A remarkable journey home
by Glen Doss, Major –
Eunice Pearson’s enrollment as a soldier of The Salvation Army Murrieta, Calif., corps, at age 91, was an emotional culmination of a long journey home—a journey with a very unusual beginning.
“To be given to Eunice when she’s old enough to understand.” The words were scrawled across the cover of a white envelope the 11-year-old girl held. Shocked, Eunice asked herself: Why wasn’t this given to me before? Am I wrong to open it? But it says: “To be given to Eunice.”
Eunice had been rummaging through an old trunk searching for clothes to wear to a dress-up party when she came upon the letter. Her parents weren’t home to ask. With some hesitation, she opened it.
Dated May 16, 1918, the three-page, handwritten letter began: “To Eunice, my darling child. If God does not see fit to spare me to see you grow up, I want to speak to you through this letter of my hopes for you. Many long months before you were born, I promised God that if He would give you to me that you should be His, and there and then I dedicated you, while yet unborn, to the Lord. Therefore, my earnest prayer and longing has always been that you should give God your heart while young and give Him your life for His service….”
It concluded: “Now with these words, I commend you my dear child to the loving care & protection of Him to whom I long since gave you and pray that you may early seek to know Him; may you be used to bring many, many souls into the glorious light of the gospel of His Salvation. The letter was signed: Your loving mother, Helen F. Ainslie. Look forward to meeting you at Jesus’ feet.”
Confronting her father when he returned home, Eunice learned her mother was a Salvation Army captain who was promoted to Glory in 1920 at age 33, when Eunice was just three. The woman she had assumed was her birth mother was, instead, her stepmother. Her father also gave her a diary which gave her insight into the heart of the woman who loved her little daughter dearly. The diary chronicled the year 1917 when her mother served alongside Eunice’s father, Captain William Ainslie, corps officer in New Westminster, British Columbia.
The entries, made in elegant longhand, gave accounts of tough challenges presented by grave illness, along with solid evidence that Mrs. Captain Helen Ainslie never slacked off from her labor for God’s kingdom.
Eunice has at least one striking memory from 1920. “I can see myself standing up on the platform with my parents, banging on my mother’s tambourine, joining in the band and singing with them. They both had beautiful voices. It was very loud and cheerful.”
Upon her mother’s promotion to Glory that same year (the specific date and cause are unclear to Eunice), her father placed his 3-year-old daughter in a Salvation Army orphanage during the day. Upon his second marriage, when Eunice was five, her father stepped down from approximately 15 years of officership. However, the family continued worshipping at the Vancouver Corps.
When she married her husband Ronald at age 20, Eunice began accompanying him to the Presbyterian Church. “My father told me, ‘If you want to go to his church, that’s fine—as long as you’re serving Jesus.’”
After her husband passed away in 2007, she lived with her daughter Coleen and son-in-law Jerry Jové. Eunice increasingly felt a longing to return to The Salvation Army. When in early 2008 Jerry’s drinking problem led him to seek help at the Riverside County ARC in Perris, Calif., she accompanied Coleen to the ARC worship services. Soon the family was attending the neighboring Murrieta Corps.
“I often told Coleen I would love to go back to the Army, but never in my wildest dreams did I think Jerry would be the one to bring me back—it has to be the work of God!” observes Eunice. “It’s like a journey home, and I’ve finally arrived.”
In December 2008, Major Linda Markiewicz, Sierra del Mar divisional commander, enrolled Eunice—now 91—together with Coleen and Jerry as soldiers of the Murrieta Corps.
Does Eunice believe she fulfilled her mother’s heartfelt prayer to give her life to God through service?
“Oh, yes! Though not with The Salvation Army until most recently.”
She had served faithfully alongside her husband, an elder for decades in the Presbyterian Church.
“I was on many committees. I baked. I worked hard. On many, many occasions I took on major responsibility for church decorations, meticulously working with wires and beads. I made mangers. I made angels. Two years ago I received a letter from a longtime church friend who said, ‘You know what! We’re still using your Christmas decorations of 40 years ago.’
“My father’s strong faith rubbed off on me. He was always quoting the Bible. One time I told him, ‘Dad, I’m broke. I don’t think I’m going to make it till payday,’ and he said, ‘O ye of little faith. You know the Lord will provide.’ He often said that. And, you know what—something would always turn up.”
Entering the hospital room where her father lay on his deathbed at age 86, Eunice recalls, “He surprised me suddenly with the question: ‘Nell, where did you come from?’ (He called my mother Nell). He repeated it: ‘Nell, where did you come from?’ I looked a lot like her. Not long after that, he passed away. I don’t think my father ever, ever forgot her.”