A Purpose Filled Life – The Bill White Story
Part Five – Answering the Call
The first time I walked into Bill White’s Internationale Prayer Centre I was astounded. I had no idea what to expect. The place is full of hundreds of posters, dozens of scrapbooks, framed pictures, memorabilia, plaques, newspapers, and so much more. It was somewhat gratifying to find my columns bound and plasticized into yet another type of scrapbook lying on one of dozens of tables of displays. Of this Bill stated, “I save all your work John. You are a historian and tell important stories. That’s why I want you to tell mine.”
To bring Bill’s transformative story forward to today, we first went back to the late 1940’s and his early church life at the Hillcrest United Church. His connection to his church evolved from keeping the huge potbelly stove going at that church, to preaching stories of missionary work at all four United Churches in the Pass. Doreen of course was the organist in Hillcrest and played as such for 62 years. It seems that several pastors noted his ability to communicate the word of God to people and urged him on.
This is how he carried on pretty much until there came a pivotal moment in his life that changed him forever. Bill always had many irons in the fire, one of which at that time was as an Amway distributor. There is a strong Christian conservative ideology within the Amway structure and that led Bill and Doreen to a three-day motivational gathering in Hawaii in 1979. It was there he claims that at exactly twelve noon, in the Coral Ballroom of the Hawaii Hilton, Crown Ambassador and preacher Skip Ross spoke the words that lit the fire of being born again in Bill.
When he returned from Hawaii he sold his farm and bought the two buildings east of his old store. He bought the Rex Theatre from the Dobeks and made it into four apartments. He renovated the next building east of it which eventually became the Bellevue Vet Clinic. He also did extensive work in his old Superstore in the back of which he now lives and where his remarkable walk in and learn about Jesus museum has existed for many years.
His modified building became the focal point of all kinds of prayer services and gatherings. Since 1980 it has been a Internationale Prayer Centre and Bill tells me that he has had over 500 scheduled meetings in the centre, including Full Gospel monthly meetings, special meetings with travelling evangelists, church services, and week-long Christian Jamborees with three speakers each day for three days.
Bill shared with me the story of how his centre became a chapter of an organization formed in the United States known as the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship (FGBMF). One of its proponents has a story similar to my Aniela Plonka series story in which she was held during the war and eventually released from Russia. In this case the person in question is an Armenian by the name of Max Krikorian, a soldier who had been imprisoned for 4 ½ years by the Germans during the Second World War. Max was drafted into the Russian Army and was in the Baltic Sea area fighting when he was captured. When released at war’s end a group of them including Max, made their way west. Krikorian realized that if he went back east to Armenia the Russians would most certainly send him to the Gulags. So they journeyed westward with the aim of eventually coming to America, a trip that involved much hardship and danger.
According to Max’s personal testimony in his treacherous journey he had the help of angels that appeared to him no less than four times to help guide them past insurmountable obstacles. The group eventually made their way west through Czechoslovakia and found an American army camp and some work there that paid. From that camp he eventually made his way to America, where a few years later he became involved with another Armenian named Demos Shikarian. Demos was a dairy farmer who set up the first Full Gospel Business Men’s chapter in 1951 in Los Angeles. Its concept is to merge faith in God with business practices and now has chapters in over 100 countries.
Max Krikorian helped set up FGBMF chapters across the United States and eventually made his way to the Prayer Centre in Bellevue where he spoke. He told the crowd about surviving the slaughter of Pentecostals by the Cossacks in Russia and how most of those imprisoned by the Germans died of starvation. Bill has had hundreds of encounters with gifted Christian speakers like Max and somehow, without ever putting pen to paper has been able to do thoughtful introductions at the microphone. He claims that just before he reaches the stand God gives him the message he should put forward.
Bill has ministered and visited throughout the Pass all these years and tells me he has reached many people who were struggling or were at their end and offered them salvation. For 6 ½ years Bill travelled every Tuesday night to the Castle River Minimum Security facility, just south of Beaver Mines Lake, to minister and counsel the inmates there. According to Bill he has led many to the Lord and he mentioned a line from the last verse of Mark, Chapter 16 to me that says, “Whatever I can do I must do.”
In 1994 Bill and Doreen attended the World Convocation of Prayer being held in Jerusalem. They were among a group of 15 prominent Prayer Canada people who flew there to be part of this spectacular event which was attended by 160 nations. Bill also made two trips across Canada visiting about 60 Prayer Stations in 35 days. He has always been one to photo document his journey and he has a rather unusual file photo setup for hundreds of his pictures in the centre. Bill repurposed a carpet tile display flip folder from his Superstore into a giant accordion photo album that one can leaf through. It is the most unique photo holder I have ever seen.
On the walls of his centre one can find tributes to his accomplishments here in the Pass which are many and varied. Plaques acknowledging his contributions can be found throughout the centre, including one for his service to Bellevue as a council member and mayor from 1971 to 1975. During that time he dealt with the government edict to install proper, sewer and water facilities in Bellevue, one that threatened to put a huge debenture debt onto the community.
Bill was a crusade chairman for the Cancer Society here and wears a watch recognizing over 43 years of service with the hospital as a volunteer. He also sat on and chaired the hospital board for many years. Bill was at one time appointed to an advisory board set up by the new Lougheed government, a position he held for over 20 years. This board oversaw things like the completion of the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre and Leitch Collieries and he is now the only living member of that original board.
Bill is an ordained minister and has conducted many marriage ceremonies and funeral services. His commitment to evangelism led him to take his show on the road and for many years we have witnessed his Godmobile parked at the highway viewpoints or in our local parades. As I wandered through the centre he pointed out some familiar prize ribbons and proclaimed, “You gave me those through the years as parade entry awards.”
Bill started a singing group, The Lighthouse Rays, to sing gospel songs and hymns and for 37 years, with this ministry, has visited the seniors in our community and touched many lives throughout that time. In 2010 Bill lost Doreen, the love of his life, but four years later found a new love and married Eileen who has always been keen to attend functions with him.
In 2017 Bill White was one of 150 people acknowledged, on the occasion of Canada’s 150th birthday, with a Foothills Canada 150 medal and certificate. Last year Bill’s granddaughter Vicki Yeske wrote a glowing nomination of her grandpa’s many contributions to our community and from that, Bill received the Order of the Crowsnest Pass award for his outstanding volunteer service.
Immersing myself into Bill White’s world and telling his story has been one of my most rewarding research ventures to date. At 94 years of age his memory is nothing short of astounding. Through all my interviews with him he never failed to recall a name, even going back to his time in the shipyards as a 14-year-old riveter’s helper. I asked William (Bill) White to give me one sentence that would describe his main desire. He said, “I want to be a first class soul winner.”
Author’s Note: Bill White said the following in an interview. “I followed rules all my life. The Bible is a set of rules. When you’re born again you are in His kingdom and you have His commands indelibly written in the word of God and you are in his army.”
One of three amazing rooms in the Prayer Centre Bill White Archive photos
Bill's adapted rug display photo library
One of three upper rooms of memorbilia
One of three amazing rooms in the Prayer Centre Bill White Archive photos