Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Did You Know: The Salvation Army Brings Families Back Together

The Salvation Army is an international organization, operating in more than 125 countries around the world. One of its little-known ministries is the Missing Persons Bureau. The Eastern Territory-USA, of which the State of New Jersey is a part, has its Missing Persons Bureau at our Territorial Headquarters in West Nyack, NY. The latest statistics (for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012) show that 137 applications were received. Each case was opened and 113 persons were found.

Can you just imagine the joy of those reunited families? Because of our unique internationalism, family members have connected with each other all over the world through modern technology. Let me tell you one story.

Mary Jane Shaw is a retired officer who lives in Ocean Grove and worships at the Asbury Park Corps of The Salvation Army, just as I do. As an active Officer, she was Director of Missing Persons for 16 years. While she was Sirector, an inquiry came from Sweden. A recent widow went to The Salvation Army’s Missing Persons Bureau in Stockholm to ask about a brother living in the United States. She had had no contact with him for more than forty years.

This brother, Eskil Strom, was born in America to Swedish immigrant parents. When he was just a child, the family returned to Sweden. Eskil and his next younger brother were born in America, but two more brothers and the only sister were born after the family returned to Sweden.  Eskil was raised and educated in Sweden. Then, at age 25, Eskil decided to travel to the land of his birth for a visit. He fell in love with the country and never returned to Sweden. Through the years, contacts diminished and eventually all contact was lost.  Now, recently bereaved of her husband, his only sister went searching for Eskil. She had an old letter, and through the return address and the work of the Missing Persons bureaus in Sweden and New York, Eskil was found, living in a small nursing home in Brooklyn Heights, NY.  Major Mary Jane Shaw visited this aging gentleman and told him of his relatives seeking contact with him. The invitation was given: "Would you like to go to Sweden?"

At first, this perfect gentleman declined the offer, fearing the unknown and the long-distance travel, but the Major continued to visit him. This sister wanted to offer a home for Eskil. Finally, when Major Shaw promised to travel with him, Eskil agreed to the trip.

A new suit was purchased for him and a new hat, too. Major Shaw recalls that she knew if the hat fit her, it would fit him as well. With the airline tickets provided by the Swedish relatives, the pair took off - this was Eskil's very first airplane trip – all the way across the Atlantic at that. 

When this unlikely pair, a Salvation Army Major and an aging gentleman, arrived at Stockholm airport, a large crowd awaited them. All of Eskil’s siblings, The Salvation Army Major-Director of the local Missing Persons Bureau and representatives from the Stockholm newspapers, who had heard of this fascinating reunion. They exited the plane with Eskil holding tight to the Major’s hand. Major Shaw remembers that she felt like arriving royalty as they presented her with flowers and grasped her hand and said, "We will never forget The Salvation Army for what you have done for us." Eskil lived several years with his sister until his death. He never regretted "coming home" and living out his remaining years as part of a loving family.

The Missing Persons Bureau of The Salvation Army is a unique international social service.  Its purpose is to help facilitate successful reunions between family members who have lost contact with each other. Searches are conducted utilizing a variety of methods, including government offices, credit institutions, social service agencies and law-enforcement personnel. Should you be interested in this service, please contact your local Salvation Army offices.

Written by Gloria Hohn
Asbury Park Corps


  1. My cousin May Shaw shared this story with me, she was so happy to reunite him with his family! Susan Ellis Long