed help.

In 1877, rooms were purchased in Cork and the very first ‘Sandes Home for Soldiers’ was named and opened. That same year Elise said:

‘I try to make my homes not institutes or clubs or mission halls, but in the truest sense of the word “HOMES” that any Christian mother would allow for her boys, I feel free to have for my soldiers.’

Elise Sandes. Public Domain Image.

It’s interesting, the emphasis that Elise Sandes had on the ‘home’ aspect of her work. It wasn’t just a building that would provide a place to stay away from bad company, it wasn’t just a place to share the gospel, but it was a place that was supposed to (and to many did) feel like home. It provided rest and comfort on more than just a material level.

The Reading Room of Miss Sandes Soldiers Home in Curragh Camp. Public Domain Image.

The Reading Room of Miss Sandes Soldiers Home in Curragh Camp. On the blackboard is Acts, XV.II: ‘We believe that thro’ our Lord Jesus we shall be saved.’ In the top right corner is 16.7.16 or 16 July 1916. Public Domain Image.

The work spread widely across the globe, and when Elise died, her tombstone read, ‘For sixty-six years The Friend of Soldiers.’ Sadly, Sandes was forced to close their last three homes in 2023. You can read their history here.

But Mary Fry and Elise Sandes were not the only ones who saw the need in their time and were moved to action. They also were not the only ones whose solution was found in a ‘home’.

In Part Two, we will look at the work of Miss Daniell’s Soldiers’ Homes – which is in the process of formally merging with SASRA – and how the work first began in 1862.

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