By Berry Kercheville
Bernice did not live life like most of us do. Whether it is getting our car fixed, buying groceries, or having someone do repair work at our house, we are pleasant, pay the bill, and go on with our lives. Not Bernice. Every person was an opportunity. Every person was a lost soul who deserved to have a chance to know God. More than that, Bernice did not wait for these opportunities to come to her, she created them.
Bernice’s house was set on two acres which always needed work. She did some of the work, but regularly would hire others primarily so she could find an open door for the gospel. Ron happened to be one of the many. He was a young 20-something who was looking for part time work. Bernice’s way of getting her opportunity was to fix lunch and call her worker into the house to eat. Of course, who would turn that down! Bernice would prepare sandwiches with plenty of sides, desert, and cold ice tea. Ron was thrilled. But of course, as Ron ate, Bernice talked. Ron had a live-in girlfriend and a toddler with another baby on the way. Before lunch was over, Ron had accepted the invitation for us to study at his house. Ron and Gloria were delightful, though their family background was rough. They were both eager learners even though we were interrupted every week with knocks on the front door. Ron would excuse himself, answer the door, and say, “Go away! Not now! Come back later.” After the third week of this, I asked Bernice what was going on. She sheepishly answered, “Ron is dealing drugs.” Of course, I was shocked! Every study from then on I prayed that the house wouldn’t be raided while we were in it. However, after a number of months of study, Ron and Gloria asked to be baptized and married the same day. I baptized both of them in Bernice’s jacuzzi (which she had built for baptisms!), then performed the wedding ceremony in her living room. Best day ever. Though Ron eventually fell away, Gloria has remained steadfast, serving the Lord for the past 45 years.
Bernice was a strong believer in seek and save the lost. Bernice’s daughter, Charlene, worked for the post office as a mail carrier. Desiring more contacts, Bernice asked her if she ever delivered mail from a “church of Christ” to anyone on her route. Charlene was hesitant. Revealing people’s mail was not exactly proper. But knowing what her mother wanted to do, Charlene said there is an older woman named Vera Edwards who lives in a mobile home park. Bernice called me immediately and said, “We have a visit to make…now.” Vera was so happy that we had come. She was getting literature from a church because her family had put her on the mailing list. Vera eagerly agreed to a Bible study and in a few weeks was baptized. She lived just a few more years, but loved the Lord and was so excited that someone had come to teach her the gospel.
George Eager was 84 years old and lived across the street from the church building. His wife was in the Christian Science church for 45 years. George faithfully went with her every week and even cleaned their building, but never believed the doctrine. When Bernice heard that his wife had died, she made a visit. George had 90% hearing loss but immediately accepted the invitation to study. I literally had to shout as I taught him. Since Bernice had not yet installed her jacuzzi, we contacted the Christian church and asked to use their baptistry. The baptistry was huge, at least 12 feet long. I took George’s confession, then he removed his hearing aids and we went into the water. The bottom was extremely slick. George had hold of my wrist, but when he knew I was about to lay him back, he let go and fell backward. Surprised, I caught him just above the water and continued the immersion. However, George was a big man, and when I tried to lift him up, his feet just slid on the bottom. George remained stiff, eyes closed, and not bending his knees. I had no choice but to slide him on the slick bottom to the stairs on the other side and then pop him up. George never knew how close he came to being dunked a second time. George lived three more years, but the first thing he did was walk his neighborhood telling everyone what he did and how they could learn the gospel at the little church on the corner. Many more contacts were made because of George.
Anna Parziali was a short, thin 81-year old Italian lady from the Old Country. Bernice had connected with her while buying fresh vegetables. Anna’s husband had passed away, but she had 58 children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. In fact, Vince Ferragamo, quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, was one of her grandchildren. Of course, she and her whole family were Catholic and she was the “chief momma” of the clan. Anna readily accepted Bernice’s invitation and we studied at her house every week. When Anna was baptized and I laid her back in the water, she inhaled instead of holding her breath. When she came back up, she sputtered for a second, and then spewed two lungs full of water back out of her mouth. Bernice nearly jumped into the water. However, Anna was fine with no side effects from her experience. I was relieved I didn’t kill the head of such a notable clan. Anna decided not to tell her daughter what she had done, but instead invited her to our Bible study. As we talked about salvation her daughter would say, “Momma, one of these days, we get babatized (sic).” Anna would reply, “Ima clean.” Later her daughter would say it again, and Anna would repeat, “Ima clean.” After the third time, Bernice finally said, “What your momma is explaining to you is that she has been baptized. Her daughter never became a Christian, but Anna did her part. She passed away about three years later.
Lesson? Most of the people we taught were elderly since Lake Elsinore was a retirement community. How satisfying to know that God opened these doors before these beautiful people came to the end of life. Which leads to another of Bernice’s favorite verses: “Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).
[More to come in a few weeks!]