INSIDE STORY: A new babe in Christ — at 108 years old
She could not believe what she was seeing.
For more than a half-century, Cooke, 78, had prayed that her mother, Lula Wallace, would accept the Gospel.
Now, five months shy of her 109th birthday, Wallace — still in her wheelchair — was being lowered into the chilly water at the Norris Road Church of Christ in Memphis, Tenn.
Cooke would find it difficult to sleep the next few nights, as if it had been a dream and she might wake up to discover Wallace really hadn’t confessed her faith in Jesus and washed away her sins.
“We haven’t tried to force it on her in any kind of way,” said Cooke, a Norris Road member influenced to become a Christian by her late husband, Ben. “Any time we had an opportunity, we’d just say a few words. … We’ve just always made sure that we lived the life before her and let her know that Christ always came first in our lives.”
Thirty years ago, Cooke helped win her younger sister Virginia Mack to the Lord. The sisters — two of 11 siblings born to a farming family — take turns caring for their mother at her home near Batesville, Miss., about an hour south of Memphis.
“I feel God has kept her around this long for a reason,” said Mack, 66, a member of the East Frayser Church of Christ in Memphis.
Wallace — a grandmother of 22, great-grandmother of 45 and great-great-grandmother of 20 — always has lived an extremely moral life, her family said.
“No smoking, no drinking, no gambling, and she better not think that you’re doing it,” Mack said. “You had to live a clean life, and that’s the way she was.”
The late Nokomis Yeldell, the pioneering minister of the Norris Road church, came to Wallace’s house and joined the daughters in pleading for her to be baptized. But she always declined — until a recent Thursday morning.
That day, Cooke sat down on the side of her mother’s bed. They started talking about old times, as her mother loves to do. When Wallace complained to her daughter that “people just don’t want to do what God wants them to do,” Cooke sensed an opening.
“Oh, you are so right,” Cooke said, starting in Genesis and leading her mother all the way through the Bible to Jesus’ death on the cross.
At the end, Cooke smiled at her mother and asked, “Don’t you want to be baptized?”
“Yes,” she replied.
For the longest time, Cooke didn’t say anything. Then — still in shock — she asked the same question one more time. Again, her mother replied, “Yes.”
Still nervous that her mother might change her mind, Cooke called her sons and daughters — Wallace’s grandchildren — and told them the news.
Nobody believed it right away.
“Y’all pray,” Cooke urged as she dressed her mother and prepared to drive her to Memphis.
At the Norris Road church building, John DeBerry, minister of the Coleman Avenue Church of Christ in Memphis and a cousin of Cooke’s late husband, took Wallace’s confession.
“Listen, I’m not doing this for no man,” Wallace said, according to her daughter. “I’m doing this for myself and God.”
Two of Cooke’s sons — Wayne and Stanley — carried their grandmother in her wheelchair down into the water. After a bit of maneuvering, they pulled her out of the wheelchair and baptized her.
“It was one of the most gratifying experiences I’ve had in nearly 45 years of preaching, to be frank about it,” said DeBerry, also a Tennessee state representative. “You thank the Lord that he allowed her to live so long. You have to feel as though the Lord knew her heart … and for some reason, his grace and mercy allowed her not to leave this earth” unsaved.
Norris Road minister James Michael Crusoe prayed after she emerged from the water, and the crowd assembled for a Thursday morning Bible class greeted their new sister.
On the ride home, Wallace sat back and slept the entire way.
“Where have you all been?” Mack asked when she reached Cooke on her cell phone after trying to call the house.
“Mother was just baptized,” Cooke replied.
“What?” Mack said. After realizing she’d heard right, she screamed with joy.
Back home, Wallace ate a senior meal prepared by the Norris Road church and returned to bed. The next day, Cooke had to leave before Wallace woke up. She softly kissed her mother.
“Sometimes, my mom’s mind is not very clear,” Cooke said. “But that (Thursday) morning, it was very clear. She knew what she wanted to do.”
FeedbackCongratulations Sister! Welcome to the Church of Christ Romans 16:16.Henry and Tomeca BaconTchula Church of ChristGrenada, MS
USASeptember, 9 2012Congratulations to the Cooke family on the baptism of Sis Wallace. We are so proud and happy at Norris.Debra CrusoeNorris rd Church of ChristMemphis, Tn
UsaOctober, 16 2011I must complement on a good job well done. Please keep it going.Beulah CollymoreBridgeport churchof Christshelton, connecticut
U S AOctober, 5 2011This is a wonderful story. I am amazed she has lived so long, and blown away that she was baptized at 108. Amazing. God is awesome. He gave us salvation in Jesus, Amen. I am 37, and was baptized in the church of Christ last September (2010). I grew up in the Methodist church, and was baptized there when I turned 15. Looking back, I don’t think I could grasp the full meaning of being baptized. And, I have always thought that being fully submersed would be a better way to be baptized. It was an awesome day. My wife reconfirmed her faith by being baptized right after I did. I am directly after I did. I’ll never forget that day.David E Morgan IVPottsville Church of ChristMayfield, KY
USAOctober, 2 2011I think She is a very lucky person to have lived up to that age and most especially to accept Christ before her death. Thank God for this.Emem UdomOrodu Church of ChristLagos, Lagos
NigeriaSeptember, 30 2011This was a very touching and inspiring story! I will share with members of the congregation that I attend! May the Lord continue to bless this sister!
My love to the family!Keya DacusWestside COCJasper, TX
USASeptember, 29 2011What a precious story! So happy for them.PaulaCalvert CityCalvert City, KY
USASeptember, 26 2011More story like this makes the world world stunned and appalled! Keep the work going!Alex B. ColomaAsan Church of ChristAsan Village, Guam
United StatesSeptember, 25 2011What a wonderful feeling this must have been for the family, your brothers and sisters are rejoicing with you.KarenFt. Sam Houston church of ChristSan Antonio, Texas
USSeptember, 24 2011One word… wow! What a great story! Thanks to the Chronicle for sharing this and encouraging us all.Tim SpiveyNew Vintage ChurchSan Diego, CA
USASeptember, 24 2011What a wonderful story. Stories like these really lift our spirits. It reminds me of how happy we were when Johnny baptized and 80 year old lady in Pottstown, PA Sister Haws had wanted to be baptized for yeare, lived next door to the Methodist Church but knew she had not been baptized into Christ. Dr. Halteman, Christian and chiropractor had led her to the Lord. He would arrange a study with people many times following a treatment. Later, as she held Johnny’s hands, she would say, “these are the hands that led me into the baptistry. May God continue to bless this family in Tenn. and us all. Wonderful story and family. Thanks for sharing. Incidentally, Johnny is 90, just in case our friends see this. Thanks for sharing.Johnny & Jo AndersWest ErwinTyler, Texas
USASeptember, 23 2011the word can`t describe how much I feel happy for these gift of God. it is great.
God bless you all.belay kebedediredawachurchofchristdire dawa, dire dawa
ethiopiaSeptember, 23 2011Absolutely wonderful…to God be the glory. Amen.Williams D. KareemKADO CHURCH OF CHRISTAbuja, Federal Capital Territory
NIGERIASeptember, 23 2011Welcome to the family, sisterJay KelleyAustin StreetLevelland, Texas
USASeptember, 22 2011