DEAD OR ALIVE, WE BELONG TO GOD
After a distinguished career as an evangelist, pastor, professor, dean, and president of Vennard College in University Park, Iowa, Dr. Merne Harris retired. He and his wife Sue moved to Ankeny, Iowa, and he embraced the role of international pastor for World Gospel Mission. Then he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is a progressive neurological disorder with symptoms that vary widely. The Harris’ knew little about Parkinson’s except that it had left an acquaintance unable to eat with his hands. Harris never experienced the familiar hand tremors associated with the disease. Instead, his muscles grew rigid and his movements slowed.
The disease progressed until he was compelled to use a cane, then a walker, and finally a wheelchair. He lost the ability to drive. Tasks such as writing and dressing became laborious. Each stage brought a deeper dependence on others and a loss of privacy. Intensely shy, he found the loss of privacy very difficult.
Even worse was the loss of his voice, especially painful for a person who lived to preach and teach. Yet he persevered. His daughter, Sharon, said, “Dad received many honors in his lifetime. But I am most proud of him during his final years, because we could see the truth of his faith, commitment, and trust.”
When his son, Bob, asked Merne why God had not healed him, Dr. Harris explained, “God has entrusted me with Parkinson’s. I can be a better witness through this.” Merne described his perseverance as a combination of “God’s grace and Merne’s grit.” His grit was so tenacious that daughter Sandy remembers a doctor once told a roomful of medical students that they would never again see a patient at Harris’ stage of Parkinson’s who could still get in and out of a chair.
Merne Harris died in 2007 at the age of 83. When asked what enabled her husband to maintain his positive perspective on life and ministry, Sue Harris said, “His relationship with Jesus.” He never lost his joy regardless of his circumstances.
We may not have this same particular disease or anything matching the disabling results, but the principle by which Dr. Harris made it out of this life with his hands raised in victory is the same. He knew that the One who saved Him would be the one to take him and take care of him until resurrection day. Remember, this life here on earth is only part of our story. The rest is already being written in the Book of Life. If heaven were to have a newspaper, there would be no obituary columns. A part of the reward awaiting those who endure until the end not only involves how we lived for God in this life, but how we responded to the death angel who came to take us away. Remember, the world not only looks at how we live, but how we die. – Dr. Robert R Seyda