St. Patrick’s Day has always been a well- acknowledged holiday in our family. Not for the beer guzzling side of it, but for the Irish heritage and the legacy of St. Patrick himself. Excited that I was born just two weeks before the holiday, my dad bought a little St.Patrick’s day button in the hospital gift shop that proclaimed, “It’s a BIG day for us WEE folk!” He was of ¾ Irish descent was given his middle name for his mother, Patricia. Both of them were named for St.Patrick. When he was dying, he repeated his middle name, Patrick, often to be sure that we would include that on his tombstone. That we did. Do you know what Patrick means? It means noble. I’d like to share with you what my noble Daddy, Jerry Patrick Pereira, taught me about being a saint. I’m not talking about the kind of saint that is canonized or worshipped. I’m talking about the kind of saint that goes marching in when the trumpet sounds. I want to be a part of that number. I want you to be part of that number too.
1. He taught me that anyone can come from a rough past, but they can make decisions to give them a great future.
From the start, my Dad’s childhood was shaky. He almost didn’t even make it into this world. My grandmother contracted Tuberculosis while she was pregnant with him and doctors recommended that she have an abortion. At the urging of a Catholic priest, who said to her, “Patty, if GOD wants to take him home then he will. Don’t do that. He may grow up to be a man of God some day. Give him a chance,” she declined the abortion. Little did that priest know that Jerry Patrick Pereira would grow up to be a Southern Baptist Pastor and two term President of the North Carolina Baptist Convention
Not only did he enter this world by escaping abortion, but his own dad died when he was just six years old. Growing up without a father was more than difficult. Grandma Pat had to play both roles. It was difficult. The family line had struggles with alcoholism. Money was scarce. Dad was gone. Things were hard.
I’ll never forget two stories my dad told me of his teenage years that started to shape his future. Though he grew up as an altar boy in the Catholic Church, he never heard the gospel until he joined the Army. When he was sixteen years old, my dad was drinking and driving while on a date and ended up in a terrible wreck. It threw him from the car and left him on the ground, with his arm contorted. The girl he was with walked over to him and said, “Are ya hurt?” Duh. He had to get several permanent pins in his arm to be able to keep and use it. He also (rightfully so) lost his license until he was 21.
During his teenage years, he served as a volunteer firefighter. One night, he got a call to go help clean up from a tragic wreck on the side of a hill. When he got there, he realized that the bodies he was to clean up off that scene were those of some of his friends. Totally shaken by the time he got home, he lay wide eyed in bed. Not a man of prayer at that point in his life, he cried out desperately, “God, if you’re there, don’t let me die before I find you.”
June 14th, 1972, Daddy found God in Aschaffenburg, Germany while he was serving in the U.S. Army. Though he had come from a rough past, he found the only hope he had for a great future: Jesus Christ. Hungry for God’s Word, he began to attend Bible studies and devoured the old beaten up Bible a Chaplain passed onto him. Then, at a special conference called SPREE ’73 at Earl’s Court Arena in London, England, while hearing Dr.Billy Graham, he surrendered to the call to preach. He turned to someone next to him and said, “Hey, is this guy, Billy Graham, sort of like the Heavy Weight Champion of Christianity?” When the person responded, “Yes,” he asked what kind of church Dr.Graham was a part of. “Southern Baptist,” was the response. So, not knowing much more, he decided that’s what he would be too. He often quipped of his first sermon, “I preached and preached. Got back to my seat, looked at my watch and realized I was done in eight minutes flat.”
Later, he would go to college and seminary and then meet his bride, my Mama, in Billy Graham’s office during staff devotions. God brought a lonely, lost boy from California around the world and back to wind up in North Carolina, where he would bring the same message of hope that it took him some twenty years to hear himself to others who needed it just as badly.
2. He taught me how to BE a saint.
I never would have been born had my dad not found Jesus. The sovereignty of God. Wow. He really does hold the universe in order. As a little girl, sitting on the pew by my mother and sister, listening to my father preach, I heard the message of hope through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ early in life and often. That was the message of hope he had waited twenty years to hear. I heard it from day one of my life.
It didn’t take me long to realize I wanted what my parents had: hope of eternal life. At the age of four, I realized that I was in fact a sinner- a person who made mistakes that separated me from God. I was destined for a very real and miserable place called Hell if I didn’t ask forgiveness for my sins and accept the gift of eternal life that God wanted to give me through Jesus’ death on the cross, burial, and resurrection.
On October 4, 1988, I went to my mom and told her I’d like to pray to ask Jesus to save me. She helped walk me through how to pray that night and my life was changed. Unlike so many people, I was blessed to have Godly parents who pointed me to hope and gave me the opportunity to hear the Gospel before I had to learn the hard way. Being a saint doesn’t have anything to do with being worshiped or being perfect. It has everything to do with being TRANSFORMED into perfection through the sacrifice of God’s perfect Son, until we walk through the doors of our eternal home, Heaven, and become like Him.
3. He taught me how to LIVE like a saint
When Jesus saves you, it’s not a ticket to a free ride through life in which conflict or temptation are absent. When you become a saint, the power of God living in you is what gives you the strength to continually strive to be more like Him and less like yourself.
There’s no greater way that my dad showed me how to live like a saint than by studying God’s Word and living it out. I remember talking to a reporter shortly after he died who was doing a piece about him. I told them, “My Daddy was the same man in the pulpit that he was in the home.” He made a few mistakes in both arenas, but he was always quick to seek forgiveness and to both learn and turn from his shortcomings when he did.
He was also very careful to be in the world, but not of the world. He would minister to people from all walks of life to tell them of the life changing power of Jesus. But, he was also very cautious to live a life above reproach. Though he was a Pastor, he was still a man. He consciously fled from things that would lead him to evil. He literally ran away from questionable things that popped up on his computer or television. As a person who had struggled with alcohol earlier in life, it was never permitted under our roof and he warned my sister and me of its consequences. He suffered from kidney stones quite a few times. The doctors nearly begged him to drink beer to pass them, but he adamantly refused because alcohol had nearly wrecked his life years before. He did the same thing with medical marijuana, when offered it during his wretched bout with cancer. I don’t know if I ever admired him as much as I did when he turned down those things. To him, those things represented a life of addiction, seclusion, heartache, and hopelessness that he had once known. He wanted no part of that life again. His New Life didn’t need that stuff anymore. God was bigger and He was the only thing he wanted to be addicted to.
4. He taught me how to HANDLE ADVERSITY as a saint.
When you grow up as a Pastor’s Kid, you quickly learn that people aren’t perfect. Everybody has different ideas, which is fine. God gave us all unique brains to formulate various perspectives. But when those ideas turn into personal attacks, it’s less than desirable. Through facing times of adversity, my dad taught me about perseverance, courage, standing for truth no matter what, and putting your trust in Jesus instead of people.
There are many times he wanted to give up. But he didn’t. What he would say to me on the way home from Basketball practice or games was what he lived out, “You don’t give up in the fourth quarter, Emily.” He taught me that God never puts you in a position then only to leave you when you’re almost done. His message to me was, ”He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it upon the day of Christ Jesus!” (Philippians 1:6) It takes courage to stick it out even when you’re winded. It takes extra courage to take a stand for truth even when it’s not the popular thing to do. Most of all, though, you have to put your faith, trust, and hope in Jesus or else you’ll fail miserably with whatever assignment it is that you’ve been given.
My father was given the final task of using his physical life as a platform for hope in his dying days. In one of his last sermons, he sat as he preached and said, “People keep wondering if I ask God, ‘Why?’ in regards to my cancer. But ya know, I’ve decided that, ‘Why NOT me?’ is a better question.” I know I didn’t have that attitude when I heard his diagnosis. I, in fact, fell on the floor crying out, “Why?!” to God. But not Daddy. He was in the business of reaching lives with the Hope of Jesus Christ. This was just a new method of doing just that. If you ask me, his greatest vehicle for sharing the message of the suffering death of Jesus, burial, and resurrection was through the grace he displayed in between his final breaths.
5. He taught me how to DIE as a saint.
My dad’s final sermons are the ones I’ll remember the most for the rest of my days. In one of them, he preached from Mark 4, where Jesus calmed the storm from the boat after being awoken. The biggest thing he pointed out was that Jesus promised to get them to the other side. He got into the boat with them on the journey that He had laid out for them. He was with them from start to finish. He took them through a storm. A scary one at that. But He never left them to be destroyed or to be alone. He promised to get them to the other side.
He was with Daddy before he was born. He entered the vessel of his life on June 14th, 1972. And then on November 7th, 2003 He got him to the other side…to completion.
6. He taught me how to LEAVE A LEGACY as a saint.
Having been blessed that Jerry Patrick Pereira was my Daddy gave me the eyes to see how God can transform ANY life, no matter how bad or dejected it may be, into a life full of purpose and hope. That’s the legacy he has left for future generations of our family and this world. You don’t have to come from a great home life to have the promise of a perfect Home. That’s the story I plan on telling those that come behind me. That’s the story I hope people will remember once I get to the other side.
That’s the story of MY St.Patrick.