At 95 years old, Molly Tootell from Palmerston North became a soldier in The Salvation Army. You are never too old to find a sense of belonging in Jesus Christ, she says.
People ask me the secret of a long life, and I really believe it is the Lord. I have a reconstruted shoulder and am often in pain. But I pray to the Lord and can feel a hand on my shoulder— physically—which reminds me the pain won’t last forever. I have had the most fortunate life, and Jesus has smoothed all the sharp corners.
I have wanted to become a Salvation Army soldier for 25 years. I just never had the courage and am a terror for doubting myself. One day, I was talking to my friend Doreen Hamilton, a retired Salvation Army officer. I said, ‘I only have one regret, that I never became a soldier (Salvation Army member). I feel like The Salvation Army is my home, but I’ve never taken that step.’ And she said, ‘It’s not too late!’
I love the Home League women’s group, so at a meeting a month ago, we had a ceremony and I signed my soldier’s covenant. Becoming a soldier has given me a feeling of comfort and a sense of belonging—something I have always longed for. I was born to a single mother, which 95 years ago was very different to today. Her mother died young and her father was a hotelier. He couldn’t take me in, so at two weeks old, I was fostered to an older couple called Mr and Mrs Kareagher.
They were wonderful people. At the insistence of my grandfather, they took me to a Catholic church and school. That was the start of my faith journey. They still had two boys living at home that I thought of as my brothers.
Mr Kareagh died, and when I was nine years old, Mrs Kareagh died as well. I thought, ‘What’s going to happen to me now?’ But their married daughter Rita took me in. How can you not feel a sense of belonging, when people take you in and love you?
When I was seven, neighbours took me to the Salvation Army Sunday school in Feilding. I’ve never forgotten the happiness that gave me.
I met my husband, Jack, at a Methodist Sunday school. When I was older, I met him again at a relative’s birthday. Then, I was walking home from work one day in the pouring rain, and who should come along in his car but Jack, and he gave me a ride home. I believe we were meant to be together.
We bought a house in Feilding on four pounds a week. Things were pretty thin, but we managed. We had seven girls and one boy. We didn’t have a washing machine, so I boiled the laundry— washing day was a terror. I remember when we got a beautiful new coal range. I knitted, and sewed all the children’s clothes on a treadle sewing machine.
When our children moved out of home, Jack and I moved to Levin and started going to The Salvation Army. My son and daughter-in-law looked for my birth mother, but were too late. However, it was a real blessing to find two brothers. We have a very warm relationship. They were able to show me photos and tell me I look like my mother.
Jack got sick and died at the age of 73. That’s when I lost my rock and felt the cornerstone of my life was floating away. Becoming a soldier gives me a sense of belonging again. It makes me feel grounded. I have always believed in a creator who looks after us all, and I have found Jesus as my saviour and trust in him.
Salvation Army women online | www.salvationarmy.org.nz/WomensMinistries
by Molly Tootell (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 8 April 2017, pp11
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