Date and place of birth: 18 June 1952, Amsterdam.

Education: BA in Chemistry, Master’s in classical choral and orchestral conducting.

Family: Wife and two children.

When I was a child I wanted to be… a dustman. He came round our house on Wednesday mornings and I thought, “How wonderful it would be to only work on a Wednesday morning.”

In the future I hope… I will never lose my passion for turning my heart to God and my hands to man.

The one thing that would improve the world would be… following the example of Jesus.

I admire… Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and a whole load of committed people who aren’t famous.

Th e Salvatio n Army :

…exists in 124 countries.
…is a Protestant church, an offshoot of the Methodist Church.
…was founded in 1865 and originally called the
‘Christian Mission’, the Church came to be
known as the Salvation Army in 1878.
… was introduced to Finland in 1889 by four aristocratic
Finns beginning its work in Helsinki. Finland was
the 23rd country to receive The Salvation Army.
…made the United Arab Emirates the latest country
to receive The Salvation Army in May 2010.

Salvation Army commander Dick Krommenhoek responds to the need of the world.

FACT ONE: The Salvation Army is a Church in its own right, not just the international charity organisation it’s renowned for being. Fact Two: The Salvation Army’s ranks mirror its military counterpart’s. Fact Three: Salvation Army commanders are transferred across the globe at the command of the General with only three months’ notice. That’s how Dick Krommenhoek came to live in Finland – he was appointed The Salvation Army’s Territorial Commander of Finland and Estonia in 2008.

You call yourself an army – what is the fight and where is the battlefield?

When The Salvation Army started in 1865 in London, its founder William Booth needed a group of people that were militant, who fought against the social issues of the time – and it still does today. At the time, the issues were alcoholism, poverty...everything in society that didn’t function well. Booth was a Methodist minister and claimed that people could lead a better life by way of a different attitude to life through seeking saviour, finding a life in Jesus. He wanted to integrate into the Church people who had come to faith  – but he found out that they were not welcome. The existing church community didn’t want drunkards, so he started this ‘salvation army’ as an active way of saving people from alcohol. But the people he was out to save were passing all these pubs on their way to work. Booth needed volunteers who literally came and fetched them from their homes and took them to work and back home, so that the temptation wouldn’t be there to go drinking and to make sure what they earned ended up with their families. He needed motivated people who were recognisable to say, “Come on! You took the decision to stay true to your decision. Let me help you!” That is the whole philosophy.

Why the military reference?

The fight is against the evil of the world and to speak up for those who have no voice. Of course we are not like other armies – we borrow only the military metaphor. I am the Commander of The Salvation Army here, but that doesn’t mean that I can boss people around – this is 2011! As every enterprise does, decisions are taken on the basis of wide consultation. I am a Commissioner who has inherited the responsibility I have as the leader of The Salvation Army in Finland and Estonia. Military force in the end only destroys – whether or not to use it is overloaded with dilemmas. The world will not change with force of weapons; it will change with a change of heart. The weapons we use are faith, hope and love.

The Salvation Army has expanded to Muslim countries. How do you negotiate your presence in those countries?

First, when I meet with leaders, I am very honest about what we are. We are a Christian organisation, a church. Our mission, firstly, is to make people aware of the love of Christ. Secondly, to teach people about the character of Jesus and thirdly, to stretch out a hand to people in need. But never is our Christian purpose a hidden agenda for helping people. I have found that many country officials do their homework because The Salvation Army is well known and they usually say: “Please come and help us build up this country”. We always make a strong connection with the authorities, and if governments only allow us to do social work, then usually, we don’t go. Of course, if there is a disaster we can go and only do social work, but we need to be allowed to be what we are.

Is there a ‘conversion-to-Christianity catch’ to being helped?

The Salvation Army’s international mission statement is to help everyone without discrimination – race, faith, religion or sexual orientation. It is not our first aim to say to a Muslim or a Hindu: “You must leave your faith”. But we will not hesitate to talk about Christ when the time is right. Salvationists confess that they are people who want to show that the love of God has changed them. That is the start. And we can only help people believe they can change their lives by showing them the right example, not first and foremost to become a member of The Salvation Army or to become a Christian.

How big is The Salvation Army in Finland?

In Finland there are over 800 Salvationists. These volunteers do not get paid; the uniforms they wear, they buy themselves. They have day jobs and spend their free time volunteering at The Salvation Army. We also have some 500 people on the payroll at our social institutions – day-care centres, nursing homes, etc. We have no money of our own – 90 per cent of the money for our social work comes from the authorities. In fact, we are subsidizing institutions that are not getting enough funding from the government. But we need that money for our own new social projects! I am tackling this issue in Finland at the moment.

What do you think are the major social problems in Finnish Society?

We have a problem in Finland with youths who don’t communicate, who throw themselves under trains. Young people are the future backbone of society. We need to take care of our youngsters and say: “We will try and provide you with whatever you need!” One of the dreams I have is to start a new programme, to have places where youngsters feel free to come in.


”We speak up for those
who have no voice.”


Immigrants are another test for society. They are not a problem here yet, but I have been the leader of The Salvation Army in France and in Denmark. The problems seen in Paris with second and third generation immigrants will come to Finland one day and we need to tackle that now. For whatever reasons these people came here, they are new citizens and part of our society. We need to accept and appreciate them and what they can contribute to our society. On top of this, the number of Finns is decreasing and the size of the working population is in decline – to keep up our economy as we have it today, we need to welcome these people and integrate them, teach them our values and get them good positions so that they become a functional part of society.

What do you think Finland can learn from the experiences of France or Denmark?

I believe the answer is in churches, sports clubs and local social clubs. We need welcoming spaces everywhere. It’s a physical thing. Politicians can make rules and say that these people must learn to speak the language and do this, that and the other. But that will not change integration. We need places everywhere so that people have a place in their neighbourhood they can go where they are not stigmatised, where they are cared for and loved.

Is The Salvation Army currently helping other parts of society?

Winston Churchill once said, “Where there is need, there is The Salvation Army” – we see that as our motto. The Army reflects society’s needs. We have a good project here in Helsinki, the Goodwill Centre on Alppikatu. You won’t believe it, but everyday there are queues of people coming to get bread! We are also seeing a growing number of students. People who come to the centre get time with the leader to sit and talk about their problems. Many of those people are immigrants. We also have a hostel there with 300 beds for people who live on the streets.

You have a background in music. Why did you decide to dedicate your life to The Salvation Army?

I studied chemistry first, then music. In the Netherlands I got the highest possible qualifications in orchestra and choir conducting that the world offers. But I was called to be a Salvation Army officer. Although music or chemistry might have given me a lot of money, I know that I would only find peace in my heart if I followed the calling of my life: to respond to the need of the world and my passion to be the best disciple of Jesus. That’s what gets me up every morning – that’s my motivation!

What would you like to see accomplished during your service here in Finland?

More church-related social action. Our churches need to develop to enable us to do whatever it is we can do. We need to react to the demands of the area. If there’s a place with mainly lonely pensioners, then we can provide a place for them to meet and have lunch. We also need to have the courage to challenge the authorities. I don’t know what the change of government is going to bring, but every year I am so disappointed with the tone of politicians. You cannot say that we need to build a more civilised society, where people must behave and treat each other with respect, while politicians argue with each other. They are not acting as good role models. As a leader myself, I can be tough, but the key is showing compassion.

Text Tania Anderson

Photo Tomas Whitehouse