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No earthly significance

WORLD Radio - No earthly significance

One woman’s death teaches a New Jersey church about God’s purpose for life


MYRNA BROWN, HOST: Today is Thursday, September 16th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day.

Good morning. I’m Myrna Brown.

PAUL BUTLER, HOST: And I’m Paul Butler.

1 Corinthians 1:27 says: “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise. He chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” That verse was proven true in an unexpected way at a small New Jersey church.

AUDIO: [PHONE BUZZ AND RING]

BROWN: Earlier this year, WORLD Correspondent Amy Lewis met a woman who knew she was dying. Over the next few weeks Amy checked in with her by phone.

PHONE BUZZ AND RING: This call is now being recorded...

What began as a conversation about dying well, turned into a story of how God used her to change a church.

HARRISON: I’m not afraid to die. I believe I’m going to heaven. But I didn’t want to die so soon.

AMY LEWIS, REPORTER: In January 2021, a doctor diagnosed Doris Harrison with the rare cancer Ewing’s Sarcoma. She underwent surgery in March. A few weeks later, she was sent home to die.

HARRISON: I wanted to finish school. I wanted to establish a decent relationship with my son. I wanted to write a book…

Doris Harrison was born April 17th, 1967. She lived a hard life: abuse, drug use, prison time. Last year she started writing her life story. She shared the first draft with her friend Bonnie Russell.

BONNIE RUSSELL: The first chapter she wrote. She asked me if I wanted to read it. I said send it along. I said, “That’s an R-rated book, Doris!” She said, “Yeah, that’s my life.”

MUSIC: Billy Graham

In 2006, she heard Billy Graham speak and it changed everything.

Harrison began attending Mercy Hill Presbyterian Church in Glassboro, New Jersey. That’s when she met Phil and Polly Henry. Phil is Mercy Hill’s pastor. Polly is a geriatric nurse.

When Harrison joined the small church, she was anxious and needy. Church members gave her rides to doctors’ appointments and to worship services. They walked with her through fighting a meth addiction. She wasn’t able to give much financially. But she loved to pray.

HARRISON: I pray for everyone. I’m a prayer warrior. I love to pray. I send out prayer cards each week. I would go through the directory and pick out the next ten consecutive families...

After she got cancer, the woman who prayed and wrote cards for others started receiving them.

HARRISON: I knew I was loved by Mercy Hill, but I had no idea the amount of love that I was receiving from the people at that church. I have over 130 cards of prayer for my health, you know, my cancer.

In late April, Harrison entered hospice care. Before she died, she had a few relationships she wanted to make right, if she could.

HARRISON: Primarily it’s in the relationship between my son and I. We’ve had a very rocky road for many years. It breaks my heart, actually, you know, to not have this peace with him.

A terminal cancer diagnosis tends to clarify what’s really important. For Harrison, it was the relationship with her son Tommy—and her relationship with her savior. Her friend Polly Henry put it this way.

HENRY: After that first day of tears, she really realized that, wow, she was gonna go meet Jesus, face to face. For a woman who had had so many anxieties and so many fears, for all of that to kind of wash away into ‘I’m going to meet Jesus and I’m excited about that and I’m not afraid’ was a huge encouragement to everybody around her to watch that.

Mercy Hill members cared for Harrison for nine days.

HENRY: That last week, it was her biological family and her church family that came around and were caring for her, and singing together and reading scripture together. We got a bigger picture of God’s work in her life by listening to her family. I don’t know how much Doris realized, of this coming together of her two families. It was beautiful.

Tommy visited and helped care for his mother. They got to speak alone. On Mother’s Day, her church family sang at her bedside. “When shall I see my Father’s face, And in His bosom rest?...I am bound for the promised land.” Doris Harrison, aged 54, died as the song ended.

SOUND: MILLING CROWD

The cars of Harrison’s church family and biological family lined the street for blocks on the day of her funeral.

PHIL HENRY: Thank you for joining us this morning for this special worship service on the occasion of Doris’ death. I’ve asked her son to share the first thoughts about his mother and then anyone else who’d like to share at that time.

TOMMY PESSOLANO: Thank you all for coming today. I know it would mean the world to my mom. God gave my mom new purpose. She was able to help with little jobs, like church filing, sending prayer cards. She loved writing her prayers cards, man. My mom would go on and on about her church friends and family. It was a joy to be surrounded by so many loving, welcoming people.

Will Bausch is an elder at Mercy Hill and shared at the funeral.

BAUSCH: A couple Saturdays read Psalm 32 together. When I read this part: ‘You are a hiding place for me. You preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance,’ Doris said, ‘I can hear him shouting.’ She could. She was always so close to the throne. She needed God desperately. I’m glad that she reminded me to listen.

SONG: His Eye is on the Sparrow

Harrison often told how God used Mercy Hill Presbyterian Church to change her life. Turns out it was a two-way street. Her life was a vivid reminder to her church family that God still saves sinners, and He covers struggles and doubts with His mercy and grace. Here’s Polly Henry.

POLLY HENRY: Doris never appeared perfect, and so we saw God’s unconditional love, we saw our need to be real with one another, and how the gospel enters in with forgiveness, with restoration. It got us out of our own little worlds into another person’s world.

Harrison’s life—and her death—demonstrated the reality of the gospel.

HENRY: My husband met some people in the neighborhood a couple days afterward and they said, “Wow, someone really important died at your church.” And my husband said, “Yes, indeed.” It was the woman who kept the prayer log. It was the woman who literally gave $5 a month on autopay to the church as her tithe that was amazing to see how someone so seemingly insignificant made such a huge impact. And that is what God does…

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Amy Lewis in Glassboro, New Jersey.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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Deb O

Thank you for linking articles. I may never have seen this one if I hadn't first clicked on another.
What a tremendous blessing this story is to my heart. What a beautiful sister in Christ ... a true redemption story. I pray that my family and others see Jesus in me, but an imperfect Doris put feet to her faith. She's an inspiration.