William Carlson Pergerson II taught a message of Christ and His righteousness that changed his own life in 10 minutes.
William Pergerson, a Seventh-day Adventist evangelist who once refused to share a pulpit with a woman wearing a ring but went on to make Christ and His righteousness the centerpiece of powerful, soul-winning sermons, died in a fiery airplane crash as he prepared for an evangelistic series. He was 48.
Pergerson, a longtime pilot, had just taken off from the airport in Battle Creek, Michigan, for the 20-minute flight to his home in Berrien Springs when his kit-built Long-EZ plane experienced suspected engine trouble on Aug. 27.
Pergerson, who was flying alone, tried to land twice, keeping in constant contact with the control tower.
But the plane came down in a grassy field near one of the runways during the second attempt at 8:19 p.m., exploding in a ball of fire, the airport said in a statement.
Firefighters rushed to the scene and quickly doused the blaze, but little remained of the plane other than the charred engine.
Remarkably, Pergerson’s pilot logbook also survived, bearing a record of his many flights between churches across North America, said Sharon Pergerson, his wife of 18 years, his partner in ministry, and the mother of their two teenage children.
“We were able to salvage my husband’s logbook out of the smoke,” she said Sunday. “Wow, all the places that he had gone!”
A Journey With Christ
Pergerson’s most incredible journey, however, did not involve his airplane but a close walk with Christ that began partway through his evangelistic career, according to his wife and others who knew him.
After graduating from college, Pergerson worked as a Bible worker and then a pastor and evangelist in the 1990s, preaching a gospel of obedience to God’s law.
“He was a hard-core legalist,” said Richard Kearns, a close friend for more than a decade.
He was so focused on the rules that he once refused to accompany a woman who was wearing a ring to the pulpit, Kearns said. A few years later, he said, Pergerson returned to the church with a prayer that the congregation would be able to accept him back.
While preaching obedience, Pergerson grew discouraged and seriously considered quitting as a pastor and evangelist. The evangelistic series he led resulted in just a handful of baptisms.
“I was scraping at the bottom of the barrel, and I didn’t have anything to give to people,” Pergerson later told a friend.
“I used to try all sorts of gimmicks to bring people across the line,” he told another. “Brother, I was a lost man.”
Then in 2001 he experienced a change of heart when he traveled from his home in Virginia to speak at an evangelistic series in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The first surprise came when a local Adventist member gave him a car to use on weekdays, a courtesy that no one had ever extended to him before.
“That just blew Will’s mind!” his wife said. “He said to me, ‘Who is this guy who would do this?’”
A second surprise followed soon after when the car’s owner, seeing William Pergerson’s discouragement, invited a retired pastor to fly over from the East Coast to speak with him.
Pergerson was not pleased to see the old man approach him in the hotel lobby.
“When he first met me, he said to himself, ‘What can this old man tell me that I don’t already know?’” Lloyd Knecht, now 91, recalled with a chuckle.
But Pergerson later acknowledged to Knecht, who became his mentor, “Those 10 minutes changed my ministry and my life.”
Knecht offered a quick Bible study on Christ and His righteousness, starting with 2 Corinthians 5:19, which says, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (ESV).
“I said to Will, ‘We believe that God in His grace and mercy has forgiven all of our sins through the merits of Jesus,’” Knecht said.
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SOURCE: Adventist Review