No apology need be given for the length of the following story; to begin reading it is to finish it. The faithful witnessing of "Uncle Ben" resulted in the marvelous conversion of "Mother" Palermo, then "Dad" and the eight sons and one daughter. Two of the sons, Louis and Phil, have held services in many states as an evangelistic team, telling the Blessed Story in music, song, and testimony. The Italian accordion and the guitar are part of them, as a wide radio audience will testify. They sing, play, and testify on streets, in parks, taverns, dance halls, and churches all over the country. A more detailed story of the Palermo Family is available in the 48 page booklet entitled, "A Modern Miracle of Conversion".

Living conditions in Italy at the beginning of the century were anything but favorable and promising. There was very little chance for the average man to get ahead. It is therefore no wonder that so many Italian families, hearing of the golden opportunities in America, left their native land and ventured forth in the long journey through the Mediterranean and across the ocean to the "land of equality and opportunity." All the way to Chicago our parents came, in the year l906, hopeful that life in the new land would be happy and bright.

Uncle Ben was the youngest of the six children in Dad's family. He was the first to have any contact with the "new religion." Like most immigrants, he was doing outside work as a common laborer. Things were not going so well one day and he started to curse and swear. He was discouraged and disgusted and gave vent to his feelings in this way. It happened in the providence of God that a Christian laborer, Joseph Marchese, with whom he was working, overheard the vulgar profanity. Tactfully and kindly he asked Uncle Ben why he took God's name in vain this way. "Because I'm lost," Uncle Ben admitted.

The Christian friend then took time to tell Uncle Ben about One who could take away the desire to curse and give him a peace of mind and heart that he had never known. Uncle Ben listened attentively and accepted the New Testament offered him by Mr. Marchese. "Read this book," he told Uncle Ben, "and call upon the name of the Lord for deliverance from sin, and He will save you and you will not want to take His name in vain again."

Through the remainder of the day and after returning to his home for the night, the Holy Spirit kept dealing with our uncle. He couldn't dismiss the matter from his mind, but kept thinking of what the Christian laborer had said. The precious seed of God's Word had been planted in the heart and gave the Spirit something to work on. That same night, after supper, Uncle Ben told his family what had taken place at work. Then he took his newly acquired Testament from his pocket and for the first time in his life proceeded to read the Bible. He gathered his wife and three children around the table for this purpose. His wife wanted to know where he had obtained the Testament and had other questions to ask about the new experience, but Uncle Ben was persistent and said, "Let's get down on our knees and call upon the name of the Lord and ask Him to save us."

This was the beginning of new life in Uncle Ben's home. The light of God broke through their sin-darkened minds and the love of God filled their hearts. Our Uncle Ben and his family were transformed by the power of Christ. The next Sunday Uncle Ben and his family attended, for the first time in their lives, an Italian Protestant church on the near west side of Chicago. He was indeed a "new man" after his conversion. Those with whom he worked never heard him swear any more. The "old things" had passed away, and "all things had become new." A bond of fellowship united the two Christians who continued to work together -- the young convert and the faithful Christian worker who had planted the Word in the young Italian's heart. They spent their noon hours singing praises to God and discussing the things of the Spirit.

Having found Christ to be a wonderful Savior and Friend, Uncle Ben and his family naturally wanted to share their new-found joy with others, and they began a life of faithful witnessing for the Lord Jesus, uncle on his job, and our aunt in the neighborhood where they lived. Uncle Ben had a heavy burden on his heart for his relatives. The message of the Gospel was real to him. He believed that anyone outside of Christ was lost and he was deeply concerned for the spiritual welfare of our family, who knew nothing of the glorious message of redeeming grace.

Grandfather and grandmother were both living at the time, so Uncle Ben had the excuse of coming out to see them; but he took advantage of every opportunity to testify to us of what the Lord had done for him. He and his family would sing Gospel hymns and offer prayer whenever there was a chance. Mother and father, however, were very much aggravated by such witnessing, and treated him shamefully, putting him out of our home again and again because of his zeal in proclaiming the message we did not want to hear.

Dad and mother were devoted to their religion and dad was very self-righteous because he had a prominent position in the church we attended. He was vice president of the congregation and had the important position of lighting the candles at the altar. He was sure that he and his whole family would somehow get to heaven because of his position and influence in the church of which he was a member.

But, thank God, our uncle was faithful and persistent in witnessing to us. He did not come for one or two Sundays merely, or for a few months, and then get discouraged and quit, as so many of us would have done under similar circumstances, but he came with his family for almost six years, patiently and tactfully sowing the good seed of the Word, in season and out of season, and watering the seed with much prayer and intercession. There was no hiding of the Gospel so far as Uncle Ben was concerned. There was no putting of his light under a bushel; he let it shine in the home of his relatives even though they did not appreciate it and glorify the heavenly Father because of His good works. He evidently had confidence in the power of God's Word to eventually do its work in our hearts, never losing patience or giving up, as so many would have done.

We were glad that Uncle Ben kept right on coming, planting the Word of God in our hearts. We were forbidden to have a Bible in our home in these days, but we could not help getting the message of the Bible through the faithful witnessing of Uncle Ben. Being under conviction of sin -- as we saw the transformed life of our uncle -- dad became more and more angry with Uncle Ben and pushed him out of our house again and again. Such treatment drove our uncle to God in prayer more earnestly. Seeing no visible results from his witnessing, he took less time for visiting and talking and more time for intercession in our behalf. Five years of faithful witnessing had not brought the hoped-for results, but he held on to God in prayer and took his burden of prayer to the group of believers with whom he worshipped. He had the whole church centering its prayers especially for our family. He prayed that something would happen in our family that would turn our hearts to God. We did not realize that when he sometimes failed to visit us on a Sunday, it was not because of any lack of interest in our spiritual welfare, but because he was spending more time in prayer for our salvation. We wondered why he did not come. We children missed him and his family because we had learned to like the lovely Gospel songs and hymns that they sang to us. But Uncle Ben did not stay away long. He faced the antagonism that he knew would meet him. Surely enough, when he did come, he got the same kind of reception. Some of us children really felt sorry for Uncle Ben as he was put out of our house.

Maybe the devil did his best to discourage him, suggesting that it was no use to make that long, expensive trip week after week way out to Melrose Park. But God had put a real burden on his heart for our salvation and he kept praying and kept on coming. One of the last times dad kicked him out, he told Uncle Ben, "If you want to come here to visit us, it is all right, but if you are going to try to make us change our religion, then don't let me see you here any more!" He also tried to cover up the spirit of conviction that was settling over him by suggesting to Uncle Ben that he ought to be ashamed of himself for leaving "the only true religion." But Uncle Ben kept on praying for us with the assurance that "If you ask anything in My name, I will do it."

Mother was usually quite healthy, having raised a family of eight boys and one girl. But now she became ill and complained that there was pain in her side. We noticed how she held her hand on her side and pressed hard. Finally she suffered such pain that we took her to the West Suburban Hospital in Oak Park. The doctors there could not help her, so we took her to Mother Cabrini Hospital on Racine and Polk Streets in Chicago, where she was examined by four specialists and had X-rays taken. The last specialist who diagnosed the case discovered that mother had cancer of the stomach. He took Dad into the next room and said, "Mr. Palermo, I hate to tell you this, but your wife has a very bad cancer and has but a few days to live. You might as well go home and order a casket. We doctors can do no more for your wife. Only God can undertake in this case."

We hadn't told mother the seriousness of her condition, but when she saw dad in tears she urged him to tell her what the doctor had told him. "Well," he said, "if you want to know, the doctor said you have cancer of the stomach and can not live very long. He said the doctors can do nothing for you, but that only God can undertake in this case." She answered, "That's all right! If the doctor said that only God can undertake for me, then I'll try God and pray as Ben told me to do."

When dad came home and told us the sad news we all began to weep because we children did not want to see our mother die. Neither she nor any of us was prepared for such an experience. We had plenty of religion but no peace in our hearts. But God started to work after dad left the hospital. At six o'clock that evening mother's pains became almost too much to bear. There was a little crucifix on the wall above her bed and she began to pray, but not in the customary way. She prayed, "Dear Lord, I don't want to pray to You as You are there -- a god made of wood or stone, but I want to pray to You in spirit and in truth. Mother had never prayed like that before but had only "said prayers" that she had learned in her childhood prayers to this or that saint. But this time she wasn't taking any chances. She was in earnest so she prayed directly to the Lord.

She continued, "Lord, if you take this cancer away from me, I'll go to that Protestant church that my brother-in-law has been telling me about and get saved, even if it's the worst religion in the world." Something happened when mother prayed like that. She didn't have very much faith but what little faith she did have, she put into action, and God healed her and saved her in that instant. Praise the Lord! She felt such a joy and peace come into her heart. She said it felt just as if a hand were pulling a knife from her stomach and that the pain was gone.

That was at six o'clock in the evening. Shortly thereafter she fell asleep. She hadn't slept for many nights but now she rested peacefully until midnight, when a commotion in the room awakened her. An elderly woman in the next bed in the same ward was ringing for a nurse, but no nurse came to wait on the poor woman, so mother got up from her bed and helped her. Mind you, mother was supposed to be dying of cancer. Can you picture her taking the place of the nurse? Why, that was a miracle in itself!

When mother got back to her bed she noticed that she wasn't holding her fist in her side any more, where the pain had been. "Why," she exclaimed, "praise the Lord, and thank You, Jesus!" Mother was a new creature in Christ Jesus. God saved her and healed her that night. She could hardly wait until morning to express her joy. She was saying to herself, "Just wait until I get back home to my family and friends and neighbors: I'm going to tell them what God has done for me and how He came into my heart and saved me from sin and healed my body." That very night -- in the middle of the night -- mother gave her testimony to the others in the ward, and they marveled at the miracle, knowing how she had suffered.

Mother did not sleep any more that night. At seven o'clock in the morning she got up from her bed and was sitting up when the nurses came to her ward. They said to one another, "Poor Mrs. Palermo! She is out of her head." They knew that the doctors had given her up but did not know that God hadn't given her up. Mother asked the nurses for her clothes, saying she wanted to go home. She told the nurses that Jesus had come into her heart and saved her and healed her from the cancer. Then the nurses were sure that she had gone crazy, but mother answered back; with a "broken handwriting" and said, "Me no craze -- Jesus saved me and healed me. Me no got cancer no more! "

But the nurses wouldn't give her her clothes, so she waited for something else to happen. She began to pray for God to send someone from our family to visit her. She had just finished praying when our brother Carl, who worked for a taxi company at the time, got off the elevator and came down the hall. When mother saw him, she thanked God for answering her prayer. She told Carl how Jesus had saved and healed her. Carl could hardly believe her because he knew that the doctors had given her up to die. Mother told Carl, "We must all join Uncle Ben's religion." Carl promised, "If the Lord healed you like this, we'll go beyond Uncle Ben's religion."

Soon after that Uncle Ben walked into the hospital to visit mother and when mother saw him she shouted, "Praise the Lord, Ben, Jesus healed me and saved me!" Ben shouted, "Hallelujah!" It is no wonder that Uncle Ben had joy and victory in his soul. Now he was beginning to see the result of his faithful witnessing in our home. Now, after six long years, his prayers were beginning to be answered. I don't blame him for shouting, do you?

Soon mother said, "I don't want to stay here in the hospital any longer. I am not sick. I feel fine. This place is for sick people. Take me home!" Uncle Ben said, "You might as well go with me to my home. I don't live so far from here. You can stay at my home for a day or two until you get a little strength before returning to Melrose Park." So Carl took mother in a taxi to Uncle Ben's home.

Those of us who were at home didn't know what was going on at the hospital. All we knew was what dad had told us -- that the doctor had told him he might as well go home and order a casket for Mother because she was not able to live more than a few days. Mother stayed at Uncle Ben's place for a day or so, receiving both spiritual and physical strength. She made a vow to the Lord at this time that she would preach the Gospel to everybody she had an opportunity to contact. Thank God, she has kept that vow and God has given her many souls through her faithful witnessing.

Carl is a witty fellow and thought he would have a little fun at our expense, so he called us up from Chicago and said, "Hello, this is Carl. Seeing that mother isn't feeling so good and the doctor has given her up to die, it seems that she might as well die at home rather than in a hospital. I'll have her taken home!" Then he quickly hung up so we wouldn't have a chance to ask any questions about it. We didn't know what it was all about. We never dreamed that suddenly a miracle had taken place and patiently watched from our window for someone to bring mother home, really expecting to see an ambulance or hearse. In a little while we heard somebody's brakes squeak in front of our house. We recognized Carl's cab, but we didn't dream that mother would be coming home in a cab, because when we took her out of the house, to the hospital; we had to carry her out. But now she was coming home in a cab, if you please! We could hardly believe our own eyes when mother got out of the cab and started to walk on her own two feet. When mother came up on the porch, she had a big smile on her face and the first thing she said was, "Praise the Lord! Jesus has taken the cancer away from me and has also saved me!"

We were surprised to hear mother praising the Lord. She had never talked about the Lord before. It was something new for us to hear from her lips. Thank God, He had changed her speech. She was indeed a new creature in Christ Jesus. It was hard for us to believe that Mother wasn't sick any more. We said, "Honest, mother, did you really get healed?" She said, "Yes, praise God, the Lord has healed me!" We were very glad, of course, that mother was well, and God was beginning to speak to our hearts, too. We children got together and said, "What do you say we all go to that church where Uncle Ben goes! If they could take cancers away from anybody like that, why, we will all get saved."

Our whole family agreed to go to Uncle Ben's church in Chicago. I'll never forget that Sunday morning early in January of 1925 when we made our first visit to the Italian Protestant church where Uncle Ben attended. I don't know how my brothers got dressed for the journey, but I was all dressed up and ready to go. We couldn't afford shoe polish, so I shined the shoes with a strip of bacon rind.

Then we all piled into the borrowed automobile -- a big touring car. It was supposed to be a seven-passenger car, but we made it a twelve-passenger bus. We were packed like sardines. Then we started off. Talk about knee action -- that car had all kinds of action! Soon we were lumbering along through the streets of the big city. I was "all eyes" taking in the sights as we drove along. I had never seen so many automobiles and street cars and trucks.

Arriving at the church, we looked around. We hardly noticed the church at first. To us it was indeed a strange-looking church; it didn't even have a steeple or a cross or a belfry. We got out of the car and walked upstairs and into the church, saying to ourselves, "What kind of an outfit is this anyway?" In the hall there were two ushers who handed out song books. By the time they got through giving each member of our gang one, they ran out of books. We helped to fill the church in a hurry, occupying two or three rows of seats. It all seemed so strange to us.

We looked around and could see no statues or saints (We didn't know at that time that the saints were sitting in the pews! ). And there was a piano in the church! We had never seen a piano in a church before. Then the song leader called out a number out of the little Italian books. We were not used to singing in church. In the church we had attended only the choir sang, in Latin. But we now began to sing with the rest of the people.

After the song service, we all knelt to pray. In our former church we had a little board in front of each pew to kneel on so we wouldn't take the crease out of our trousers, but now we knelt all the way down. Then two or three people led in spontaneous prayer. After that we sat down again and sang another song. Then the pastor said, "We will now have a testimony meeting." The only thing I knew about a "testimony" was what they have in a courthouse; but now I found out what a "testimony meeting" was. Several got up, one at a time, and told what Christ had done for them. And do you know, all those people had a big smile on their faces. They had something in their hearts that we did not have and it showed on their faces. It is a good thing it was that kind of church or I might not have been saved at that time. If I had seen a lot of long faces instead of smiles -- as I see in many churches nowadays -- I am sure I would never have been saved in that church.

Soon after the testimonies, the pastor got up to preach. And the pastor didn't stay right behind the pulpit, as our pastor always did, but paced back and forth on the platform. He seemed to be dead in earnest and preached with conviction and power. And when the Word of God was expounded, conviction took hold of our hearts. When he gave the invitation to come forward for prayer for salvation or consecration, there was quite a number that went forward, including part of our family. They thought it was a part of the regular program, so up mother, father, sister, and a few of my brothers followed the people up to the altar, and were led to the Lord.

They came back to their seats with smiles on their faces. We all continued to attend the meeting in this little church until we all had accepted Christ as our Savior. As I have told some folks, ''This salvation is just like chicken pox -- if you hang around you'll surely catch it!" That's what we did! We stayed under the preaching of the Gospel and really got saved -- delivered from the power of sin in our lives.

We were the first family in our neighborhood in Melrose Park to become Protestants, and we received so much persecution from friends and loved ones that we moved into Chicago. Mother was perplexed because all our neighbors were so disturbed about "changing her religion." They almost made her feel like a sinner, so mother decided to go and see our priest and ask him if she had done wrong. She talked with him for about an hour and a half and testified to him of what the Lord had done for her. Then she asked him pointblank if she had done the right thing. "Right here in the presence of God I want you to tell me the truth: did I do the right thing?" He stood up and took his little cap off and said, "Mrs. Palermo, it is possible to be saved, but please don't say a word to anybody about it around here." Mother shouted, "Praise the Lord! I promised the Lord that I would tell what He has done for me to everybody I came in touch with."

From that time on mother has been a faithful witness for Christ, and God has used her to win many souls. She visits the poor people and helps them out by making clothes for the children. She buys groceries for them. In these ways she wins the hearts of the people and has a chance to witness for Christ. She could not read the Bible, but my brother George used to go with her at times and read the Bible for her. But she was able to do the witnessing, telling what the Lord has done for her and urging people to give their hearts to Christ. (from a book entitled: "I Was Born Again," by Norman A. Wingert)

 

From: 2700-PLUS SERMON ILLUSTRATIONS By Duane V. Maxey

 

 

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