“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Grace Eisenhart will probably have a difficult time keeping her Mother’s Day cards straight this year.
A senior soldier and the receptionist at the Sunbury, Pa., Corps, Eisenhart not only has two grown daughters and one grandchild, but 11 nieces and nephews—six of whom lived with her at various times in their lives.
“I helped raise all of them,” Eisenhart says.
That doesn’t even count her 16 great–nieces and great–nephews.
“One of my niece’s children are like my grandkids because I’m the only one they have in their life,” Eisenhart says. “I bring them to church on Sunday every week and then I bring them to the kids’ programs during the week.”
Captain Jessica Duperree, the corps officer in Sunbury, said Eisenhart “treats them all like her own children.” She brings many of them to church as the driver for corps pick–ups.
“She buys many things they need and shares so many memories with them,” Duperree said. “Best of all, she has brought so many of these young people to church through the years, first starting with her children and then her nieces and nephews. Now she picks up and brings with her many of their children as well.
“She is a mother physically, but spiritually even more. Her care and dedication over the years has continued to point them all to Jesus.”
The family glue
Eisenhart said her three siblings have dealt with a variety of issues over the years and she has felt the need to step in and help her nieces and nephews.
“They need somebody,” she said. “I’m like the only one who helps them.”
Eisenhart said when she was growing up, her mother, Martha, took the entire family to church. Her siblings didn’t follow her mother’s example.
“I feel I have to fill that void with my nieces and nephews,” she said. “They need Christ in their life. I bring them to church because it’s the only way they’re going to get to church. I make sure I pick them up.
“Some of my nieces and nephews need to know that there’s somebody who loves them and who is always going to be there in their life for them.”
Eisenhart said she hopes taking her nieces and nephews to church will help them overcome the bad influences of the world.
“I always felt bad when church was over because I had to drop the kids off at the bar,” she said. “I felt so bad, but that’s the only place their Mom and Dad was. That’s why I always brought them to church with me.”
“I want to see them grow into nice, young adults.”
Opening her home
Eisenhart has also brought some of her friends’ children to church.
One young woman, who moved away from Sunbury but still attends a Wesleyan church, told Eisenhart the reason she picked the church she did was because Eisenhart took her to The Salvation Army.
Another woman Eisenhart brought to the Sunbury Corps now attends the Salvation Army church in Levittown, Pa.
“She told me the reason that she continued to come to church when she was a Corps Cadet was because I was there for her,” Eisenhart said. “You can see results. Maybe you don’t know that you’ve touched somebody until they come back and tell you that.
“I just know that people need love and God gives me the love to give to these kids and to other people.”
When the woman from Levittown had a baby and needed a place to live, Eisenhart invited her to move in with her.
“She had no place to live,” Eisenhart said. “She lived with me a bit. She stayed a month or two until she got her own place. That’s how I think Christ would want us to be.”
Eisenhart is the receptionist and social worker at the corps, where she also teaches Moonbeams on “Troop Night.” She also has taught Corps Cadets and is involved in Home League.
Three of Eisenhart’s great-nieces and great-nephews who come for Moonbeams also attend a Christian daycare and know the songs that are taught at the corps.
“You know they’re learning,” she said. “I feel if we bring them to church when they’re little, hopefully they’ll continue to come to church when they’re older.”
Duperree said Eisenhart has cared about others since she was young.
“Grace is the kind of lady who would do anything for anyone, and I believe that started early in her life,” she said.
Eisenhart started attending The Salvation Army in Milton, Pa., and remembers wearing her Sunbeam uniform to school as a girl. When a flood devastated the area in 1972, her family moved to Sunbury.
“I started when I was probably two years old in Milton, but the Sunbury Corps has been home most of my life,” she said. “They’re loving and caring here and The Salvation Army gives you an opportunity to do things.”
Leader and encourager
Her daughters, Laura and Samantha, were involved in troops as children; Samantha got to travel around the territory with the PENDEL Brass. One of those “things” Eisenhart got to do was attend the annual LEAD Conference held each summer during the Old Orchard Beach Camp Meetings in Maine.
Eisenhart said LEAD gave her the training and confidence to evangelize and also lead Sunday morning worship, where she often encourages others to get involved.
“I try to be an encourager to everyone and try to include everybody to play a part and help,” she said. “I feel if you’re coming to church, and you get more involved in stuff, you’re more willing to stay. They need a sense of belonging. They’ll feel important.”
Duperree agreed that one of Eisenhart’s spiritual gifts is encouragement.
“Grace is a big source of encouragement, especially to the children,” she said. “She is there for them and she listens to them. They know she cares about them.”
Eisenhart, 53, also finds the energy to babysit a child on weekends who is the same age as her grandchild.
Christ is her rock
“These kids all keep me young,” Eisenhart said with a laugh. “That’s what I tell myself.
“We have to make sure Christ is Number One and that He’s at the center of our lives and we’re serving Him. Then we can do all things. He’s the one that helps us be able to help others.”
Duperree, for one, is ecstatic to have Eisenhart around the corps as an influence on the next generation.
“Grace truly treats the children in her life as if they were all her own,” she said. “That love and strength to do that comes from God. And when things aren’t easy, she prays for them and trusts them to God.”
by Robert Mitchell