I can honestly say that in all the time I worked with Bernice there was never a cross word between us. That was certainly more a credit to her than to me. I’m sure I frustrated her many times, but she never let on. I think she was so thrilled that she had someone who would teach people she invited that nothing else mattered.
After nine years at Lake Elsinore, Bruce Kitt, one of the elders at the church in El Cajon, California, came through on a trip and worshiped with us. He had been following our work for awhile and wanted me to consider moving. I hated to leave the work Bernice and I had done, but I knew for my own personal growth, the time had come. The next time Bernice saw Bruce, this is what she said: “Do you remember the story Nathan told David, how a rich man took a poor man’s only ewe lamb to serve to a traveling friend instead of taking from the flocks and herds he owned?” Bernice looked Bruce square in the eye and continued, “With your big church you could have gone after any preacher in the brotherhood, but instead, you took my one ewe lamb.” I chuckled, Bruce was sheepish, but Bernice wasn’t smiling. Today I realize how hard that was for her. She had taken me when I couldn’t hardly do anything right and trained me to be an effective evangelist. It is still a funny story, but it also makes me cry.
In 1973-74, there was a nation-wide gasoline crises. I often got up at 5 AM to wait in a long line to get five gallons. This put a big damper on our evangelistic efforts. Bernice and I had visits to make and at 8-10 studies per week, but there was no gas. Fortunately, I rode a motorcycle. So when gas was low, I showed up at Bernice’s house with an extra helmet. She looked at me like I was crazy. I said, “Are we going to teach the lost or not?” At the time, she was 57 years old and clearly nervous. I strapped the helmet on her head and she bravely climbed on the bike. At the first curve, I leaned right but Bernice leaned left. Not good! I immediately stopped and said, “If we are both going to live through this experience, you need to lean the same direction I do!” Still sweating bullets, Bernice nodded and away we went. We taught many people during that time. Folks were both astonished and appreciative that Bernice would “risk her life” to share the gospel with them.
Shortly after the gas crises ended, Bernice and I headed to a 7pm study with a middle age couple. Keep in mind, Bernice was 57 and I was 25. The peoples’ house was away from town and the winter night was pitch dark. As usual, I drove Bernice’s little Volkswagen bug. To our surprise, the couple wasn’t home. It was their way of saying that the study was over. We sat in the driveway for a moment, and I said, “What now?” Bernice answered, “Let’s go see Helen and Leo! They could use some encouragement.” There were two ways to their house, one briefly headed further away from town and into more darkness, and the other more common route, headed toward town. I felt that taking the route away from town was slightly closer and quicker. As I drove toward the darkness, Bernice suddenly jerked away from me and hugged up against her passenger door. And then, “Berry, what do you think you are doing! You turn this car around right now! I don’t know what you are up to, but…” About that time, I came to the road that turned toward Helen and Leo’s. Bernice dropped her head and chuckled. “Oh my,” she said, “for a moment I thought we were both 16 and I was in big trouble!” Of course, in my eyes, Bernice was an old woman my mother’s age. We laughed about that for years to come.
(One more to come out Saturday…