By BOB SHILLINGSTAD
Special to The Press
Last week, we started a two-part series on the leaders of Coeur d’Alene’s Kroc Center — Don and Ronda Gilger. Here’s the second part of that series, picking up where we left off with the Gilgers talking about their previous mission in the impoverished eastern European nation of Moldova and transitioning to Coeur d’Alene.
What is the religious and political situation like in Moldova after decades of Communist rule?
In Moldova, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia the population is 96 percent “Orthodox Christian” — which firstly identifies family members as being from the Russian Orthodox Church; and there is a fair level of biblical literacy — as knowledge, or sometimes as almost superstition. Our perception was that relational faith with Jesus Christ and daily living out of the Christian faith is not seen very often. Under Russian rule there was a mindset that is beginning to erode, where citizens held onto family, culture, and the ideals of education and the state. There is an intelligence that saw past first-world problems to the core of issues, which is quite refreshing, while at the same time there is a realization of “what if,” “what one can expect” and how hope is found or not found. For believers actively living out their faith there is a freedom in Christ that is contagious. A joy.
Most citizens do not trust the government to solve social problems, and often to get anything done there are layers of fees, regulations, stampilas and layers of endless bureaucracy. Taxes and customs fees easily reach 30 percent, which makes manufacturing, importing and exporting a failed endeavor before you even begin. Sustainability is key for long-term success. There is an interesting divide of older and younger generations wanting to be part of Russia once again (or at least have the benefits of the society they grew up with) or desiring a more western looking society where families can financially care for their own families.
Our experience of being welcomed as family is like nowhere else we have ever been. Every celebration — joys and sorrows — were completely shared, and we grew close to one another in ways that are not often experienced in the American culture.
This has been a culture shock in a way to come back to the Northwest and being the directors of the Kroc Center. What has impressed you the most about this transition?
This Kroc Center is by far the most successful of all 26 centers across the country and it is amazing how the community has supported this center. Walking through this center we are profoundly aware of the miracle that this place is for the community. We are also aware of the ongoing responsibility to keep this a place where holistic ministry to the mind, body and spirit happen and where lives continue to be transformed daily.
The Kroc has a budget of $8+ million a year of which 60 percent comes from memberships, 10 percent from gifts and 30 percent from the foundation set up by Joan Kroc for operations. The ministry that goes on here every day is heartwarming, and we see fathers, mothers and their babies in swim classes along with the adult who is learning for the first time. There are adults of all ages who are improving the quality of their lives through fitness, and taking advantage of life skills classes and so much more. Teens, toddlers and children discover their world in a safe environment. There are layers and layers of arts, teaching, classes, bible studies and connections that might pop up in the hallway as a prayer group forms. Our daycamps are so well done, and even the state championship polo team meets here. Around every corner something wonderful is happening. This is a responsibility we take seriously for we have been given much.
And at the center of every Salvation Army you’ll find a Sunday worship service and weekly programs to encourage, enrich and engage those who attend. We invite you to attend at 10 a.m. at the Kroc in the Chapel/Performing Arts Theater, where you will hear praise and worship music, good teaching and practical application of God’s Word. We are looking for smart ways to impact the future so that the Salvation Army will invest now into lives instead of picking up pieces for those who fell through the cracks later. The mission and ministry of the Salvation Army is ultimately at the heart of all that is done, underlying our motive to serve well.
May 5th through the 11th will be the Coeur d’Alene Kroc’s 10th anniversary and we want everyone to participate in this celebration. We will have a lot of activities; watch for more news.
We are just wrapping up our campaign of “Families Feeding Families,” collecting food that will feed more than 1,000 families in the area as we support our local food banks and agencies. Our hearts’ desire is to see lives transformed. Joy restored. New beginnings — in all of those places we have served, and now in lovely Coeur d’Alene. Our prayer is that the Gospel is seen as alive — and that it continues to change us! The mission hasn’t changed since the time of our founders, William and Catherine Booth, more than 100 years ago.
We thank the Gilgers and their commitment for the last 35 years in the Salvation Army, 40 years of marriage and a great family of three daughters, a son and nine (almost 10!) grandchildren. If you want more information, go to kroccda.org. or call 667-1865. There is information about joining, volunteering and giving.
Bob Shillingstad writes about religion for The Press. Email Bob: firstname.lastname@example.org