EDITOR’S NOTE: Mission:Dignity Sunday is June 25 in the Southern Baptist Convention.
By Judy A. Bates
DALLAS (BP) — A father’s love will shape a man’s life — even if it doesn’t come from his own dad. Just ask Elvis Durrill.
Elvis was born in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression. One of nine children born to Otha Earl and Minnie Durrill, his young life on the farm was hard and filled with manual labor. His father was not a religious man, but taught his children not to lie, steal or cheat. It was from his mother that Elvis learned of God’s loving care.
However, it was the pretty blond girl sitting a few pews ahead of him that had drawn him to church one day. By the time the preacher finished the sermon, Elvis forgot about the girl because God had gotten ahold of his heart. He made a profession of faith and 12-year-old Elvis ran home to tell his mom about his salvation experience.
His excitement was short-lived. As Elvis burst through the door shouting about his decision, he heard his dad in the backroom laughing at him. “I told you he was simple-minded,” Elvis remembers his dad saying to his mom.
The joy in his heart was immediately doused and it would be many years before Elvis would be open to God’s tug on his heart.
A year later, Elvis found himself living on the streets after his dad decided it was time for him to move out. The family of a classmate took him in after several months of his being on his own, and he worked on their farm in return for food and shelter. Elvis remembers the terrible hunger of those months, but more than that, he remembers the devastating loneliness he felt being separated from his family.
“I felt so abandoned by my family, but what I didn’t understand then was that God had not left me,” Elvis recalled.
When Elvis got word that he was drafted into the military, he was relieved that he would have steady work and regular meals — and what he considered a built-in family.
It was one of his military buddies who finally talked him into returning to church, which helped to heal the ridicule of the past.
Just before his 24th birthday, Elvis married Donnis. They began their own family, adding two children to the household through the years. Elvis was a very different father than his own had been — sharing the love of his heavenly Father with Michael and Malinda.
Elvis didn’t have much contact with his dad, but when his dad’s Alzheimer’s disease had nearly run its course, he went back home to help care for him the final six months of his life. An empty shell was all that remained of the father Elvis had known.
“My dad was a hard man,” Elvis noted sadly. “I don’t believe he ever made a profession of faith. I hope he did, but don’t think that was the case.”
Elvis finally heeded God’s call to the pastorate in his early 40s.
“I didn’t believe God could use an uneducated man like me,” he said. “I ran like Jonah and came up with every excuse in the book as to why God had the wrong man. But, as usual, God knew best.”
Through the years, Elvis and Donnis came up against hard times, but God always provided. “He was never early and never late,” Elvis recalled.
He remembers the time he gave the last of their money at church one night to help another local family. On the way home, Donnis cried because they didn’t have anything left for groceries — not even potatoes. But the next day, a local man left a 20-pound sack of potatoes on their front porch saying he just felt moved to do so.
“God always supplied our needs exactly on time,” Elvis remembered.
After 36 years of service, Elvis resigned from the pastorate to devote himself to caring for Donnis. First, heart problems, then an episode of cancer meant round-the-clock care for the last six years of her life.
“When she died, the loneliness of my childhood returned. But God’s grace and mercy kept me going. My children, grandchildren and many wonderful friends fill my life now,” Elvis said.
Only months after his wife’s passing, his twin brother also died. Later that year, his son had a stroke requiring intensive care for several months. On the heels of all the family health issues, Elvis found his savings depleted.
“I had just placed a package of hot dogs in the refrigerator when I read an article in the state paper about Mission:Dignity: “Three Hot Dogs for Three Long Weeks.” As I thought about the article, the hot dogs and recent medical bills, I immediately reflected on the fourth chapter of Philippians,” Elvis wrote on his first application.
And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.
That’s when he decided to apply for help from Mission:Dignity. Approved in short order, Elvis is grateful for God’s timing in helping him see the need to reach out to others about his situation.
“I cannot put into words what is in my heart. You have helped me through a very difficult time. Mission:Dignity, God bless you!”
Mission:Dignity Sunday is June 25.
It’s a day to remember and honor retired ministers, workers and their widows living on low retirement incomes. It’s also a time to give generously to help the nearly 1,800 individuals and couples assisted by the ministry.
About $7 million is distributed annually, with most of the funding coming from the direct gifts of individuals, Sunday school classes and churches. One hundred percent of gifts provides well-deserved monthly grants with nothing used for operating expenses.
GuideStone has free bulletin inserts, promotional posters and a DVD with several brief testimonies of people assisted by Mission:Dignity. The materials are undated and can be used anytime.
“The greatest blessing comes from knowing God is not through with me here on earth,” Elvis added. I’m 83 years old and He has not put me on the shelf. There is no end to the opportunities to serve.”
For more information, go to MDSunday.org. Or, read more about Elvis Durrill and his “Over the Fence” ministry at MissionDignity.org/WhoWeHelp.