Yesterday the St. Louis Post Dispatch kindly remembered Penny as one of its notable religious leaders of 2007.
At first I had a lot of fear about this memorial service for mom in St. Louis and wasn’t even sure I could handle showing up. The thought of sharing my sorrow with so many people was too much to bear. Then I was reminded of the wonderful friends I longed to see. Being with Slim and Zella Mae, Ray and Judy and family, my family and other good friends coming in from out of town made the whole trip worthwhile.
I practiced for a few hours with Slim and Zella Mae Cox and Judy Redlich before the service was to begin. Jim Barnes and I had been on the phone in days before setting up the order of service. I really wasn’t sure what this thing would look like when it was all thrown together. None of us did. There were so many factors, so many different kinds of people. And we didn’t know who’d be in the audience. There was just a general invitation put out on the television for “whosoever will.” Dad and Jim were expecting hundreds of people and I guess that’s how many showed up. I told my family that I just wasn’t sure how I’d handle the audience. I’d grown up before the watching world on Channel 24 so on up until I was at least eighteen I’d have little ladies walking up out of the blue to pinch my cheek and say how much they’d loved me since I was a child. I didn’t want any of that happening. Not now. I knew I couldn’t take that.
What happened was that as I practiced the songs and milled about I saw and remembered so many close friends from different years of my life. As more and more folks arrived I felt surrounded by loving care. These weren’t scary people, they were family! I looked out and saw Joel, a man who’d been in NLEC’s family for over twenty years on and off, and Benny, and Bill and so many other faces. I wanted to cry and go embrace them all! I wanted to spend hours catching up, but I couldn’t. Suddenly my sadness changed from fear to hope. I was sad that I couldn’t be there longer! In many ways St. Louis has always been my home away from home. I’ve always loved my memories of NLEC in St. Louis and its people more than any other place I made home (aside of course from sweet home Chicago). So the memorial became this literal picture of the promise of heaven where we would all be reunited for eternity!
Mom’s sister Judy and her husband came down from Kenosha and sat to my right. I hadn’t seen them in years. This big crazy party for mom, with so many different kinds of people testifying to what she meant to them and celebrating God’s faithfulness, was nothing any one of us could have orchestrated. It was totally Spirit led, which was our one wish. Imagine old time country gospel meets folk-fused Jesus Movement era meets black gospel testimony, poetry and song. Imagine Lutherans and Missionary Baptists, Pentecostals and Presbyterians sitting beside one another. Imagine lawyers and Christian radio execs, together with the homeless worshipping and weeping together, rejoicing and loving one another as family. This is a picture of the Kingdom of God and I’m convinced this is what heaven will look like.
I sang the song “The Far Side Banks of Jordan” as I heard it sung by Johnny and June Carter Cash. There’s a story behind this. This was one of the many songs on a playlist I put together after mom told me she had brain cancer. As Johnny and June do the song it sounds like a prophecy of what would transpire after they’d passed away. June sings the part about being the first to go, and they share the song, each taking parts that would soon apply to them. It was staggering to me when I heard that song, the way they just loved each other into heaven. I actually played the song for mom the day we were going to sing together on camera in Marshfield. I just wanted her to hear it. I couldn’t hear the song without bursting into tears, but she listened that day with a straight face. She remarked, “Well, I can’t sing this song now but I want you to do it at my funeral.” And I knew that neither of us wanted to think about a funeral then. We were both believing God that her condition would get better, not worse, in spite of all the odds.
So Martha and I did this song as a duet for Mom’s memorial service in Marshfield. Her church provided a piano player and bass player and Nate (Jen’s husband) played lead guitar and we pulled it off. I had the thought that Slim and Zella Mae and I could do it in St. Louis. But a funny thing happened. I told Slim the name of the song on the phone days before and I think he thought I said “Meet You on the Other Side of Jordan” when I kept saying “The Far Side Banks of Jordan.” So he and Zella Mae showed up and I played the track by Johnny and June for them and they said, “Wow, that’s beautiful. You don’t want us to do that. We’ll just mess it up.” I said, “Sure, you’re professionals, we’ll figure it out.”
We tried six different ways from Sunday to work it out. As a last stand I listened to them do “Meet You on the Other Side of Jordan” and said, “Look use the same three chords and tempo and sing “Far Side Banks of Jordan” with me. So we practiced it that way and it really changed the song into this cool upbeat number. But they were still unsettled with it. They encouraged me, “You can do this yourself. You’ll sound great.” So I did it myself. Now I’m my own worst critic so I don’t even like to think about the fact that I did this on live television or that Channel 24 will no doubt replay it over and over. All I know is that I enjoyed that time with Slim and Zella Mae. I feel so lucky to have sung with them.
Almost right after I did this song it was time for family testimonies. I stood up there and told everyone a bunch of things. In my mind it was all mixed up so I hope it made sense. I told about how in the early days of New Life, when we all lived communally in one building on Park Avenue in Lafayette Square, another family there had a baby. Almost right afterward they made the decision to leave the community. Living as a couple on the front lines with a vow of poverty in ministry to the poor was fine. Bringing your kids into it was another matter entirely. I told everyone about how God had sustained us as a family living this way, not by any saintly super powers of our own, but because of our bigger family–the ones sitting in that audience. And there were many others who weren’t there, who were watching on television—or maybe just never knew how God had used them! Then I said that none of us stand alone, that we are all part of a picture much bigger than ourselves, and that when anyone clings to Jesus they become a part of this big family and that heaven begins then and continues in the New Heaven and Earth. Praise the Lord. I went away that night with my heart full. Then a bunch of us went out to Lee’s Chicken and filled our bellies too. Then I let them know I needed gas money to get home so they filled my tank too! As I drove away my sister Stephanie called me and said that she meant to pinch my cheeks before she left but I got away too soon.
Penny touched so many people; her vision and caring reached around the world.
• Together, Larry and Penny Rice began the New Life Evangelistic Center (NLEC). In 1972, living in only a small trailer, they began the calling to minister to the poor and homeless of St. Louis.
• From the beginning, Penny led the singing during rallies, church services, coffeehouse meetings, etc. Her voice filled whatever space was in use with beautiful, sincere praise.
• One of the first things Penny did in the growing ministry was organize the Kid’s for Christ Clubs and hold puppet shows in the area parks to reach the inner-city children.
• Penny donated the inheritance left by her mother, who died when she was 8, to help purchase NLEC’s first headquarters at 2107 Park Ave in St. Louis.
• Penny’s development of the business and accounting offices of the NLEC headquarters impacted the ministry tremendously. In all areas that Penny served, her immaculate attention to detail and extraordinary sense of organization has been appreciated by all.
• Writing was a talent and a passion of Penny’s. During her life, she wrote hundreds of inspirational and thought-provoking articles. She was a writer and co-editor of the New Life Zoa Free Paper for many years. Her writings have been distributed all around the world. She was very proud when she heard that some of her writings had been printed in Telagu—a dialect of India.
• When NLEC filed to acquire its first TV station, Channel 24, Penny typed the entire application. (Quite a feat!)
• The ministry grew to include free stores, emergency food pantries, financial assistance programs, and homeless shelters, all over the state of Missouri and other areas.
• In 1986, Channel 25 went on the air in New Bloomfield, MO. Penny eventually became the General Manager for the television station and became responsible for programming, marketing, personnel and the other various aspects involved.
• Penny loved being a part of the annual Christmas Party in St. Louis. For years she would stand up during the party and share a testimony, inspirational message, or song. As small children, participating in this event was a part of the Rice family Christmas tradition.
• Fundraising was another of Penny’s gifts. She was always involved in sharing the work of the ministry with donors. Whether on a telethon, through a personal letter, or donation campaign, Penny’s creativity, sincerity, dedication, and compassion inspired thousands of caring people to invest in sharing Christ with the hurting.
• Penny was very active in supporting Larry’s television ministry and often accompanied him on his shows. She began her own TV series entitled Focus on Faith, during which she interviewed various Christians and talked with them about their faith, experiences and ministries.
• While working as General Manager of Channel 25 in New Bloomfield, Penny naturally became a part of the development of the Mid-America Care Center, which adjoined the TV station. Along with sharing her vision and passion for the building, Penny did not realize she would even become the contractor, stepping in when the hired contractor left mid-project. There was little this woman of God could not accomplish.
• NLEC’s ministry began to span the globe, reaching areas in India, Russia, Haiti, and Africa. Penny and Larry traveled together to India on two memorable occasions. Penny’s heart went out to the overwhelming number of orphans there. She returned home and began a sponsorship program for the orphans ministered to by NLEC in India. She personally sponsored a child through the program for years.
• Becoming a teacher had been Penny’s dream since childhood. While she left college after her third year to pursue a life in ministry, this desire remained strong. The dream was lived out as she taught countless people in the NLEC training program. Everyday found Penny patiently and lovingly guiding someone, either in leading Bible Studies, giving training on the computer or in accounting, and an endless list of other ways. She had a teacher’s heart, and the legacy of her writings will carry on that spirit.
• Perhaps most recently, Penny began the foundation Consider the Lilies, a ministry dedicated to mentoring, counseling, supporting, educating, and advocating for women with breast cancer. In her foresight and wisdom, Penny knew that her battle against cancer could be used to reach out to women facing similar struggles. The foundation continues as a testament of her strength and faith.
Penny’s interests and passions:
• Genealogy—Penny gathered long histories of both her family and Larry’s, often doing much research herself. Having no connection with her father’s family, it was a great accomplishment for her to make connections and learn more of who she was. She discovered sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles and others that she never knew she had.
• Journaling—Penny was an avid journaler. She kept a daily journal since the age of 12. These journals serve as a roadmap to her life and provide an intimate connection to her for her family.
• Native American Culture—Having discovered she was of Cherokee descent, Penny had a fond appreciation for the Cherokee culture and Native American culture in general.
Mother of 3 children: Chris, Stephanie, Jennifer
Grandmother of 5: Chris Aaron, Gabrielle, Alathea
As we celebrate Penny’s life we choose to focus on her ressurrected body and not the vessel she left when she went to be with the Lord. Therefore her remains went into a beautiful urn designed by Melvin Schlicker and his son Donald from Zeigler and Ames in Belingham Washington. The top of the box has a beautiful picture of Penny the way we want to remember her, engraved with the words Penny Ann Rice, Feb. 15, 1950 – Feb. 21, 2007.
On the front is a cross surrounded with lilies and Penny’s favorite verse. “Be glad for whatever God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble and prayerful always.” Rom. 12:12 (The Living Bible) On the back of this beautiful box it reads, “Penny, You are a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother. We love you so much.” Larry, Chris, Stephanie, Jennifer, Martha, Justin, Nathan, Lawrence, Annie, Chris Aaron, Gabrielle, Alathea, Keturah, and Ezekial.
This ornate box will be present at each of the memorials as we celebrate the life of Penny Rice.
I’m Not Lonely Anymore
by Penny Ann Rice
Undated, originally published in the New Life Zoa Free Paper
I became fatherless at the age of three. My father left my mother and I and we never heard from him again at all. Since I was very close to my mother, it seemed that my world was still rosy even without my daddy.
I was the apple of my mother’s eye, the “penny in her pocket.” We did everything together and the warmth and security of her love seemed all that I needed. When she was at work, Grandma and Grandpa were right next door watching over me.
When it was time for me to go to school, Grandpa was there to pick me up and take me home. He showed me how to walk back and forth from school as I grew older. He was a kind old gentleman with a twinkle in his eye. I could sit for hours listening to him tell me stories about his life. Until I was about ten years old, I had weak ankles and was constantly twisting them out of place. Several times my grandfather would walk to my friend’ houses to pick me up and carry me home until my ankles snapped back. But in spite of all the love he showed me, Grandpa was not my daddy. He couldn’t pick me up and swing me around or hold me close and call me “his girl.”
My mother seemed to sense that I needed a younger man to look up to, so she dated several men, often taking me along to see how I like them. But the “right” person didn’t appear and Mother became immersed in the vicious cycle of working, coming home to see me, cleaning, paying bills, etc. She was too busy to go to church, although she sent me to Sunday School. And as I passed my seventh birthday, there was a change in our relationship.
Mother was tired when she came home and left me to find my own amusement. She would lay on the couch, smoking cigarette after cigarette. I knew she still loved me, but something was sapping her strength. She began vomiting regularly, so much that I took on the job of fetching the pail for her. She kept working and denied that anything was wrong. But one day as she was bathing, she screamed in pain. I ran to get Grandpa and Grandma. . . before I knew what was happening, my mother was whisked away in an ambulance. Finally we found out what had been making her sick: cancer. For months we prayed and waited, but the cancer had already destroyed most of her internal organs. She died shortly after my eighth birthday.
It took me a while to realize what had happened. I was used to staying with Grandpa and Grandma anyway so when I was put in their custody, the change was barely noticeable. But as I got older and saw my friends’ parents active in school activities and saw the young fatehers and mothers doing things with their children, I became envious. Not having brothers and sisters made me feel even more lonely. As I grew up living with aunts and uncles, I knew they were trying to fill that void but the loneliness was still there. Finally in college I read the following passages in the Bible which really comforted me:
“Thou art the helper of the fatherless” (Psalm 10:14) and “When my father and mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” (Psalm 27:10) and “The Lord preserveth the strangers; He relieveth the fatherless and widow.” (Psalm 146:9)
I wondered how these promises would be fulfilled in my life, but I clung to them whenever the loneliness welled up inside me. And then. . . after 18 years of being without a daddy, the Lord gave me a daddy—and a mommy again—when I got married. As soon as I was blessed with a husband in the marriage ceremony, the realization hit me as we walked out the church door. I turned to my new father-in-law and said, “Now I have a Daddy again!” What an emotional release it was for me to know that I was someone’s daughter again. . . “somebody’s girl.” And even though my husband’s parents live hundreds of miles away, my heart is at peace because I am still “their girl.”
Picking Up the Pieces
by Penny Ann Rice
1986, for the New Life Zoa Free Paper
This article is especially for those who have felt the powerful effects of being in a broken home. It is the story of how God can pick up the scattered pieces of our lives and restore the joy of being who we are. It is a challenge to know the emotional healing that comes from forgiving and loving those in our families who have hurt us.
My parents, especially my father, had planned not to have children. World War II had ended only a few years before; and it would take time and money to build the lifestyle that Gertrude and Harrison Bean dreamed of. “Gertie”, an attractive brunette, had put off marriage until age 31. She had become bitterly tired of growing up “without” during the Great Depression and wanted to make sure she would have a better life when she married. She and “Hal” were working toward that goal when Gertie became pregnant with me in 1949. Although both of my parents were proud and happy when I was born on February 15, 1950, their dream became more unrealistic as the years went by. My mother devoted her time to raising me, and Daddy went from job to job. Arguments heated up to physical abuse and separation, an attempt at reconciliation, and then finally Daddy left for good. I can still remember seeing—through three year old eyes—Daddy slamming the front door behind him, the chenille door curtains swaying from the impact, and my mother bursting into tears on the sofa.
Life remained fairly secure for me, however, even though Mom had to go back to work to support us. Her parents lived on the other side of the duplex house and were my babysitters during the day. Every weekday in the late afternoon I would sit on the porch steps and watch the heavy traffic go by on First Avenue in Maywood, Illinois, until my mother would come home from her secretarial job at the veteran’s hospital. We were very close and she worked so hard to make sure our lives were pleasant—too hard. Shortly after I entered the first grade, cancer began its two-year rampage in her body.
By the time she went to a doctor, it was too late. A month after my eighth birthday, she was gone. Her death was not published in the papers, because my mother’s family did not want my father to claim custody of me. And so grandparents, aunts, and uncles all pitched in to take care of me for the next ten years.
I often wondered what happened to my father, but it was not until after I was married and had three children that I really made a serious attempt at finding him. Since yielding my life to Jesus Christ and letting His love saturate the lonely, hurting areas of my heart, I had forgiven my father for abandoning us; and I wanted him to come to know Jesus too. This became my prayer since 1980. For six years I have made sporadic and unsuccessful attempts to find my father. The biggest problem in doing this was not knowing his birth date, place of birth, or social security number. In fact, all I knew was that he had been in World War II in the Army Air Corps.
But the Word of God promises that if we delight ourselves in Him, He will give us the desires of our hearts. This year God unlocked the mystery of what happened to my father after he disappeared out of my life thirty-three years ago!
It all began on a very ordinary Saturday when I was training one of our office workers on mailing list correction word down at the New Life Evangelistic Center headquarters in St. Louis. We were “knee-deep” in paperwork, when a woman came in the office to volunteer her time. Normally she worked up in the Channel 24 television department, but that day there was no one to supervise her, so she decided to help in our office. Now, I am quite used to the Lord sending in people to help when we are knee-deep in work, but I didn’t know that He sent this woman to also help answer my prayer about my father.
As I talked with her, the thought kept rattling around in my brain: “Ask here where she works!” Finally I asked her and what she told me sent chills up and down my spine. She said, “The National Archives for the US Armed Forces.” Immediately I told her about my father and she explained that, with everything now on computer, she could search his records just by his name! The information she gave me three days later sent me on a tailspin for three months as I tried to determine if, indeed, the records she found were those of my father. In a way I wanted to believe that they weren’t. . . . the records revealed death by heart attack on June 24, 1983!
The records also stated he was born in 1902, meaning he was forty-seven when I was born—instead of forty as it appeared on my birth certificate. I tried several other sources of information, including my mother’s work records from the VA hospital, but could not determine if this were really my father. Then the Lord gave me the idea of calling the hospital in North Chicago where this man had died in 1983. I prayed specifically that God would have me talk to the right person. . . and sure enough, a very understanding social worker read me everything she could over the phone from his medical records.
Then she got the adrenalin flowing in my veins by informing me of his two daughters who both lived in Illinois! She did not know if they were natural or step-daughters, but one of them was “incompetent” in a nursing home. The other was named Judy and she did not know her age or anything about her, except that she was married and working. I almost flipped when this kind social worker gave me Judy’s home phone number!
After praying for about a week, I called the number. It took several tries before we finally caught each other at home, but on July 21, 1986 at around 7:45pm my mind was finally at rest! This man born in 1902 was my father, and Judy and I are half-sisters! She was born in August of 1960—when Daddy was 57! He had never told her about me or my mother, although he did tell her about his first daughter, Dorothy (born in 1923!) who is in the nursing home.
As Judy and I have corresponded since that night in July, we’ve discovered that our father was married four and possibly five times and live a life of much deceit and instability. But I also saw in him real kindness and loyalty in some of the remembrances that Judy has of him. Her mother also died of cancer when she was eight, and Daddy placed her in foster care after that. It is amazing how much we had in common as we grew up victims of the vicious cycle of our father’s instability. But we have both learned the joy of forgiving and even loving him, in spite of the rough times.
I do not know if Daddy is in heaven. . . but I do think it’s exciting to realize that God put it on my heart to begin praying for his salvation three years before he died!
In the meantime, it is so wonderful to see God picking up the scattered pieces of Harrison Bean’s children’s lives and bringing us together in a unique way. Judy and her husband Mark plan to come to St. Louis during the Thanksgiving holidays. How good it will be to hold my very own sister in my arms and spend time getting to know her! And I haven’t forgotten our sixty-three year old sister Dorothy. She suffers much from dabetes, but she can communicate to a certain extent. So my desire is to love her through letters and, of course, in my prayers.
In the midst of all my search for the truth about my father, I discovered an exciting and almost ironic fact: my father was the son of a minister—Rev. James Madison Bean of St. Clair, Tennessee! In spite of a wayward son, God did not forget the grandchildren of His servant, James Bean! Truly, God is a God of the fatherless. He watched over Judy and Dorothy and me all these years and. . . only He could bring us together in spite of all the odds against it! And I can’t wait to see what He has in store for us girls in the future!
Dear sisters and brothers,
Each day that passes after Penny’s death could get harder and harder as the reality that she is no longer here sets in, if it were not for the support of family and friends, the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit, and the light of the Scriptures. The phrase “to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord”(2 Cor. 5:8) keeps going over and over in my mind. To say that I miss Penny is an understatement. Yet I know from being with her until she took her last breath, that Ash Wednesday morning Feb. 21, 2007, her heartfelt desire was expressed in Phil. 2:21,23, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. . . I desire to depart and be with Christ which is better by far.”
I know that Penny is now cancer free, rejoicing in the presence of the Lord, but I must confess that there are times when I feel paralyzed by loneliness and the loss of her presence. How I must keep in mind the victory over death proclaimed in 1 Cor. 15:55-58: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my dear brothers (and sisters) stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”
Penny gave herself fully to the work of the Lord. She left a book of remembrance for each of her children. When she was asked in it, “What best describes your life?” she responded, “An orphaned girl from the small town of Maywood, IL searches for love and meaning to her life and finds both in Jesus Christ, the One who takes special care of the orphans in the world. The minister’s words at my mother’s funeral came true: “Penny, God will take care of you!”
Now when you and I face many questions in those dark moments of loneliness, we must stand firmly on God’s promises of scripture as we remember Penny’s response to the question, “What advice about life do you want others to remember?”
“When you allow Jesus to fill your heart and life and you trust Him with every problem and decision and plan, He actively orchestrates the details of your life into an intricate and beautiful tapestry—a living portrait of His character and grace. Jesus truly is the joy of human longing. May you never take Him for granted, but love Him with all your heart—always.”
Yes it is hard to face the reality that Penny is no longer with us, but her life was a living legacy of God’s love and faithfulness. When she was asked “What spiritual legacy would you like to leave for others?” she answered, “I would like my husband, my children, grandchildren, and any others I have come to know and love to know intimately the presence of our loving God and to learn to pray about everything. I desire Godly wisdom and discernment to keep them from being deceived by the world. I have seen the corruption of too much money, too much work, too much distraction and too much pressure. When we depend on the leading of the Holy Spirit, our lives are more focused and meaningful.”
I thank God for blessing me with thirty-five and a half years of marriage to this wonderful woman who reflected real spiritual strength. She wrote, “Jesus is my source of spiritual strength and encouragement. I call on Him for everything large and small. I still rejoice at miracles and answers to prayer. If there is one lesson He keeps teaching me, it is “Trust Me! I’m learning to trust Him no matter what the circumstances or what I feel. I pray about everything because prayer weaves a golden thread of peace and comfort into my daily life.”
Penny has now gone to heaven. Before she left this earth she stated that when she got to heaven that once there after meeting Jesus face to face, she wanted to meet David to hear him sing and play music and talk about this life and walk with God. She would also like to meet Ruth and Esther and of course Mary, the mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene plus many others. Well, Penny is now part of that great cloud of witnesses Paul speaks of in Heb. 12:1-3.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”
As we face the future how we must remember we are not alone, just as Penny was not alone even in the midst of her battle with cancer. Her favorite verse was from Rom. 12:12 which says, “Be glad for all God is planning for you. Be patient in trouble and prayerful always.”(TLB) Penny, through her life, showed us how to live and be glad for all God has planned for us. Through her two year battle with cancer, she taught us how to be patient in trouble and even when facing death, how to be prayerful always. May her life and the example it provides be a challenge to each of us to do just that, as we live the rest of our lives on this earth God has created.
Your brother in Christ,