Lt Colonel Mina Russell (1903-2002)
“It sounds as though Salvation Army officership has been a happy, satisfying life for you. Is this true?” a War Cry reporter asked Lt. Colonel Mina Russell in 1975.
“There was no hesitation before [her] reply,” the reporter noted. “No careful consideration of implications, and emphasis, and choice of phrase. It was direct and enthusiastic, and fully confirmed by the quick smile and eager tone of voice which accompanied every word.”
“It is true,” said Russell. “And for me it has been verification of the truth found in Matthew 6:33, ‘But seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.’… I can only witness to everyone I meet that there is nothing better for a life than the will of God because it issues from the living heart of One who plans only the best for those He loves,” she said with full faith.
Mina Russell has been hailed as “one of the Army’s foremost exponents of holiness.” How she got to that point follows the very process she mentioned: surrendering to the will of God. The Soldier’s Covenant, explored in this issue of Young Salvationist, encompasses the creed and beliefs of The Salvation Army, and the promises members make when joining. Some of these promises include being responsive to the Holy Spirit’s leading in life, upholding Christian values and integrity, being a faithful steward of your time and gifts, and sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. Russell exemplified these promises to a high degree—often being a Christian witness to society’s “forgotten people,” such as the poor and homeless, the mentally ill, and the elderly.
A LIFETIME OF SERVICE
Russell was a New England girl. Born in Lawrence, Massachusetts in 1903, she grew up in a Christian home. Her parents, Edward and Ellen Russell, were pioneer Salvationists from Newfoundland. From them, Mina Russell’s faith took root. “[My parents] made me feel that Christ is essential to a full, effective life,” Russell said in her 1975 War Cry interview.
Throughout the years, Russell’s love of the Lord grew steadily. Always active in her corps (church), she became the corps Young People’s Sergeant Major (YPSM) in her teens. She would leave this position, as well as her job as a store saleswoman, to enter the Record Breakers session at the New York training college.
Since her commissioning in 1923, and even through her retirement, Russell dedicated nearly 70 years of her life to serving others in The Salvation Army. Here are some of her most notable appointments:
1927: Russell became Field Training Secretary and Women’s Intelligence Officer at New York’s training college.
1930: She supervised the New York City women’s canteen, a Depression-era project.
1931: In Columbus, Goodale, and Pontiac, Ohio, Russell served as commanding corps officer.
1936: At Territorial Headquarters, Russell oversaw the candidates and education department.
1943: She then served as Chief Side Officer for women for 19 years.
1962: Russell became the Territorial Social Welfare Secretary.
1965: She then took on the role of Territorial Chaplain for retired officers.
1966: Russell officially retired, but still continued in her chaplaincy role for another five years.
1990: She led a weekly discussion class at the retirement community residence, and was an active soldier at Asbury Park corps.
THE SOURCE OF POWER
In each appointment she held, Russell modeled holiness in her words and actions out of her sheer love of the Lord. She became a trusted counselor to many cadets and officers over the years by living out these Christ-like qualities.
Russell also formally taught holiness practices as one of the original planners of the first Brengle Institute held in Chicago in 1947. Afterwards—as both an active and retired officer—she frequently participated in Brengle Institutes and prayer seminars throughout the Army world, including the United States, Canada, Europe, Africa, and Asia.
One of Russell’s primary teachings was on prayer. She believed “The Army’s greatest need is prayer” and that “prayer is the source of spiritual power.” She taught that “the more simply we trust prayer power for guidance in planning, inaugurating, and sustaining our work, the more personally and collectively we will fulfill God’s plan and enjoy His blessing.”
ORDER OF THE FOUNDER
In the words of Commissioner Robert Thomson, Mina Russell was “a dedicated, disciplined, modest, gentle spirit” who “served faithfully and effectively above and beyond the call of duty as a Salvation Army officer.” In recognition of her exemplary service, General Eva Burrows admitted Russell to the Order of the Founder in 1992.
Actions often speak louder than words because they are a true test of what we believe. In the Bible, James directs this notion towards Christianity when he asks: “What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?” (James 2:14)
To put faith into action, to be a genuine follower of Christ and live up to the title of “Christian,” we must constantly act in love. James defines what this looks like. “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Similar to the Soldier’s Covenant, James is urging the Church to truly practice what they preach.
FINDING THE STRENGTH
But that can often be easier said than done. How does one get to that point of being more and more like Christ every day? Lt. Colonel Mina Russell’s advice was prayer.
In her 1975 War Cry interview, Russell was asked about a common problem people have: getting over the struggle to pray. She replied:
“I think difficulty in praying has its source in disbelief. I’m not sure that we really believe God, or that prayer is contact with Him… If prayer is God’s way of keeping in touch with us, if it is His way of giving needed strength and wisdom, if it is our way of transmitting love to others through God, if it is all this and more—why don’t we pray more?”
GOD IS READY WHEN WE ARE
“Time to pray seems to be a major problem, too,” Russell continued. “It is a sad reflection that as Christians we will often give God our lives, our skills, our talents, our voices and our money—but not our time. We cannot spare the time to listen to God and to talk to Him. We are busy people—too busy! Someone has suggested that we are like players in an orchestra who are so intent on playing that we don’t take time to tune our instruments and consequently play out of tune. Prayer problems are of our own making. God is ready when we are.”
Mariam Aburdeineh, Editoria Assistant