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Emma Neights and Nelly Petersen once shared the same last name, Beierle, and are sisters by blood, but even more importantly, they share an immense bond and lasting friendship.

Born in the country now known as Moldova only years before World War II, Emma and Nelly were forced to grow up quickly and to take care of each other. “I never had a childhood,” Emma chuckles. 

With a quiet disregard for their childhood heroism, the sisters recount stories like watching Nazis take their dad from their barn to join a war he didn’t support.

The sisters didn’t want to leave their home in Moldova and cried as they and their mother fled on foot for safety. Later, on board a ship on the Dunabe River, Emma was so close to jumping off that a stranger had to grab her and pull her to safety.

“I remember holding hands, my mother carrying a baby, walking across the ice-covered river fleeing,” Nelly shared.

They lived as refugees in multiple countries, once wearing the same clothes for two straight months while traveling by wagon and sometimes pouring kerosene on their heads to remove lice. At one point in their journeys, Nelly got so lost that soldiers found her and returned her to her mother. They even spent a year living in a room flanked with bunk beds in an Austrian castle – a resettlement camp – where their sister, Ritta, was born.

Despite these hardships, even war-torn childhoods have bright spots, like chasing rabbits, charging into the ocean side by side, and experiencing the fierce love of family. When Russians captured Emma and Nelly’s father as a prisoner of war, he escaped, set out hunting for his wife and children, and eventually reunited with his family!

After four years of vetting, the Beierles immigrated to the United States through a worldwide church organization. By then young women, the sisters taught themselves English with a dictionary and notebook and later became U.S. Citizens. “It is a privilege to live in the United States,” Emma says.

A lifetime of experiences have created a bond like no other between Emma and Nelly.

Even as adults, when Nelly lived over 3,000 miles away in Alaska, they kept in touch by writing letters and visiting each other as often as possible.

After the passing of her husband, Nelly wanted to move closer to family and decided on Chapel Pointe. For years, Emma had been telling her all about Chapel Pointe and how she and her husband, Gary, loved the caring staff, friendly neighbors, Christian atmosphere, and overall security and support of the Chapel Pointe family.

Less than a year after Nelly moved to her new apartment, Gary passed away. “Especially now that both of our husbands are gone, it is nice to have each other so close,” Emma said. They typically eat at least one meal together every day. They also have found company and comfort among other widows at Chapel Pointe. “We are in this together. We understand each other.”

The sisters enjoy walking, shopping nearby, visiting with neighbors, playing cards and games with friends, making applesauce from local apples, and living off their gardens at Chapel Pointe as much as possible. Two of their favorite garden recipes are pickled beets and zucchini bread. “We don’t waste anything; we just grew up that way,” Nelly said.

Whether running away from terror or taking steps toward hope, Emma and Nelly have forged a bond that prevails above all else. At Chapel Pointe, they continue their journey side-by-side, expanding their sisterhood to the widows around them, and taking every opportunity to live the vibrant lives for which God created them.

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