Despite a devastating diagnosis, Pastor Rick Perry keeps the faith
As a pastor, Rick Perry has seen his share of sick people and hospitals. Leaving a hospital room, he says he'd always wonder, "Why not me?"
He's no longer asking that question.
In March, he was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer.
He refuses to dwell on the difficulty of his personal situation.
"At that time, the only thing I thought of was my family and taking care of them," he said.
Although the disease has been a blow, it doesn't change anything essential for him. And what's essential is this: "God is good all the time."
Rick is known for using the phrase as a call-and-response at his church, Safe Harbor Baptist.
Rick: God is good...
Congregation: ....all the time
Rick: All the time....
Congregation:...God is good.
"I've been using it a lot of years," Rick says. "It's more than a cliche."
"God has always been good - he's not gonna change now."
Rick, 51, is married to Lydia and together they have four children: Lauren, Stephen, Cameron and Bryson.
Rick grew up a preacher's kid, and a little rebellious as preachers' kids often are. His father, Larry Perry was the pastor at West Park Baptist Church (which sustained quite a few broken windows because of Rick and his friends' baseball playing).
Rick says he never wanted to be a preacher when he was a child. And he remembers he had some teachers who told him he'd never amount to anything. Some, he figures, said that to motivate him. Others probably believed it, he says.
He recalls a shop teacher at Erwin named Mr. Sigmon who saw something in him.
"He'd tell me, 'Rick you can do anything you want to do.'"
"I was running from that for a long time," he said.
But at 17, he got saved, he says, at a youth revival at his church.
"It changed my life," he said.
And a few weeks after that, he felt that God wanted him to preach, so when he was 18, in 1980, he went to Tabernacle Bible College in Greenville, SC. He also married Lydia and recalls that their first child, Lauren, now 30, was born there.
When he finished school, he went to Coyle Baptist Church in Stanfield. From there, he went to Eastwood Forest Baptist Church in Matthews, and then he spent about four months doing mission work in Mexico.
In 1988, he came back to his home church, West Park Baptist. He worked part-time at the church and part-time doing other jobs, including driving a truck.
In 1992, he went to New Hope Baptist Church in Salisbury. The pastor there, Craig Edwards, was the one who had been preaching when he was saved, Rick says. He stayed at that church for about 14 years and took over as interim pastor when Edwards left to do full-time evangelism.
"I felt it was time for me to start a church on my own," said Rick, who left his work as a general contractor in 2006 to become the pastor of Safe Harbor Baptist Church, which was organized in 2006.
Don Clawson remember that the church's first meeting was in his living room. While maybe a dozen people were expected, more than 40 showed up, he says.
The church rented the auditorium at Granite Quarry Elementary School for a year or so before the church was built.
It's a "good church, with good people," Rick says, noting that the building was built by volunteers. Lydia serves as the church's pianist.Rick counts his father, Larry Perry, as one of his parishioners.
Larry says his son is "a great preacher."
Rick knows how painful his illness has been for his father, who told Rick he'd give anything to be able to switch places.
"God chose that for me," Rick says. "We don't know why God chooses."
"I just couldn't be prouder of my daddy and my mom, too," said Lauren. "I don't understand ... but I guess the comfort is the testimony my daddy has always had. I know he is sincere when he says God is good all the time. And I know the Lord will be there for my family."
"One day at a time," Rick says. "Sometimes, one inch at a time."
George Kluttz is a member of the congregation and says, "We love him dearly. He's been good to everybody, and he believes in giving way beyond his means. He's just a good man."
Carla Dearth of Gold Hill began going to Safe Harbor about a year ago with her children, Caleb, Haley and Heidi.
"All three of my kids have gotten saved and baptized there," she says.
"We actually hate to miss church because we're afraid we'll miss something good.
The church family is very close, she says, and adds that she's never met a more caring pastor and pastor's wife. Even after Rick got sick, Carla says that he'd reach out to her to check on her son, who was going through a health issue of his own.
Dearth started a FaceBook page, Praying for Pastor Rick Perry that now has more than 500 members.
Melissa Hoosier.is also a member of the congregation and says Rick has been "an awesome encouragement" to me and my family.
Anytime anybody's been sick, h e's always right there. Right now, we don't know what to do without him. But I guess it's our turn to be there for him.
Melissa teaches a class on Wednesday nights and Rick rarely misses, and is always encouraging, she says, even when she knows he's not feeling well.
. She went to visit him very shortly after he'd been diagnosed, although Melissa didn't know how serious it was.
"I could tell he was a little shaken up," she said. "But he said Miss Melissa, the doctors came in and talked to me, and it doesn't look real good for me, but I want you to make sure you take care of my Lydia. She's going to need y'all. And I want you to tell everybody you see that God all the time."
"It's been a great privilege to have him as a pastor and a greater privilege to have him as a friend,"said Clawson, who says he's known Rick for more than 20 years. Clawson worked with Rick when he was a general contractor.
"It's hard to be without him right now. I'm not mad at God now and not planning on getting that way, but it does hurt. Sometimes life's not fair."