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71-year-old’s baptism comes after more than 15 years of prayer

James Harper is baptized on Sunday, July 9, at Adairville Baptist Church.

ADAIRVILLE, Ky. (BP) – When 71-year-old James Harper was baptized at Adairville Baptist Church on July 9, it was the answer to more than 15 years of prayer from his friends and family, including his father-in-law.

Phillip Alexander, pastor of Adairville Baptist, said baptizing Harper was “one of the most moving times I’ve ever had in ministry.”

“I don’t even know how to describe it. In 15 years of ministry, without a doubt it’s one of the coolest things. It gives me chills thinking about it. It’s a reminder to never stop praying.”

After fighting against his desire to accept Christ his whole life, Harper recently called Alexander, wanting to speak with him as soon as possible.

Phillip Alexander (right), pastor of Adairville Baptist Church, got to baptize James Harper on July 9th. Alexander had previously prayed many years with Harper’s father-in-law for him to be saved.

At first, Alexander said he was concerned as Harper seemed frantic and looked like he hadn’t slept for days.

That was because he hadn’t slept for days.

Harper said in the week leading up to their meeting, he slept maybe six hours total.

“I swear I didn’t think I was going to get there (to the church to see Alexander),” Harper told Baptist Press. “I was crying all the way over there and it felt like an elephant was sitting on me.”

“I want and I need to be saved,” Harper told Alexander, who then led him to surrender his life to Christ and be baptized the next day during service.

Alexander had been praying for years for Harper’s salvation with Harper’s father-in-law Wallace.

More than 15 years ago, Alexander was pastoring another church, where he formed a close bond with Wallace, who served the church in many ways.

Wallace would often visit Alexander in his office or join him for lunch. Each time the two met, they would pray for Wallace’s son-in-law Jimmy (James) to be saved.

“He would come by just to sit in my office and chit-chat,” Alexander said.

“He would take me to lunch, and I would say he was probably there at least once a week, maybe even two or three times a week. We developed a really close relationship.”

Over those years, Alexander would see Harper from time to time, but the two didn’t know each other well.

Wallace died a few years ago, but God had begun working on James Harper’s heart long before that.

Harper told Baptist Press he had always desired to become a Christian, even from a young age. 

“Even as a child, I wanted to (come down to be saved) but I just couldn’t,” Harper said.

“I had fought it all of my life. Every time I’d go to church, every time I’d go to a singing or a revival or something I wanted to come down so bad I couldn’t stand it. But it was like my feet were just welded to the floor. I couldn’t get my hands away from the pew. I’d have a hold of the back of it, and it was just like I was chained to the seat. And that went on for years. We had our kids in church and it was still going on.”

After Alexander began pastoring Adairville, Harper and his wife Loretta decided to visit. They knew of Alexander’s close relationship with Loretta’s late father.

Each time they came, James Harper had the same experience of being unable to come forward during an alter call.

Then they went on a vacation with some of their family. Every night in their cabin, the plethora of TVs were never turned on, and instead Harper’s cousin Bobby and his wife Debbie would talk with him about the Gospel and salvation.

This was final push he needed.

“I told my wife Wednesday (the week after they returned) I’ve got to see Phillip. It’s on my mind every time I shut my eyes,” Harper said.

“The older you get the harder your heart gets, and I thought mine was too hard. If it hadn’t been for my cousins I probably still wouldn’t be saved. God was working through them. When I came up out of the water, it was just like a new day was born.”

Many friends and family, including Harper’s 88-year-old mother, attended his baptism.

After the service, Harper finally received an answer for his insomnia – his cousin Bobby told him he and his wife had prayed that Harper would not sleep until he got saved.

Alexander said the event is a reminder of the true power behind prayer.

“We’re celebrating Jesus saving Jimmy’s life, and it’s a reminder that the Lord is the one who completely changes lives,” Alexander said.

“Jimmy is a new creation in Christ, it doesn’t matter that he’s 71 years old. And because of that he’ll be with Wallace, who prayed for him years and years and years ago.”

After being saved and baptized, Alexander told Harper they needed to find a permanent church home.

Harper said, “We found it. We’ll be right here.”