EDITORS’ NOTE: The birth of Jesus Christ reverberates through the ages each time a person turns to Him for new birth. This story, and four stories that follow, celebrate the salvation that Jesus, whose birth is celebrated each Dec. 25, brought to mankind.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Marie Parrish knows what it means to be persistent in prayer.
She prayed for her husband, Bill, for more than 50 years before he committed his life to Christ after nearly dying in a fire.
Today at age 82, Bill Parrish is an active member of Inglewood Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn. But his journey to Christ, which included brushes with death on three separate occasions, was far more roundabout than most church members.
Bill and Marie first met as high school students in Lauderdale County, Ala. They dated for several months before Bill joined the Navy and was shipped to the Pacific front of World War II.
Marie, who had accepted Christ at age 13, knew Bill was not a Christian but figured he would commit his life to Jesus shortly.
“I was naive,” she said. “I thought that when anybody got grown and could think straight, they would become a Christian. … I figured as soon as [Bill] got out of the service and we started going to church together, that he would become a Christian. It wasn’t the real world, but I had a sheltered life.”
During the Battle of Guadalcanal, Japanese forces sunk Parrish’s ship, the USS Atlanta. Of the 700 men aboard, Parrish was one of only 350 who survived. After the battle, Parrish returned home on leave.
“While I was home on a 30-day leave, I found the girl I had left behind and we married before I went back to sea as I had to wait for my next assignment, the USS Boston,” Bill said. “She had been praying for me while I had been away and continued to do so for 55 years after we married.”
When Parrish was discharged from the Navy in 1945, he and his wife moved to Nashville where Bill went to work for the U.S. Postal Service. Though Marie became actively involved in a local church, Bill remained uninterested in Christianity.
“I always knew there was a God and His Son Jesus Christ but I did not have a relationship with them,” Parrish said. “You might say I got interested in the things of the world and forgot about God. … The years flew by and I did not get any closer to God, just doing what I wanted to do or felt like doing.”
Despite Bill’s indifference to spiritual matters, Marie continued to pray daily for his salvation. In addition to her own prayers, she solicited the prayers of the deacons at her church and Christians all around the world whom she met on mission trips.
“I understand the deacons prayed for him every time they met,” she said. “… and every time I went on a mission trip, I asked them to pray for my husband.”
In 1953, Bill nearly lost his life for a second time when a car hit him as he delivered the mail. But even the 27 days he spent in the hospital did not encourage Bill to surrender his life to Christ.
In 1998, God finally got his attention. The Parrishes’ house caught fire and both of them passed out from smoke inhalation. Had rescuers not dragged Bill and Marie from the house, they would have died.
“Four more seconds and it would have been too late, we were told by the medics,” Bill said. “I was in the hospital 74 days, and five weeks of that time I was in the burn unit at Vanderbilt Hospital. My wife and I are considered miracles by most everyone who heard the facts.”
During his recovery, the members of Inglewood Baptist cared for Parrish by meeting his physical needs and telling him how to begin a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Through their witness, Parrish began to consider Christianity.
“When we had this last one [fire] and he came so close to death, I think that changes a lot of people,” Marie said. “And I think that through everything that happened … so much love was poured out on us.”
On Easter Sunday 1999, Bill finally came to a point of brokenness over his spiritual condition at age 78. He decided to commit his life to Christ and made a public profession of faith at Inglewood’s Easter service.
“The day he went forward, someone said there was hardly a dry eye in the church,” Marie said. “People, not only me but a lot of people, had been praying for him for many years.”
After Bill’s conversion, Marie said she wanted to thank everyone who has prayed for her husband’s salvation.
“I tell you how thrilled I was. I called a preacher in England because he had asked me if my husband ever became a Christian, would I let him know. And I called him that Sunday afternoon,” she said.
Since Easter 1999, Bill’s life has been transformed.
“I attend church regularly and pray I am drawing closer to God at all times in many ways,” he said. “My goal is to show God I appreciate the way He watched over me during the wayward years in my life. God is so good.”
Bill’s attitude toward church also has changed.
“He thinks everybody ought to go to church every Sunday, but he didn’t used to think that,” Marie said. “He can’t understand some of the things people who call themselves Christians do now. But before, he didn’t think anything about it. He visits the hospitals. He visits the nursing homes. He goes to funerals, a lot of things that we just didn’t do together before.”
Bill’s salvation demonstrates God’s power to transform any life.
“I just believe that anything that happens, happens in the Lord’s will and in His timing,” Marie said. “It all goes back to … when the Holy Spirit is speaking to someone and they answer.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: HALF A CENTURY.