TORRINGTON, Wyo. (BP) — James Abernathy proves it is never too late in life to come to Jesus, and his story illustrates that door-to-door evangelism is still effective.
The World War II veteran and retired machinist answered an afternoon knock on his door. By the time the visit was over, Abernathy had committed his life to Jesus Christ. At age 92, Abernathy experienced forgiveness and new life in Christ.
The couple who knocked on Abernathy’s door in June 2012, Lamar and Gail Twiner, traveled to Wyoming from Brandon, Miss., to help with a new church start in Torrington — Lifeway Church. The Twiners and other members of Brandon Baptist Church canvassed the neighborhoods of Torrington to help Marty Rostad, church planter and pastor, get the word out about the new church and promote an upcoming Vacation Bible School.
In 2011, Brandon Baptist Church began a partnership with Southern Baptist church planters in Wyoming. So far, members of that church have canvassed neighborhoods in Casper, Cheyenne, Evansville and Torrington. The church encountered openness to the Gospel in each town they visited.
The Twiners had knocked on hundreds of doors in Torrington before they reached Abernathy’s door. They were tired, but they knocked anyway. When Abernathy answered the door, he seemed resistant at first.
The Twiners asked if he had grandchildren who would be interested in VBS. His answer was short: “Grown and gone.” So the Twiners invited him to visit Lifeway Church. Abernathy said no because he was angry with God over the death of his wife Dorothy. The Abernathys had enjoyed almost 70 years of marriage before Dorothy’s death on Feb. 12, 2011. Still, Abernathy invited them in and began telling stories.
Telling his story
Abernathy shared how he used to pull Dorothy’s ponytail in grade school. He later gave her a cedar chest he built in woodshop at Erie High School in Erie, Colo. The cedar chest still sits in the basement, filled with school sweaters and other memorabilia from their high school years.
Abernathy married Dorothy in 1941, shortly before he began serving as a Navy gunner on a ship in the Pacific during World War II. She was 19; he was 21. He and Dorothy had two children and shared seven decades of life together. Her death left him sad, confused, lonely and angry at God.
The son of a coal miner, Abernathy overcame a tough childhood. His dad was a hard man who received little education and began working in the mines in northern Colorado when he was 11. He meted out punishment to his children with a thick leather strap. Sometimes the beatings were severe.
Abernathy’s ticket out of poverty — the U.S. Navy — came with great risks. During World War II, Abernathy was a forward gunner on a Navy ship in the south Pacific. He took great pride in serving his country. Though Abernathy’s ship traveled to some of the most dangerous hotspots in the Pacific theater — including Iwo Jima and Okinawa — he made it out of World War II alive.
After the war, Abernathy and his wife farmed in northern Colorado. Later, Abernathy secured a job as a machinist at Beech Aircraft in Boulder. Skilled with the lathe, Abernathy ultimately made precision parts for the Apollo 14 moon mission and for the first space shuttle mission in 1981. In the guest bedroom of his Torrington home, a stack of certificates signed by presidents and NASA directors attest his important, behind-the-scenes role in the United States space program.
After retiring from Beech, Abernathy moved to Torrington and kept busy making items from wood. For years, he has demonstrated his intricate wooden puzzles during talks at the local elementary school. Abernathy left many of the puzzles behind for the children.
Abernathy enjoyed a good life until Dorothy’s health began to fail. The last years were difficult as Abernathy cared for his ailing wife. Watching her slowly drift away left him bitter.
The Twiners listened to Abernathy share about his wife and kids, his time as a farmer and how he made parts for NASA. Then they lovingly shared their own stories of coming to faith in Christ. They shared the Gospel and told him of his need for a Savior. Abernathy’s bitterness seemed to melt away and he gave his life to Christ.
Abernathy now attends Lifeway Church every Sunday and often invites others to come with him. At least two people have visited the church because of Abernathy, pastor Rostad said.
The Twiners visited Abernathy again last September. Though he was recovering from a short hospital stay the week before, Abernathy appeared thrilled to see them.
During their first visit, Abernathy had told stories about his life and showed them the cedar chest that helped him win Dorothy’s heart back in high school. This time, Abernathy talked about his church family. He expressed appreciation for the love he receives from his church and the weekly visits from his pastor.
Gary D. Myers is director of public relations at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).