The Soldiers’ and Aviators’ Scripture Readers Association

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The Soldiers' & Airmen's Scripture Readers Association

Project Home: Part Three

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The work of SASRA has been shaped by the work of hundreds of faithful servants of Christ who have gone before. You can read about Elise Sandes and Mary Fry in Part One and Miss Daniell’s Soldiers’ Homes in Part Two.

Now, we look at how today’s needs can be met through the ministries of the Jackson Club and SASRA.

In many ways, the services provided by soldiers’ homes have changed due to time and need. As an example, at their beginnings, they provided soldiers with reading and writing lessons, they also greatly served the families of service personnel. This was at a time when the common soldiers’ families received no benefits. The record of the work of the Daniells says this:

No lodgings - no rations - no fire - no light: that is what 'off the strength' means to every soldier's wife. If you are 'on the strength', all these necessaries of existence are provided for you by government; if not, you must provide them for yourself out of what your husband can give you from his pay, which varies in the case of a private from four and sixpence to ten shillings per week. As rent is exceedingly high in Aldershot and in most garrison towns, it will be evident to the most casual observer that the home of a soldier and his wife, under these circumstances, cannot well be of the most luxurious description. To say that they are miserably poor hardly gives a fair picture of their sufferings. The marvel is how they contrive to live at all - how they keep body and soul together even when there is only the wife to think of; but if, as is often the case, there are one, two, three, and sometimes four little hungry clamouring mouths waiting to be filled, the marvel becomes a greater marvel still.

Some of the soldiers’ homes helped provide affordable or even free lodging and food. They started small schools for the children and taught the wives practical skills, like sewing, with which they could find work to help the income of the family.

Much of these things are no longer necessary in the same way, but that does not mean there are no needs to be met. Although living conditions of soldiers’ spouses and children have greatly improved, and there are many more benefits provided, military life takes its toll on a marriage and a family. Long separations, tough schedules, regularly moving house and location all can be challenging, and these families are still in need of support!

Soldiers themselves have generally had more access to education and their pay is significantly better. Access to fast food is easy and convenient and transport to travel home on weekends is much more accessible than it used to be. But the environment they live in daily is still challenging. Peer pressure, drugs, alcohol and a carefree, wild lifestyle is still part of life for many and a temptation for many others.

Today, SASRA and Miss Daniell’s Soldiers Homes seek to provide the embodiment of what the original ‘homes’ sought to do; to provide serving soldiers and their families with spiritual and practical support.

‘Peer pressure, drugs, alcohol and a carefree, wild lifestyle is still part of life for many and a temptation for many others.’

The first way this is done is by the work of Scripture Readers. A Scripture Reader is focused by a gospel purpose, but their work is wide and varying in practical ways. They provide marriage counselling to military couples, or to soldiers struggling with the loss of a loved one, or a tragic life event, or those wrestling with depression and anxiety and other mental health issues. They draw alongside parents struggling with their families, often just to be someone who listens as well as helps in practical ways.

‘Often, their ministry includes welcoming soldiers into their homes on a regular basis.’

They meet one-to-one with Christian soldiers, or soldiers who are seeking to know more about faith. They run accessible courses that explore the Christian faith and have Bible studies and fellowship events that draw Christian soldiers and aviators into a community of believers. Often, their ministry includes welcoming soldiers into their homes on a regular basis.

The work of the Jackson Club is like the above. As well as providing food, they provide Christian literature and an environment to feel at home in. There is a welcoming feel in the whole club and a warmth that is not generally found in just any café. Perhaps it’s because, behind it all, there is the aim to share with those who come through the doors, of the Christ who died for them. Perhaps because daily, there are faithful saints praying that the witness of the Scripture Readers there would draw men and women of the British Armed Forces to ask questions, or to accept tracts.

Soldiers sitting in at the Jackson Club. © SASRA

The Jackson club is more than just a café. As well as providing a warm welcome and food, it is an environment to feel at home in. © SASRA

An Army veteran shared this:

‘In November 1972, aged fifteen, I joined the Junior Parachute Regiment at Aldershot and after my basic training, applied for the Junior Parachute Regiment Band. We were paid very little and so band members would go to the Miss Daniell’s Soldiers’ Home in Aldershot. This was a Victorian Christian Mission home for servicemen, which was created to keep soldiers from local temptations. Miss Daniell’s was a home-from-home environment, where soldiers could relax, play games, eat and socialise. Desperately short of funds, I embraced the invitation to visit Miss Daniell’s on a Wednesday evening, which was a ‘Cake and Coffee Night’. The only caveat was that we would have to listen to a gospel presentation, usually delivered by SASRA Scripture Reader, Frank Crofts. Frank’s wife Vera would also speak at times, when not making her delicious bread pudding! As I continued to visit the home, I began to feel challenged by the gospel talks. I felt persuaded that I was a sinner and needed saving but questioned what the other soldiers would think if I became a Christian. Despite my concerns, one night in the barrack room, I asked Jesus into my life. I informed those at Miss Daniell’s but was reluctant to tell my colleagues. Being a Christian in the Army is not easy. You are always on trial; people wait for you to fail, for you to denounce your faith, for you to return to the world and the lifestyle of your old self. With the support of those at Miss Daniell’s, I pressed on to tell others and encouraged soldiers to visit the home.’

SASRA Scripture Readers are also involved in work such as the outreach at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. The ministry has the purpose to provide the practical needs of a bite to eat and a warm drink, and often, a chance to share the hope of Christ with performers and supporting soldiers.

The room set up amid the rehearsals for the Tattoo performance has a feeling of warmth in it that brings with it a feeling of home. Many soldiers come from broken homes, many dread having to go back, many have no family to depend on and most have never spent time in a Christian environment. The work is truly too broad to summarise. But spending time at the Jackson Club, or the witness of a Scripture Reader, perhaps the feeling of their office or their living room, or just their conversation, brings with it a sense of home.

Serving coffee at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

The pop-up café at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo rehearsals provides for performers’ practical needs and acts as a platform to share the hope of Christ. © SASRA

Surely, the great impact that Elise Sandes, Mrs and Miss Daniell and so many others in similar work had, was due to the fact that it was not their work at all, but the Lord’s. Elise Sandes’ tombstone read, ‘for 66 years The Friend of Soldiers.’ The same could be said for the Daniells, other workers of soldiers’ homes, and many Scripture Readers over the years, but surely the greatest thing was not just the friendship they gave to soldiers, but that they told them all about the Friend of friends and the Saviour of sinners.

‘The greatest thing was not just the friendship they gave to soldiers, but that they told them all about the Friend of friends, and the Saviour of sinners.’

PRAY WITH US

Scripture Reader praying

We hope you have enjoyed reading about the journey that was started over 150 years ago by Elise Sandes and Mary Fry, continuing through the years with Mrs and Miss Daniell before behing passed onto the Jackson Club and SASRA. To keep this vital gospel work going for another generation, will you partner with us?

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