People do need the Lord
“When will we realize people need the Lord?”
It was a routine day for Helen Dunning. She was dropping off and picking up Salvation Army bell ringers in East Stroudsburg, Pa. But God was about to speak to her— through a song.
The 70–year–old Dunning, who has been a senior soldier for 56 years, rode along in a corps van last year with Major Mary Francis, who had recently bought a new CD. Steve Green’s “People Need the Lord” soon played. Francis told Dunning how the song had touched millions of people.
On this day, Dunning felt that touch.
She recalls, “I told Major Mary, ‘I need to do something. People do need the Lord.’ I’d rather see people go to heaven than go to hell. That’s on my heart.”
Before they returned to the corps, Dunning told Francis the Lord had laid it on her heart to tell people they needed Him. But how? The two brainstormed. Francis suggested Dunning share her testimony.
The shy Dunning immediately rejected the idea, but remembered the song and lyrics.
What to do?
Cari Friend, executive secretary at the corps, remembers how “impassioned” Dunning was that day.
“Helen said, ‘Cari, people don’t realize what would happen in their lives if they just came to the Lord. And then, if someone dies before they come to the Lord, that means they go to hell. I don’t want that! I can’t have that.’ ”
They discussed what Dunning could do. Friend suggested they make a video and post it on Facebook. Again, Dunning rejected any idea designed to put her in the spotlight. But Friend encouraged her to write down some thoughts.
In time, Friend convinced her to make the video series “Come to the Lord.” They shot it simply and in the corps chapel with an iPhone. Each video is only a few minutes long, but nonetheless, they have garnered a few thousand views.
“I’m proud of her because, although she’s so shy, she still put herself out there to do this,” Friend said.
The first video featured Dunning’s personal testimony. The second one included her thoughts on kindness and other virtues of Christianity.
“The Lord just laid stuff on my heart,” Dunning said. “I want to get it out to everybody. I really do. It makes me happy. I want to keep doing it, if He keeps putting it in my heart.”
Friend said a few people in church on Sunday morning have recognized Dunning from the videos. Other viewers who have seen Dunning’s videos have called and asked questions.
“The feedback has been phenomenal,” Friend said. “People are really touched by her and by her story because she’s so real. You can’t help but watch. She’s heartfelt and that resonates with people.”
Dunning is a shining example of the “Deeper Discipleship” portion of “Strikepoint.” She constantly cultivates the spiritual disciplines of Bible study and prayer—and encourages others to do so.
Welcome to church
Dunning volunteers and does a bit of everything around the East Stroudsburg Corps, including answering phones and working in the warehouse and food bank.
“Whatever they want me to do, I do,” she said.
During the week, she is also involved in Home League, women’s ministry, Songsters, Sunday school, and a host of Bible studies.
Dunning’s main job is serving as the welcome sergeant on Sunday mornings. She took it on when Richard, her husband of 45 years, died two years ago.
“I think since her husband died, she’s been thinking a lot about heaven,” Friend said.
Major Francis, who grew up in the corps, is now the director of pastoral care. She remembers Dunning as “very quiet.”
“Helen hardly spoke at all, but since [her husband] passed away and she felt compelled to take his position as the welcome sergeant, she’s just a totally new person,” Francis said. “She welcomes everyone who comes into this church on Sunday, no matter who they are.”
Dunning greets people with a hug, and, if she doesn’t see everyone in a family, she’ll ask a familiar question.
“I ask ‘Where are they?’ Then, I usually send a card,” Dunning said. “The Lord is just leading me. I need to do this. I can’t see people go to hell.”
Dunning sends cards to people who miss church and to the sick. In each card, she’ll include a scripture verse. Her favorite verse is John 3:16. She also accompanies Major Francis during sick visitations.
While music is an important part of Dunning’s quiet time with Christ, her devotional life involves three different Bible studies. She also gets up early in the morning to read her Bible.
“That’s when I feel it should be, in the morning when I first wake up,” Dunning explains. “I have that ‘Lord, come in’ feeling.”
When Dunning received several prayer requests to contemplate during her morning devotions, she decided to start a phone prayer chain at the corps.
The subjects of many of those requests for prayer are Dunning’s 19 grandchildren, who are always on her mind. She recently gave one grandson a Bible. She holds him accountable, frequently asking if he has read the assignment she gave him.
Dunning says simply, pointing to heaven, “I want to see them go up there.”
She was a housewife during her married years and is proud that most of her grandchildren (and eight great–grandchildren) attend the corps. Amazingly, she can recite all of their birthdays.
A long history
Dunning was brought to the East Stroudsburg Corps as a baby. She became a senior soldier at 14. Years later, she brought her three children and one adopted child to the corps.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Dunning, along with other women in the corps, took her tambourine and bravely ventured into East Stroudsburg’s taverns to raise money for The Salvation Army. Some of the women met and married men from the taverns and eventually brought them to church. Dunning met her husband at a roller rink. The couple married in 1972.
Now in her golden years, Dunning has observed changes in her community and corps. East Stroudsburg, only about 90 minutes from New York City on Interstate 80, is turning into a bedroom community. The corps averages about 85 attendees on Sundays. Under ministry assistant James Hughes, it also offers a contemporary service for younger people.
Majors Deborah and James Gingrich lead the corps, which provides a breakfast and lunch program (a Bible verse is written on the menu board) and a shelter for men, women, and families.
The corps gives away bread and baked goods each day and holds a monthly food distribution.
Dunning, who is a food distribution volunteer, has opened a prayer table at the event to share written scripture verses. Each week, she helps start Sunday school.
“I lead the songs and I tell them who is going to pray,” Dunning said.
Friend said Dunning prefers to work behind the scenes. “She’s the one who quietly encourages people in the corner. She doesn’t want any recognition.”
Major Francis is happy Dunning has found her voice and is using it to draw people to God and to Deeper Discipleship.
“I truly believe all of this was in her and waiting to come out. Now that she has found herself and knows who she is, the Lord has laid [this work] on her heart,” Francis said.
by Robert Mitchell