Brigadier Violet Merritt’s connection with Czechoslovak Salvationists started in 1967, when a group of Czech Salvation Army officers visited London. Vi took care of them during the visit not knowing that this would change her life and Christmas for many others for years to come. Soon after her getting to know the Czech officers, Vi became a friend, a supporter, an encourager and a guest who visited every Christmas since 1968.
Violet knew the risk such a visit contained. The Communist regime after 1970 became very sensitive regarding visitors who supported organizations like The Salvation Army, especially if the visitor carried Bibles and songbooks with her. Without doubt Vi could have easily been arrested and put into prison like others who did the same service, but somehow by the mercy and grace of God, she was protected and passed through customs every year without harm. What an encouragement for the Czech officers who were living under persecution! Many of them witnessed later about the faithfulness of God during the times when The Salvation Army was not allowed to exist in Czechoslovakia and when they faced many persecutions by the Communist government, which was demonstrated in Violet Merritt and her courage to cross the border with “forbidden contraband” in her luggage.
I personally met Violet for the first time in Prague in 1990 when she was actively involved in the re-opening of The Salvation Army work after 40 years of darkness. First I wondered about the little English lady running up and down The Salvation Army meeting hall and making sure everyone had their place to sit. After all during this time I did not speak English. But with Violet somehow you didn’t have to. Even though she spoke a different language her love toward people spoke for itself. People were able to understand her interest in the Army, people she cared about and the few Czech words she learned to speak during her numerous visits, pronounced in English accent.
Later on when I was preparing for entry to the training college while working at Sunbury Court her house became a place which I visited over the weekends whenever possible. I often visited Penge Corps and she made sure I had someone sitting next to me (…just like in Prague). And besides, her cooking was much better then at Sunbury Court. In my opinion Violet’s spiritual gift was without doubt hospitality. Her house had been called the “Czech embassy in London,” by her many Czech guests and those she helped.
I remember the day I was supposed to enter William Booth Training College in London. Like every fresh cadet I was nervous about the new life ahead of me. I stayed in her house and in the morning I was supposed to be picked up to travel to the training college. She arranged everything to the last detail…maybe to make sure I really got to the training college. While I was waiting for my lift Vi came to me and prayed with me a prayer, which I believe has been answered and was a big encouragement for me during my training years. Encouragement was Vi’s second spiritual gift. She continued to encourage me and later my fiancée Charity who came to London from the US during my second year of training. After training we returned for a very short time to Los Angeles to get married, and I was glad that Violet was also able to be there. She truly became my other “English mom”.
I am sure she celebrates today with all the other Czech officers from the communist era in heaven now and she is making her final and eternal visit with them, since she was the last “Czech” Salvation Army officer alive.
Premek Kramerius, Captain