How Danielle Strickland became a champion of social justice causes.
Don’t miss part 1 of this interview, where Danielle Strickland talks about finding Jesus in prison, discovering her gifts in Canada and receiving her call to wake up the sleeping church.
What form did that calling take? What did you do next?
That was the impetus for my family and I to go to a drug-addicted community in Vancouver, called Downtown Eastside.
Part of that was I wanted to wake myself up. I wanted to live missionally in our own country. I wanted to embrace discomfort as an agent for change. We had a baby, two or three months old, when we moved into this slum community.
The poorest neighborhood in all of Canada—that’s what it’s been called. Known for its drug use, homelessness, mental illness, crime and sexual trafficking. What was that like?
It was like nothing we’d ever seen. It was chaos, addiction; it was evil, dark. But it was really the most spiritually astute training that we’ve ever been part of.
We were embracing incarnation as a strategy rather than program. We felt like we had done the attractional church program model in our previous post and it was really successful. Our church grew really fast, we did citywide events, we started recovery houses, loads and loads of beautiful things happened there.
This was a completely different approach. We’re moving in. We’re going to find out what God is doing and then partner with him.
We moved into an apartment in the Downtown Eastside and became neighbors with them. We were there five and a half, six years. We started a 24/7 prayer room For three and a half years we prayed nonstop right in the center of the slum. We started a Salvation Army training school. We started a community of faith. Some housing.
The tool of awakening—discomfort—must have been very present.
God actually did so much during that season of our lives. What it meant to live counter-culturally in the culture.
One of the biggest blessings of our lives was when we saw God show up in power, on occasion, and then also in weakness, on occasion. And learning to recognize both as God’s presence.
Real moments of power. Addicts transformed. Even just praying, learning a different kind of praying. It really changed our relationship with God.
Then in other areas, there was seemingly a lack of power, yet feeling the heart of God in that moment. Feeling the presence of God through us. It was a deepening, maturing season of faith.
What made you leave Vancouver?
This period began my trajectory to social justice. Because I was friends with people who were suffering. I went from hearing individual stories to connecting the dots that all these stories were the same, and moving toward systemic injustice and how do we fight that.
There’s a beautiful leader in the Salvation Army who invited us to Australia to lead a social justice movement there.
So you moved to Melbourne, Australia, in 2008 to launch a social justice department there for the Salvation Army. What was the vision?
To mobilize the Salvation Army back to its roots of social justice but in a contemporary way. Way back, at the Salvation Army’s origins, social justice work was really vibrant. They were challenging laws, they were marching on Parliament. They were fighting human trafficking before anyone knew about human trafficking.
I’ll never discredit the Salvation Army for being too merciful. It’s beautiful. But it’s a little harder to be justice-minded. It’s easy to lose that piece. I felt like God wanted us to recover it.
Did you and your husband work together as a team or did you have separate assignments?
In Australia we had separate posts. He was the training principal. My husband is a very prolific writer and editor, a prayer-focused, evangelism-kind-of guy. So he did the leading of all of the folks who were in training, in seminary.
Then we did a church plant in the inner city where we lived. On the side.
Four years later the Salvation Army moves you back to Canada.
We moved to Edmonton and took over an inner-city church there. Kind of back to basics, in that regard.
Edmonton was a very difficult season in my own life. I struggled with a lot of the institutional rules, because God was calling me more and more to the wider church. I felt, speaking-wise, called to help mobilize churches that were hungry to do justice and care for the poor—and felt called to church planting too.
So all that stuff that was there at the beginning of my ministry was growing, outside the institution of the Salvation Army.
That must have created some tension with the denominational leadership.
Yeah. It brought out things inside of me that needed to be dealt with. Character things. Which was also beautiful. So if I could define Edmonton, I’d say it was a deep work that God did in me.
It also coupled with more opportunities to speak, to wider places, different places, and to partner with people and tell them what I’d done.
At the same, the institution was staying, Hey, we’re not sure that you’re allowed to do that. So it created a bit of tension.
God also used the tension to double-check motives. Am I doing this for ego or to serve God? I really needed to figure out those issues in my own heart.
Meanwhile, you and Maj. Court were busy ministering to the local church in Edmonton.
Yes, and our church was right where there was a stronghold of sexual exploitation. Like, legalized brothels and trafficking.
God really moved among all the churches in the area to create an outreach and ministry to the women on the street. Hundreds and hundreds from, like, 14 churches, went out to minister every night, seven nights a week, It was a beautiful demonstration of the kingdom.
Nevertheless you moved again—creating another social justice department, this time for the Salvation Army USA.
Officers serve at the pleasure of the Salvation Army! The invitation came to transfer to the Western Territory of the USA, based out of Los Angeles, with a particular emphasis on stopping human trafficking.
It was an opportunity to take the practice and principles of grassroots and national experience and apply it for the benefit of the Salvation Army in America.
Then December 2017 you announced on your blog that despite your deep love for the Salvation Army you were stepping away after 22 years of serving as an officer.
After two wonderful years in the USA Western Territory it became increasingly clear that God was continuing to invite me outside of my own denominational boundaries. My heart began to long for every church from every background to respond to God’s invitation to embark on the adventure of God’s kingdom come.
That culminated with a dissatisfaction of systemic restrictions and a reduction in my ability to obey God’s call. It became crystal clear that the best way to continue in obedient faith to God’s call on my life was to finish as an officer and embark on a season of serving the larger church around the world.
Your blog post described the decision as “messy/painful/awesome.”
It has been one of the hardest things I’ve done in my Christian discipleship journey.
Sounds as if this new season of service was a matter of gifts and timing, rather than a strategic plan.
Yeah, nothing’s ever orchestrated in my life, especially by me.
It felt like a natural growth. More and more I was invited to speak to the larger church, and was welcomed. The Lord was saying yes, and the churches were saying yes.
My whole life has been responding to invitations. For me there’s a growing hunger to seek the new, and also a growing love for the church, with all the elements of different churches and their flavors and the colors, and really with the beauty of the Bride. And I’ve never been more in love with Jesus.
I hope to inspire and empower others to bring God’s kingdom to earth—writing, speaking, using strategies to mobilize churches.
Some observers might raise the woman-in-leadership question here.
Here’s the thing. I never really noticed I was a woman for most of my life. I’d never identify myself as a woman leader, I’m just a leader.
The whole idea never occurred to me until someone would say, You’re a woman church planter. You’re a woman preacher, and then I’d think, Am I?
Women would come up to me at interdenominational events and ask, How are you doing this? I’d be like, What do you mean, how am I doing this? How are you not doing this? I realized, quite naively, that not everyone was into it. I was shocked.
I’ve been a leader, a church planter, a speaker. This is how they saw me in my own denomination. And my husband never said, “You’re a pretty good speaker, for a woman.” No, he’d say, “You’re a good speaker.” I just happen to be a woman.
A publisher asked me write on the topic, so I wrote The Liberating Truth: How Jesus Empowers Women. Doing the research for the book, I came to realize that the root of injustice is inequality. Even in church, it’s like a weed with roots that go down deep. Deep injustice. Deep inequity. It started at the fall.
When we mention the gender conversation, it usually goes alongside other movements, because one injustice will reveal other injustices.
What do you say to Western Christians who choose to ignore injustices? What practical steps do you suggest to help leaders motivate churches to become more proactive?
I use a very simple model of transformation that we use at Amplify Peace. Listen, Learn and Live. If you take some time to listen to voices that are usually silent or marginalized—not to fix them but to understand and really hear them—you will be changed. This will require a deliberate change in posture from I’ve got to fix them to I just need to know them. But this posture shift can be the secret to transformation.
A learning posture is a curious one. This is the remedy to cynicism and despair. Finding people, places and systems and structures that are doing things in a new way that bring about changes on the earth is one of the most inspiring practices to cultivate. It will both challenge and change us.
And finally living means practicing what you know. This is by far the missing ingredient in our current discipleship systems. We keep thinking that the more we know the better we are. But this is clearly not true. Knowledge is only power when it’s applied. I always encourage people to implement one thing they already know. Once you start a life where you practice what you preach it becomes infectious—to you and to others.
Given the difficult moment in the church right now, are you hopeful?
It’s at a time in which a lot of people are despairing about the church and wondering about the future of the church. And I’m just filled with hope and excitement for the church and what God wants to do through the church.
It’s when things are exposed, that things can heal. We mustn’t cover them back up.
I’m convinced we are living in a new season of unity and mission, filled with possibilities.
Read more at OutreachMagazine.com/Danielle-Strickland.