As I’m sure you have seen if you have followed these stories in Bernice’s life, she displayed a devotion toward God and lost people from which she would not depart. However, it is important to know that her work was not without persecution. Unfortunately, most persecution came from other Christians. Rarely was this from within the Lake Elsinore church, but it did happen, and those were the times that hurt the most. There was the occasional man who would move to the area and criticize her for teaching unbelieving men as if 1 Tim. 2:11-12 applied to those outside the body. Of course, he and those like him never taught a soul! Occasionally there were preachers who followed me who refused to work with her or allow her to give them contacts to teach. I can only guess that it was a pride thing. One preacher who would not work with her, asked her to teach his mother. A few months later, Bernice called to tell him his mother was ready to be baptized. The following Sunday he happily stood up and announced that he had baptized his mother. No a mention of Bernice. Regardless the criticisms or recognition (which she cared nothing about), Bernice would not be deterred. Even more amazing, she would not dwell on it or complain. She had her eyes fixed on what Jesus had done for her and she wanted everyone to have it.
Bernice had a terrible singing voice, and she knew it. She was loud, but if she tried to tone it down, it was nothing but a whisper. There was simply no in-between. Besides, she loved the Lord so much, she just couldn’t hold it in. Hugh Delong sent me this story recently that I think summarizes the years I spent worshiping with her:
“One of my favorite memories was meeting up with her at a meeting. We stood outside and talked, then walked inside together. She, as usual, headed for a row up front, I tagged along and plopped down beside her. She looked at me and said: ‘I don’t think you want to sit here. I sing really bad, but also very loud.’ I assured her I had chosen that seat with care. She told me a story of how some of the women had come to her and complained saying she was ruining the singing. They ‘asked’ her to tone it down. She did – for about 1 song. Then decided to just worship as she always did. I learned that she was right about her singing on both accounts – and I loved every minute of it.”
When Bernice was 79 years old, years after I moved to El Cajon, she had a major health incident. Just as evening services began, she suddenly left the building, stumbled out to the front lawn, and fell to the ground, throwing up as she went. Craig Bradley, the preacher, realized immediately that she was having a heart attack. Thinking quickly he got her to the hospital. When Craig called me later that night, he said that her chances were slim; she had had a massive heart attack. I was 80 miles away, and knowing that I couldn’t get in to see her in the middle of the night, I told Craig I would be there in the morning. When I arrived, no one was allowed in. Fortunately, Bernice’s daughter was a nurse and she convinced the staff to let me make a short visit. As I entered her intensive care room, I was disheartened to see this once strong, vibrant woman in such a weakened condition. I took her hand and she slowly opened her eyes. I said, “Hi. I hear you had a rough night.” Bernice responded slowly, barely above a whisper – “When they hooked me up to that heart machine, I thought, just me luck; got one that doesn’t work!” If the situation weren’t so dire, I would have laughed out loud. The line had showed her heartbeat just stuttering.
Her very next words jolted me: “But I got a class with my intensive care nurse.” I looked at her in pure shock. Here was a woman near death, but still thinking about saving one more person. God spared her life, living to offer the gospel to hundreds more, and yes, she taught her intensive care nurse.
That kind of love for others is a rare trait. Thank you Bernice for leaving such a great example and wonderful memories. I look forward to reminiscing with you in our eternal home. And thank you, Father, for using a woman to change my life.