By Berry Kercheville
Bernice’s success in evangelism was based on three strong biblical principles: prayer, pursuit, and perseverance. I saw this in her every day. She always prayed and urged me to pray for opportunities and for those with whom we were studying (see Ezekiel 36:37-38). She also pursued people. She did not sit back and wait for an “opportunity.” And she persevered, she would not give up on anyone.
Not long after I began to work with Bernice, a man named Ralph Casper and his wife visited the church from out of town. Ralph was a Christian and had come to see his brother and his wife. Bernice immediately struck up a conversation, specifically asking about his family. Ralph was less than encouraging when it came to his brother. He explained that he was caught up in some crazy cult that believed in keeping the Sabbath and living on earth in a thousand year paradise. Further, his wife was raised Catholic. Bernice persisted and asked for his address. But Ralph said, “No, no, it’s hopeless. I’ve talked to him many times and it just ends up in an argument.”
Many months later, Ralph came for another visit, and again Bernice asked for his brother’s address. Ralph pushed back strongly saying it was a waste of time. But when Ralph came for a third visit, Bernice became insistent that he give her the names and address of his brother and sister-in-law. Reluctantly Ralph said, “Their names are Leo and Helen Casper; here’s the address.” It was either Tuesday or Wednesday of that week that Bernice told me the Casper’s would be our first visit of the day. Leo was at work, so Helen answered the door of their double-wide mobile home. As usual, Bernice did the talking. I was way too shy and inexperienced to know what to say.
Bernice got right to the point, introducing us, relating our relationship with her brother-in-law, and then, “We help people study the Bible. Would you and your husband be interested in a Bible study?” Helen looked at us in shock, and then the tears began to flow. The very night before, Helen had diligently prayed, “Lord if this is what you want us to do, we will do it, but if it is not what you want, please send someone to show us!” We looked at her in amazement as she explained her prayer, misery, and doubt in following the religion Leo had discovered. Our follow-up question was, “When can we study?” I will never forget Helen’s abrupt answer, “Well, Leo says he has an open mind and will study with anyone. Sabbath is the day he studies, so come on over!” We set 10 am, and as Bernice would say, “showed up with bells on” that Saturday.
Leo answered the door. He was 44 years old, 5 foot 10 inches, with a powerful, muscular build. He competed in weight lifting contests and had squatted with well over 600 pounds. To train, he would strap hundreds of pounds to his body and walk up and down the street. To top it off, he wore a Fu Manchu mustache that made him look all the more intimidating. Leo never smiled and did not say hello or care to chat. He took me over to their kitchen table and said, “You sit there. Let’s study.” He introduced me to the “World Wide Church of God” that had been started by Herbert Armstrong and his son Garner Ted Armstrong. It was very similar to the 7th Day Adventist on Sabbath beliefs, but had many other additional doctrines. I had studied with 7th Day Adventists before, so I was somewhat prepared for the discussion. As expected, we spent most of our time studying the Sabbath. Bernice and Helen said little; it was Leo and me, toe to toe, but the conversation was always respectful.
Five hours went by like it was a few minutes. At 3 pm, I suggested we break until the next week. Leo said, “Why? The Sabbath isn’t over.” My brain was spinning, and I needed more time to study what I had learned about his beliefs. I asked if he would loan me his material from the Armstrongs. He gave me a generous pile, which I devoured the following week in preparation. The next Saturday we studied five more hours. As Bernice and I drove away she said, “He’s beginning to crack. I’m seeing doubts.” I was surprised at her evaluation. After ten intensive hours I could not discern any doubts and was beginning to believe Ralph was right. But Bernice insisted he was on the brink of believing.
The following Saturday, we studied for six straight hours. As we neared 3 pm I pulled what I thought would be the “trump card,” 2 Corinthians 3 – “the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone came with such glory that Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face…” I was ready for Leo’s answer: “Those were the curses written on stones and placed on Mt. Ebal in the land of Canaan!” he said, believing he had pinned me. Gently and quietly I replied, “Leo, Moses’ face was shining when these tablets were given. Moses never entered Canaan.”
There was a long silence. Leo’s head dropped, and then, “Well, that does it.” I honestly didn’t understand what he meant. Then Helen said, “You mean we don’t have to keep the Sabbath anymore?” And their 15 year old daughter said, “Daddy, now can I go to the football games on Friday night?” Leo’s answer was simple and plain, “Yes, I was wrong.” Another hour of study and Leo and Helen were baptized into Christ, and later, their daughter as well. After some years passed, they retired in Grant’s Pass, Oregon where they served the Lord faithfully until Leo passed away just a few weeks ago. This story was shared at his funeral.
Thank you God for Helen’s sweet prayer, for your answer to prayer, and for empowering a woman like Bernice who pursued lost souls and would never give up. Lesson learned: always pray, always pursue, always persevere, and never let a family member dissuade you!