Bernice Boyes: 1916 – 2020
By Berry Kercheville
Bernice Boyes trained me to preach. I know it sounds crazy to say that a woman could train a young man to be an evangelist, but that is exactly what Bernice did 50 years ago. Bernice passed away this past month at age 104.
I first met Bernice when she was 54 and I was 22. Ted Beever, the preacher where I was attending in Brea, California, introduced us with the hope that he could convince me to help her with a church she was trying to start in Lake Elsinore, a little town on the edge of the desert 50 miles away. I was still in school trying to finish a degree in Agriculture Business, and had no thought of becoming a preacher. However about six months later I agreed to make the drive every Sunday morning and preach to a church of five women and one very old man whom Bernice said “was not long for this world.”
Other than a couple of 15 minute “talks,” it was the first sermon I ever preached. Bernice said nothing about the lesson and didn’t invite me back, so I didn’t show up the next week. It was Ted who had to tell me that preaching every week was a done deal unless she or her husband told me not to come. Bernice’s husband had moved her to Lake Elsinore seven years previous. Since there was no church, Bernice was not happy. Bernice said, “Charles, what are we going to do about a church?” So to keep his wife happy, Charles bought a little house around the corner, fixed it up on the inside, put a sign out front, and said in his gruff way, “There! Have your church!” Charles had become a Christian, but a few years later fell into alcoholism and would struggle with that the rest of his life.
Bernice and Charles owned a hardware store, so Bernice began to talk to the customers about the Lord and would ask if they knew anything about the church of Christ. After seven years she had found four women who were former members but had little interest. She convinced them to attend Sunday morning, but they only came to make her happy. So for seven years, Bernice prayed and prayed that God would send her someone who would help her teach the gospel. A few years after my first sermon, Bernice sheepishly revealed her followup prayer. My sermon was so bad that she simply prayed, “Lord, really? This is what you sent me?”
However, Bernice did not give up on me. I studied the word diligently, continued school, and worked evenings at a gas station. After three months, Bernice had a unique conversation with me that changed the direction of my life. Bernice had been teaching a group of about 10 unbelieving women in a ladies class on Wednesday mornings. After a number of weeks, the ladies wanted to bring their husbands. Mind you, Lake Elsinore in 1970 was almost exclusively a retirement community, population 3,000, with another 7,000 in a 15 mile radius from the town. Bernice was not in favor of teaching these husbands, so she asked me to come and teach. I will never forget the look on her face when I said, “Well, Bernice, if I did that I would have to quit school, and I’m only 20 units away from graduating.” Bernice stared at me, cocked her head as she always did when she was shocked beyond understanding, and replied, “Did you hear me? I have 15-20 people that need the gospel. Are you going to come help me or not?” I started to repeat my dilemma about needing to finish school, but Bernice wouldn’t have it: “I said, are you going to help me or not?” I looked down, fidgeted briefly, looked back up and said, “Okay, I’ll quit school and come this Wednesday. We’ll start the book of Acts.” Fifteen of those people were baptized in the following six months, a teaching partnership had been formed, and the church in Lake Elsinore, California was greatly blessed by the Lord. Bernice and I worked together for nine years and the church grew to over 70. I never went back to school, and never regretted it.
Bernice was the best evangelist I ever knew, and in the next few articles I want to share with you some “Bernice Stories,” stories of her zeal that stirred me and so many others to rescue lost souls.