Relevents: Priscilla Heist

Priscilla Heist, a soldier at the Salvation Army’s Lebanon, Pa. Corps, talks about opening her home to young people in the community, the mark that Christmas left on her Girl Guards, and how important it is in ministry to listen to people.

When I was young, my father would receive an envelope from the local Salvation Army to make a contribution. It came with a little badge as a gift to wear on his collar. He always said that it was important to support The Salvation Army. Years later, I worked as a bookkeeper at the Lebanon, Pa., Corps, but I didn’t consider becoming a soldier until Captains Doris and Raymond Southwood came to the corps. At the time, the corps wasn’t able to have many people attend services, but my husband and I refused to let the corps officers come to an empty chapel. We came to the corps service for the first time and it became our church.

The Christmas season affects all of us in different ways. When I was in charge of Girl Guards, I noticed that in the fall, the girls would act nitpicky, cliquey, and a little self–centered, as many teenagers can be. But when Christmas came around, they became different. I think they were humbled as they went out to do the kettles and serve the community. They began to see firsthand that there were people in need. Being part of the Army’s mission during Christmas made the girls more mature and cooperative for the rest of the school year.

Psalm 100 tells us to make a joyful noise and serve the Lord with gladness. When we started coming to the corps every week, the stress of family life would appear. Minor arguments would turn big, and the devil would work his hardest to keep us from attending our new church. We all have mornings when we do not wake up joyful, but when we arrive in His presence and are ready to serve, our frustrations leave us, and we are left with only His joy and gladness.

There’s an 8 1/2–year difference between my first three children and my last two. Between Army activities, and our kids bringing their friends over, I always saw children at our house. I welcomed them, preferring to see those kids in my home rather than on the streets. I remember inviting some girls called “The Peach Street Gang” over to my house for movies and Girl Guard activities. They were rough and from a hard part of town, but I wanted to make a difference in their lives. My corps officer at the time told me, “Priscilla, you cannot change what they live seven days a week. But you can give them something to think about for a few hours.” Those girls are adults now, and though some still struggle in their lives, I’m happy to know that I could be there for them at a time when they might not have had anyone to care for them.

League of Mercy is one of my favorite corps activities; I love talking to the people in our ministry. Some have families who live far from them, and others may not have families at all. I always arrive a little early to sit and engage with them and ask how their day is going. We’ll also get calls from members who simply need to vent to someone, or ask for advice in making a decision. Taking time to listen to others is a simple, but important outreach.

interview by Hugo Bravo

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