Chris Rice’s report on the St. Louis memorial service

March 5, 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’s Highlights by Stephanie Rice

February 27, 2007

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.
• Family—
Mother of 3 children: Chris, Stephanie, Jennifer
Grandmother of 5: Chris Aaron, Gabrielle, Alathea
Keturah, Ezekiel


letter from Larry

February 24, 2007

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,

Larry Rice


Mom with Chris

February 23, 2007

Mom with Chris


A Message from Larry

February 22, 2007

My dear friends,

How I thank God for your faithful prayers and support for New Life Evangelistic Center. Now I want to ask for you to please keep my children, grandchildren, the NLEC staff, and myself in your special prayers. On Feb. 21, 2007 at 8:15am my beloved wife and NLEC co-founder, Penny Rice went into the everlasting arms of our precious Savior.

 In the hours leading up to Penny’s departure the children and I took turns sitting at Penny’s bedside reading to her from her favorite book Hinds Feet On High Places by Hannah Hurnard. At approximately 2:30am on the morning she was to leave us I was awakened as I slept on a cot next to her bed. I got up and read the following to her from this book. As I read I knew the Lord was speaking to me in preparation for what was about to take place. The book is a story about one called Much-Afraid and her journey to the High Places.

“’I can’t go with them,’ she gasped. ‘I can’t! I can’t! O my Lord Shepherd, why do you do this to me? How can I travel in their company? It is more than I can bear. You tell me that the mountain way itself is so steep and difficult that I cannot climb it alone. Then why, oh why, must you make Sorrow and Suffering my companions? Couldn’t you have given Joy and Peace to go with me, to strengthen me and encourage me and help me on the difficult way? I never thought you would do this to me!’ And she burst into tears.”

 

“A strange look passed over the Shepherd’s face as he listened to this outburst, then looking at the veiled figures as he spoke, he answered very gently, ‘Joy and Peace. Are those the companions you would choose for yourself? You remember your promise, to accept the helpers that I would give, because you believed that I would choose the very best possible guides for you. Will you still trust me, Much-Afraid? Will you go with them, or do you wish to turn back to the valley, and to all your Fearing relatives to Craven Fear himself?’”

 

“Much-Afraid shuddered. The choice seemed terrible. Fear she knew only too well, but Sorrow and Suffering had always seemed to her the two most terrifying things which she could encounter. How could she go with them and abandon herself to their power and control? It was impossible. Then she looked at the shepherd and suddenly knew she could not doubt him, could not possibly turn back from following him; that if she were unfit and unable to love anyone else in the world, yet in her trembling, miserable little heart, she did love him. Even if he asked the impossible, she could not refuse.

 

“She looked at him piteously, then said, ‘Do I wish to turn back? O Shepherd, to whom should I go? In all the world I have no one but you. Help me to follow you, even though it seems impossible. Help me to trust you as much as I long to love you.’” (Hinds Feet On High Places, Tyndale House, 1975, pgs. 66-67)

 

Penny faithfully followed the Good Shepherd, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Now as she has gone to the high places her life has left us a challenge to also move forward even when our guides are suffering, sorrow and now loneliness. If you would like to post how Penny’s life has touched yours  please leave a comment here. Enjoy Penny’s writings here. One which really touched me is entitled, “All Alone,” where Penny shares how the hurt she suffered at eight years of age, when her mother died from cancer, went on to empower her to do the work God had called her to do at New Life Evangelistic Center.

While my daughter Stephanie has been such a help in making memorial arrangements and completing other business following Penny’s death, my other daughter Jennifer has created a special page dedicated to celebrating Penny’s life on the world wide web. You can access this special site by going to www.newlifeevangelisticcenter.org. While you are at that site you can also give a special memorial gift to the work of New Life Evangelistic Center or Consider the Lilies Foundation. Consider the Lilies is a special ministry Penny developed at NLEC to reach out to cancer victims and their families. There is a link on the NLEC site to the Consider the Lilies site if you desire further information. You can also share your thoughts and gifts by writing NLEC at PO BOX 473, St. Louis, MO 63166.

 

In behalf of my family and all the staff at New Life Evangelistic Center, I want to deeply thank each and every one of you for your prayers, cards, gifts and love that you have showered on Penny during her time of illness. We also want to thank you for your support during this difficult time. What a blessing you are. As we continue to work side by side with so many who are in sorrow, suffering, and alone, we must never forget that the Good Shepherd has promised, I will never leave you nor forsake you” and that the scriptures have promised that “all things work for good to them who love God and are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) This may be difficult to see now in our journey to the High Places, but I know from many years of experience that God is Faithful and His Word is True.

 

Yours in Christ,

 

Larry Rice

 

 


Memorial Services

February 22, 2007

Memorial services will be held at the following times and locations:

Marshfield Assembly of God
1538 W. Washington St., Marshfield Missouri
Monday, February 26 at 10:30am

New Life Evangelistic Center Headquarters
1411 Locust St., St. Louis Missouri
Saturday, March 3, at 4pm

MidAmerica Care Center
9810 State Road AE
New Bloomfield, Missouri
Sunday, March 4, at 3pm

Sunday, March 18th, 3 PM at
St. Paul’s Lutheran Church,
300 W. Pecan Blvd.,
McAllen, Texas


February 21, 2007

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