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Hallelujah Sister - Eliza Shirley

Eliza’s parents worked as ribbon weavers in the Foleshill district of Coventry, but. the ribbon trade was in decline.

Eliza was converted to the Christian faith in 1878 by two women missionaries. They led meetings in an old music hall, close to the city centre. The missionaries invited the congregation to accept Christ as their saviour. When she returned home to her father, she fully committed herself to Christ. Eliza gave her first testimony - telling how she became a Christian - at a Primitive-Methodist chapel. In 1878 she became a full-time worker for the Salvation Army. She was a little woman, but she was a great singer and a great preacher.

In 1879 her father went to Philadelphia in the United States of America, to find secure employment as a silk weaver. There he saw people “aimless, exploited and susceptible to every form of alcohol abuse and vice”. He asked his family to set up home and plant the Salvation Army in America. Eliza wrote to General William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, to ask for his blessing. He did not agree with overseas mission - there was enough to do in Britain. Far-away America might not be under his control. She waited patiently and eventually Booth allowed her to go and do the Lord’s work.

The family found an old chair factory, used as stable for a horse. They worked hard to clean it up. A stranger gave them money to buy enough wood to make benches for people to sit on. Only twelve people attended Eliza’s first meeting there, but “much blessing and optimism was felt on every side”. The Salvation Army held meetings in the open air, but sometimes there was abuse from the watching crowds. The first convert was “Reddie”, a well-known drunk. Crowds flocked to hear his testimony. Eliza visited the worst slums in Philadelphia and ministered to the “no-hopers”. She reached the most abandoned, depressed and wretched cases of fallen humanity.
 
In 1880 Eliza got sick, working through the hot summer. She was sent back to England with her mother for rest and recovery. When her mother returned to America, Eliza had to stay and continue her mission alone. She married Phillip Symonds and eventually they returned to America to continue the Lord’s work together. They faced several disasters: Eliza’s father drowned; one of her children died; her husband, Phillip, developed “black lung” disease; they both resigned as officers, when he became too ill to work; they were left homeless and without income; Phillip died in 1895 aged 36 years.
 
There was a growing emphasis on Christian social care. The Salvation Army brought hope to the sick, destitute, homeless, elderly and deprived. In 1905 Eliza was accepted as a Salvation Army officer once again. During the First World War she worked with the “Red Shield” to provide for the physical and spiritual needs of soldiers and refugees from the war. She retired aged 58 and a “ticker tape” parade was held for her through the streets of New York. In retirement, Eliza supported the local baseball team: the “Chicago Cubs”. She was old and frail, but heard game reports on the wireless. In 1932 she suffered a stroke and died. She was recognised throughout America as “the most historic Salvation Army officer in this country.”
 

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