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William and Catherine Booth: Building God’s Army

Determination and faith lead William and Catherine Booth to start one of the best-known charities in the world.

Aug 10, 2010
William and Catherine Booth: Building God’s Army

Eva set her basket of flowers down in the alley and wiped her hands on her tattered skirt. There were blisters on her feet from her secondhand boots, and her back ached from walking. She hadn't sold many flowers today, but she was not discouraged. Eva peeked around the corner of the building and saw a well-dressed gentleman approaching. Hiding her basket behind a barrel, Eva smeared dirt all over her face and stepped out in front of the gentleman.

"Please, sir. Can you help me?" she sobbed.

"What is it?" he asked, trying to see her face under her bonnet. Eva kept her head down, her shoulders shaking as she cried.

"Someone stole my flowers!" She exclaimed. "I was going to sell them, and now I won't have any money to take home to my family!"

Feeling sorry for this poor girl, the man reached into his pocket to give her money.

At this, Eva could no longer contain herself. She laughed out loud, startling the confused gentleman.

"Don't you recognize me?" she giggled. "Have I fooled my own father?"

Surprised, he lifted her chin and looked closely. Under all that dirt smudged from real tears was his own daughter, as happy as could be.

With excitement, Eva told how she was mingling with the poor girls in the city and sharing the love of God with them.

Eva's eyes twinkled as she shared her favorite part. "A poor man told me I could find help at the Christian Mission. He even mentioned your name, Father! He said, 'That William Booth is a kind man. He will help you.'" Eva retrieved her basket, waved and hurried off through the alley. Her father smiled, thinking how Eva reminded him of her mother on the day they met.

William thought back to April 10, 1852. He had met his wife in London on his 23rd birthday.


"It was nice to have met you, Mr. Booth. Happy birthday." Catherine paused, then turned to walk away.

"Wait!" William called after her. "I'd like to see you again."

"That would be fine," she replied. William smiled as Catherine went inside. Reluctantly, he turned to leave.

"What an evening," he thought. Though they had just met, he and Catherine had talked for hours. She had such a passion for reaching those who didn't know Christ! Like himself, she had a special burden for the poor people in the city. He couldn't wait to see Catherine again. They had so much in common!

As the weeks went by, William's thoughts of Catherine led to thoughts of marriage. What a partnership they would make: partners in marriage as well as partners in ministry. Together they could work for God!

William smiled at the memory as he watched Eva go. Such spunk and passion! Just like her mother! What a joy to see their children joining in the ministry. Shaking his head with wonder, William continued on his way. His mind returned to the sermon he would give at tonight's tent meeting. The crowds were growing under the old circus tent as word spread around East London. Poor and hurting people came to the tent for something they didn't get in the other churches—a warm welcome. Together, William and Catherine reached out to those that other churches would not accept. No one was turned away from their meetings.


Marcus waited for his friends outside the old circus tent. He was nervous and excited all at once. James rounded the corner and thrust two rotten apples into his hands.

"The others are over there," James whispered, pointing to a tree next to the tent. "Stay low and wait for the signal."

Marcus wasn't sure what the signal was, but he didn't want to ask. He watched James pull a knife out of his pocket and lift up the bottom of the tent. They waited.

Inside he heard someone yell, "Hallelujah!" Then everything happened at once. James started tearing at the tent with his knife while the other boys ran inside, throwing things at the preacher.

Marcus ran in and threw his apples, too. One of them hit the preacher right in the head, but he just kept preaching. Marcus couldn't understand what he was saying because of all the commotion, and he didn't wait to find out.

When he saw the flames in the back, he ran as fast as he could to get away.

As some of the workers put out the flames, William Booth kept right on preaching. He knew why those boys were there, and he wasn't going to let them stop him.

Just this afternoon, William had stood outside the pub, reading the Word of God and inviting passersby to come to the tent for services tonight. To his delight, some of the men left their liquor behind to go hear William's message!

The pub owner had been so angry. "You're ruining my business!" he shouted.

William tried to invite him as well, but the man had slammed the door without answering.

That man had paid these boys to break up the meeting.


Even though a lot of people were against the Booths, their services in the old circus tent soon grew into a huge organization. Word spread among the needy. William and Catherine started soup kitchens, helped those addicted to alcohol, and cared for the needs of society's outcasts. Catherine reached out to the women in the congregation, teaching them to help others. But most importantly, they were leading people to Christ!

Still, they had their share of opposition, from those angry pub owners to established church leaders to school bullies. One of the Booths' sons came home from school badly beaten because of his parents' work. Even so, Eva and her brothers and sisters joined eagerly in the work.

Their ministry was very much like a battlefield at times. Someone began using military terms to describe their activities. This attracted attention because of the recent Civil War in America. They sent out newsletters telling about a new "battery of artillery" and a developing "regiment." They soon began wearing uniforms with badges and calling their volunteers an "army." Eventually they became known as the "Salvation Army," a group that is still active today.


Hannah and her mother stepped out of the busy store into the cold air. Snow flurries danced around the busy shoppers, and sounds of Christmas tickled their ears. Amid the pleasant Christmas music, a bell rang out beside the Salvation Army kettle.

Hannah tugged on her mother's sleeve and asked for some change to toss in. The volunteer smiled and thanked Hannah as she walked away, humming Christmas carols and thinking of Christmas morning.

Everyone sees these kettles around the holidays, but many would be surprised to know how far The Salvation Army reaches. The organization, established in 1865 as "Christian Mission," still helps needy people today through Christmas kettles, thrift stores and sharing God's love around the world in 80 countries—all because William and Catherine Booth loved the unlovable, just as Jesus did!

Make It Real! Questions to make you dig a little deeper and think a little harder.

1. William and Catherine Booth's marriage was based on more than love. What common goal did they share?

2. What ways did their children get involved with their ministry?

3. Are there ways your family can work together to help others?

4. What kinds of people did the Booths reach out to? Why do you think so many people (including fellow Christians) were against them?

5. Have you ever seen a Salvation Army worker ringing a bell and collecting money at Christmas time? What do you think the money is used for?

Suggested reading:

Benge, Janet & Geoff. William Booth: Soup, Soap and Salvation. Christian Heroes: Then and Now series, YWAM Pub.

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Jackson, Dave and Neta. Kidnapped by River Rats: William and Catherine Booth. Trailblazer series, Bethany House Pub.

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Photo Credit: Public domain (images from an 1881 book) via Wikimedia Commons.

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