EDITORS’ NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.
Updated May 25
STATESVILLE, N.C. (BP)–Nell Kerley sat quietly as her two team members talked with a mother and father about their need for a relationship with Jesus Christ. When the parents refused the invitation to pray and ask for forgiveness and salvation, the evangelism team prepared to leave.
“Wait a minute. I want to talk to the daughter,” said Kerley, who had been observing the 15-year-old girl.
“You’ve heard everything that was said tonight, haven’t you, Danielle?” Kerley asked.
“And would you like to give your life to the Lord?”
The young teen nodded again and then prayed a prayer of repentance from her sins and of commitment to Jesus Christ.
Seven years ago, Danielle was the first person to accept Christ in conjunction with Kerley’s witness.
“That’s where I got my start,” Kerley told Baptist Press. Seven years later, she has seen nearly 1,900 people turn to Christ.
A longtime member of Bethel Baptist Church in Statesville, N.C., Kerley said she learned to tell others about Jesus through the church’s FAITH outreach, which utilizes Sunday School classes for evangelistic outreach. “Since then, everywhere I go I talk to someone about the Lord,” she said.
Kerley recounted witnessing to several workers at the Yadkin County Fair through the meal ministry of the South Yadkin Baptist Association, where she volunteers one day a week.
“‘Why are you talking to us?’ they asked me,” Kerley said. “‘We’re dumb, we’re dirty and people shun us.’” That didn’t matter to Kerley as she led 11 of them to faith in Christ. She also gave them Bibles.
“I knew the devil was mad at me the next week,” Kerley said. “It hit me hard that something bad would happen to me.” It did. While walking across her lawn, she slipped and fell, breaking her shoulder in three places.
Kerley wasn’t in the hospital long before she realized how many people in the facility she could tell about Jesus. She sent for some Bibles from the Baptist associational office, and anyone who came into her room got a Bible and an invitation to salvation in Christ. Kerley gave away more than 100 Bibles.
“Hospital employees called my room the ‘holy room,’” said Kerley, who, after she was able to get out of bed, began witnessing to other patients at Iredell Memorial Hospital, where she once served as a volunteer assistant to the hospital’s chaplain, Tom Sherrod.
“Nineteen people in the hospital prayed to receive Christ,” Kerley said.
“The devil thought he had me” she said. “But he threw me in the right briar patch, just like Br’er Rabbit.” On a subsequent visit to the hospital, six more prayed for salvation.
“Nell has such a gift of putting people at ease and presenting the Gospel,” Sherrod said. “She has a great sense of humor coupled with a sense of urgency that people find compelling.” It was Sherrod who encouraged Kerley to keep a journal of those who prayed to become Christians.
When the spouse of one patient complained about Kerley’s evangelistic efforts, she was forced to stop. So, she joined the volunteer staff at the Baptist association office where she interviews people who avail themselves of the association’s food pantry and clothes closet.
“I have a few, but not many, who reject the Lord,” Kerley said. “They say, ‘I’m not ready. I’ll do it in my time.’
“I talked with one young woman who said she’d rather go to hell than give up her men. And I told her, ‘Honey, you’re on your way,’” Kerley recalled.
“Nell has an extra cup of evangelism. That’s her gift,” said Sandra Harrison, church and community ministries director for the South Yadkin Baptist Association.
“People around her just get saved. It’s a lifestyle for Nell,” Harrison said.
“She’s a bit like a bulldog,” Harrison added. “If Nell knows you’re not saved, she can be very persuasive.”
Kerley also is a volunteer Sunday School teacher at an assisted living facility where 10 have died in the last two years. “But they’re all with the Lord because I told them about Jesus and they gave their lives to the Lord,” Kerley said.
A 92-year-old woman’s condition prohibited her from attending the Sunday School class. When Kerley visited the woman in her room and began talking about salvation in Jesus Christ, the woman said, “But I’m Catholic,” Kerley recounted. “I told her that didn’t matter and that Catholics need forgiveness too, and she prayed for salvation.” Two months later, the woman had died.
Kerley also shares the Gospel wherever she finds someone who’ll listen. As she was paying for a meal at a local restaurant, Kerley learned the cashier was not a Christian. Minutes later, the cashier was praying, committing her life to Christ.
“I’ve had people come to my house and ask me to tell them about Jesus,” Kerley said. One young man found the Bible that Kerley had given to his deceased father, a man with whom Kerley had shared the Gospel. Because Kerley had written her name in the Bible, as she does in any Bible she gives away, the man was able to find Kerley — and also find Jesus Christ.
“I believe God sent me to your house. Would you tell me about Jesus?” the young man asked.
“We sat right in my den and talked, and he prayed for salvation,” said Kerley, who later delivered a Bible to the young man. That’s when the man’s wife and 12-year-old daughter also prayed to commit their lives to Christ.
“It’s everywhere you look; people are wanting the Lord,” Kerley said.
People sometimes ask Kerley how she knows if everyone who prays for salvation actually means it.
“I tell them that the Lord didn’t tell me I have to know if they meant it,” Kerley said. “I can’t find it in the Bible where I have to know this. But if I ask them if they meant the prayer, most times they say yes.” Kerley told Baptist Press that the association refers those who profess faith in Christ to a local church, and pastors of those churches often provide positive reports of the new members.
“I just tell them about the Lord and leave the rest to Him. He gets a-hold of them and He changes them,” Kerley said. “Besides, I’m just an old gray-headed woman who loves the Lord.”
She’s got more than gray hair. At age 73, Kerley suffers with Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, diabetes and arthritis.
“I love the Lord,” said Kerley, explaining why she tells so many about Jesus. “It’s just my life and I’m happy doing it.
“And I don’t want anybody to go to that terrible place called hell. But no one else is telling them,” Kerley said. “There are lost people out there who need the Lord. And we need to reach them.”