“I knew you before you were in the womb, I set you apart from before you were born.” Jer. 1:5
My mother, like Hannah, prayed for a girl, whom she would give back to the Lord, to serve Him. In November, 1942, God answered her prayer, and they named me, Evelyn (giver of life). I was immediately dedicated to the Lord in the hospital room in Hackensack, N.J. , where my earthly journey began. The home I was born into laid the foundation for the ministry God would call me to. Our home was a place where many people found refuge and help. Morris Cerullo, a Jewish orphan, (now an internationally known evangelist), was saved through the witness of my Aunt, who at the time was a nurse in the orphanage. Having no place to go after his conversion, my Aunt brought him to our home – I was three years old – he was 13. He lived with us until he entered Bible School, and his influence over my life for ministry already was being molded.
I was three and a half when I accepted Christ, along with my brother, at home with our mother. We were gifted in playing instruments of both the piano and organ and harmonizing in song was a natural for both my brother and I. We were the young duet that sang in the church, on the street corners, missions, and wherever my father found a place for us to minister. Church was our life, and our home was a home to many Jewish people and a place where many found the Lord, and we sent out into ministry. Trying to find my place in ministry after high school, led me to working with Gerald Derstine in Sarasota, Fla., and later in San Diego with Morris Cerullo and his family.
As the Lord would have it, I felt a strong urge to go to Elim Bible Institute and College in Lima, N.Y., where I was blessed to sit under the ministry of Bob Mumford and many other powerful teachers. There my ministry began to grow, as I sang, played and began to preach. The call was strong, and the Word was powerful. Ministry on the streets of New York with “The Little People”, a gang of teenage boys was a highlight of my 2nd year in Bible School. Doors opened for me after graduation to return to the Elim to teach. One of my students that year was John Giminez. Little did I realize that this connection would lead me to Virginia Beach, were the rest of the story would take place.
I came to assist John and Anne Giminez, with their new church (Rock Church) on Lens Avenue in Norfolk, that had sprung out of the Charismatic revival in the late 60’s. I directed the “girls home” for troubled teens that were on drugs. Returning to Elim for a while to teach once again, a desire was born in my heart to go to Africa where many of our missionaries were stationed. For six months, I traveled around the world ministering in many countries and in places I never dreamed of going . When I returned, I came back to Virginia Beach, ministering once again with Rock Church. Little did I know the things that God had in store for my life.
In 1974, I met a man who had a profound influence on my life – His name: Fritz Stegemann. He wondered if “I knew anyone who could play the piano like me, who could help a guy get a church started.” This was the beginning of the Open Door Chapel. It was an exciting time, and a new season in my life. We rejoiced together, as we saw God work miracles in providing finances to move into the old barn on Holland Road. That place became a sanctuary for many and the foundation was laid for further and larger influence in the city of Virginia Beach. Pastor Fritz was on fire for God, and would do anything that would bring others to Christ – regardless of the cost. He used the excess land that the church owned on Va. Beach Blvd. to open the Va. Beach Detox Center. (By this time, they had moved to the old “Princess Anne Theatre”, which grew almost overnight into a thriving church.) “The Side Door”, became the home for an AA group, whose memories linger in the hearts of many who found help and hope at the Open Door Chapel. I ministered in music at the Open door intermittently, but was always connected in my heart to Pastor Fritz and his wife, Fran, and their children.
In 1977, I met and married my husband, Gerald Puckett. We had two children, Susan and Bryan, and for a while my life was taken up with raising my children. I always was involved in the ministry, and I have helped many pastors in the Tidewater area with music and teaching and preaching. In 1994 I entered into the ministry with the United Methodist Church, and pastored in Norfolk for 16 years.
After retiring in 2010, I wondered if I had completed my work. However, in June of 2011, I walked into the Open Door Chapel to say hello. I am still there, only the conversation has gone a lot further. That November, I was voted in as the pastor. Two years prior, I had preached at the Open Door one evening. Pastor Fritz was there. A week later he went home to be with the Lord, but had predicted that night that I would be the next pastor of the Open Door Chapel. God works in mysterious ways – His wonders to perform. We are excited to see God’s provision once again in enabling us to complete a roof that the church was in dire need of. People are responding to the Word, and God is restoring the Open Door Chapel. The latter days shall be greater than the former, and in this place will I give peace. (Hag. 2:9) The best is yet to come!
(Banner Image Left to Right: Diane Chandler, Evelyn Puckett, Kaitlynn Merckling, Sylvia Evans, Gloria Johansson, Paul Johansson)