Flying the flag in isolation
Flying the flag in isolation
The small tropical island of St Helena is home to what is probably the most isolated Salvation Army corps in the world.
Located in the South Atlantic Ocean, 4000km east of Rio de Janeiro and 1950km west of the Cunene River, which marks the border between Namibia and Angola in south-western Africa, St Helena corps is part of the Southern Africa Territory.
The Salvation Army “opened fire” on St Helena in May 1884.
A group of sailors known as “Blue Jackets” arrived from Simonstown in South Africa on board the HMS Opal and conducted a five-day evangelical outreach campaign. It resulted in many people making lifechanging commitments to follow Jesus Christ.
More than 130 years later, Th e Salvation Army is still very evident on the 122sq/km volcanic island, once only accessible by ship taking five days from Cape Town and two days from Ascension Island, about 1126km away.
In 2018, flights from Johannesburg take around six hours to St Helena. Envoy Coral Yon is the Corps Officer on St Helena. “Up until 2007, St Helena has always had overseas officers appointed for up to three years, although some have stayed and served for longer,” says Envoy Yon.
“Due to a shortage of officers within The Salvation Army, especially in South Africa, it was decided to employ me on a three years’ single-spouse appointment. St Helena had already been without officers for three years, so [employing me] meant the ministry was still able to go on. I enjoy my ministry, although there are many challenges, mostly caused by isolation.”
In January 2018, Southern Africa territorial leaders, Commissioners Keith and Yvonne Conrad (pictured below right), visited St Helena.
“This and other visits are beneficial and encouraging for me as I work in isolation to the other officers on the mainland,” says Envoy Yon. “It is usually difficult for me to attend officers’ councils, prayer meetings or training workshops. It is also good for the wider public to see the leaders of The Salvation Army taking an interest in the affairs of St Helena and its Salvationist community.”
The Salvation Army has two halls that are used each week – the Jamestown hall in the capital, and the Half Tree Hollow hall outside the city where most people live. The Jamestown hall also houses a “Quality Seconds” thrift shop which operates each Friday and alternate Saturdays. “Every Friday we run a café here where people can stop by for tea and cake and traditional tomato paste sandwiches,” says Envoy Yon.“This is very popular.”
Most of the meetings take place at Half Tree Hollow, with numbers ranging from 40 to 100. “The people who come are mostly ‘Saints’ [the name used to describe the islanders] but occasionally we do get people that are not islanders worshipping with us,” explains Envoy Yon.
“There is another hall that used to be an outpost in Deadwood [called after the Great Wood that used to cover this area] and I am praying that we will eventually be able to get this place up and running again as it is en-route to the recently built international airport. For these types of projects, though, finances are always a factor.
“The Salvation Army on St Helena operates similarly to other corps, but on a smaller basis. We worship every Sunday. We have a 13-strong brass band, a worship group and a ladies fellowship ministry once a month. “We visit the hospital and elderly people’s home. As the officer, I sit on the prison visiting committee, the Children’s Safeguarding Board, and the Disaster Group. I also attend the Ministers Fraternal once a month with the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist clergy.
“I am also on a rota to do the devotional thoughts for a week via the local radio and a written devotional for one of the local papers. “At Christmas-time we have a full program where we go around the island bringing Christmas joy to the community. We also provide presents, parties and hampers for the less fortunate and the elderly.
“The Salvation Army is very well respected on St Helena. It’s a beautiful place to live and work and we can worship freely and peacefully.”