Bernice Stories #6: Perseverance

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Berry Kercheville

Possibly the most important example Bernice left me was a strong trust in the power of God and his word. One of her favorite texts was Isaiah 55:10-11, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth making it bring forth and sprout…so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.” I will never forget the day when Bernice knocked this into my head…literally!

Most of my life I had heard Christians repeat an old refrain: “You can’t teach that person because…” and then they would fill in the blank with either a denominational name or a moral reason such a person would never change. From this, I had adopted a negative view toward evangelism. Bernice taught me a valuable lesson when we made a first time visit on a lady in hope of setting up a Bible study. As was typical in those early days, Bernice did most of the talking and I was learning. The woman and her family were in a religious movement that had a number of odd beliefs that they had followed for years. The conversation touched on some of these, but Bernice simply asked questions and did not challenge her. In the end, the lady agreed to a Bible study. When we got in the car to leave, I turned to Bernice and said, “We are wasting our time with that woman. She’s never going to change.” I don’t think I ever saw Bernice more animated. She promptly picked up her purse and hit me, and then lectured me on the power of God. “Don’t let me ever hear you say that again!” she blurted, and she hit me with her purse a second time. Then she said, “She is a great contact! Why, you just wait, she’ll be a Christian within six months!”

“Okay, okay,” I said, “Just don’t hit me with your purse.” Sure enough, six months later the woman and her husband became Christians. From that time on I never doubted God or Bernice. Sometimes we would study with people up to six years before they obeyed. Bernice would never allow me to give up nor doubt the power of God. Since that time there have been many others who came to Christ after years of study. If it hadn’t been for Bernice, I would have given up too soon.

For example, when my family and I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas, I learned quickly that getting Bible classes in the South was much more difficult than in the West. One day as I sat in my office frustrated that I was running low on studies, I thought about what Bernice would do. She would remind me of Jesus’ words again and again, “Lift up your eyes, the fields are white for harvest.” Those words of Jesus were given to the disciples after he taught the sinful woman at the well (John 4). The woman was a most unlikely opportunity, and Jesus taught the disciples a similar lesson that Bernice had taught me. So I thought, “Who is an unlikely opportunity?” The first person that came to my mind was Bill, husband of one of our members. He was a big guy from New York, quite gruff with a lot of bravado. In other words, intimidating! I was afraid, but I thought about what Bernice would do. She never let any of those exterior presentations people tend to give to rattle her. Bernice would even invite her doctors to have a Bible study. She would remind me, “I don’t care who they are. They need the gospel!”

Therefore, as her words rang in my head, I jumped in the car and drove to Bill’s house. Knowing that Bill loved Arkansas baseball, I talked baseball with him for at least an hour.  After a lull in the conversation, I said, “Bill, I’ve been thinking that you might want to know why your wife so passionately believes the Bible. Would you be interested in us reading the Bible together?” As the words came out of my mouth I was thinking all the negative thoughts Bernice warned me not to have. “Surely,” I thought to myself, “this man is going to say, “No.” But instead, Bill said, “Yes, we can do that. Can my wife sit in?”

After three years of weekly studies, Bill asked a critical question: “If I become a Christian, can I miss Sunday morning worship to go to the Razorback baseball games?” I simply said, “After reading what Jesus said about being a disciple, what do you think?” Bill knew there was no way he could be a Christian and make that choice. Three more years of weekly studies passed, during which time Bill came to every worship except Sunday morning during baseball season. Bill and I developed a deep friendship. At that point I moved to Nashville and one of the elders took over the study. Finally, after a number of months, Bill became a Christian and put the Lord before baseball.

Lessons:

  1. Getting a Bible study starts with asking.
  2. As long as a person is willing to study, keep studying. Never give up.
  3. Never prejudge a person’s response to an invitation to study. In my experience, not only will the most unlikely people agree to study, more people will agree to study than will turn you down. There is no reason for our fear and negativity. If you need motivation, just think about Bernice hitting you with her purse!

berrykerch@gmail.com