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Roses Can Grow in the Dark   During the recession of 1976 work was especially difficult to secure. I was blessed to work with the Salvation Army. My duties involved a little of everything. I helped take children to camp, emptied the drop boxes, drove their truck to pick up furniture and appliances, and even ran their thrift store. Christmas brought out local volunteers by the dozens. The American people are generous, especially during the season of Christmas. Helping the Salvation Army during Christmas is a tradition for many individuals and social clubs. However, it is the men and women who volunteer every day that allows the Salvation Army to help people and families the entire year.

Rose was married to an alcoholic. She could not drive, but it made little difference; they did not own a car. If anyone needed the help of the Salvation Army it was Rose. However, Rose was not a recipient; she was a giver. She served in many capacities, but it was her service on one particular day, every week that acutely affected me.

Her usual driver was ill one day, and as the jack-of-all-trades, I was called upon to drive Rose. I blew the horn, and she walked out the door of the old wooden house they rented. She was extremely thin. She lost her teeth several years ago and did not have the money to visit a dentist.  Her dental problems made the lower half of her face appear sunken. Her dark eyes, almost black, were deeply set into her face, and the large dark circles beneath them made her look years older than she really was. On this particular day she always wore a uniform. Salvation Army uniforms are conservative and easily recognizable. I met individuals who refused to wear the uniform for that very reason. Every eye in an establishment looked your way when dressed in the dark blue uniform with a matching hat. It required a lot of devotion to wear that outfit and enter crowded places of business. Rose had exceedingly poor self-esteem; consequently, she was extremely self-conscious. She wore the uniform out of a touching sense of loyalty to the Salvation Army and its ministries. It is especially beautiful to witness someone choosing to serve God when the service requires every ounce of mental and spiritual strength he/she possesses. That dear woman, who felt like nothing, did something of meaning every week for God. What was her responsibility that day of the week?  She entered every bar and establishment that sold alcohol to sell the “War Cry” (a Salvation Army inspirational publication) and receive collections.

The Salvation Army is renowned for going into places other Christians avoid, and expressing God’s love for those the world would rather forget. Many Christians would call such people “hopeless.” These are the individuals who will feel too ashamed and dirty to come to church; therefore, the church must go to them. Every week frail Rose, the spouse of an abusive alcoholic, approached men and women sitting on bar stools. In her tiny voice she talked through loud wailing juke boxes and interrupted crude jokes to give away a magazine and receive donations for the Salvation Army. Often the regulars of the bar took the magazine, and some took coins from their pocket and placed them in Rose’s plastic container. Many, however, cursed her, and ordered her to leave them alone with stinging language. Quite often Rose received a harsh tongue lashing from an intoxicated individual who had no use for God, or anyone representing faith. The tongue lashings she received at home did not make these experiences easier, only tolerable.

The Captain in charge of the post informed me that some days Rose completed the day with only a few coins and a couple of one-dollar bills in her collection box. This was a meager reward for the painful price she paid. Still, Rose believed her service mattered to God. It was the one thing she did that made her feel as though her life had a purpose.

Every time I pass a bar, or a drunk stumbling down a major thoroughfare at night, Rose, with ill-fitting dentures and dark circles under her eyes rises in my conscience with her little collection box. “Would you like to give?” she asks. That is a good question Rose, a very good question.