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Oh Happy Day! When Jesus Washed my Sins Away

The Testimony of Rita Gruzlewski 

My family has always lived in Elfers, Forida. My father, Doc Sawyer, was a commercial fisherman. My mother, Zoie, worked at Elfers Citrus Growers, a fruit-packing house. She was 14 years old when she and my father were married. He was 26, a dozen years older than mom. I had two brothers: Emmett, who is 89, and George who was 86. He passed away on Sept. 14, 2013, from bone cancer.

I was born on Oct. 17, 1936, and named Alvarita—one name. Can you imagine being called Alvarita? When the birth certificate came back, it was two separate names, so I was eventually called Rita. Like my brothers, I was born at home in a house just past the present-day Elfers Baptist Family Life Center. The house is no longer there.

My mother enrolled me in the Cradle Roll Department of what was then a small congregation that met in a building on the street where the present Elfers church’s daycare is, but just a little further east.

When I was older, a “Primary,” my Aunt Migget would stop by the gate of my grandmother’s house. I would wait for her on the porch, and we would walk around the street to the church. I was part of the Sunday school class taught by my Aunt Mattie Raymond. I remember that a bench was built around the room, attached to the 2-by-4s on the unfinished walls. This is where we sat when she taught class.

There was a split in the church when I was a “Junior.” Those who left met at Mr. and Mrs. Hill’s home on Grey Street. At that time, the road was called Hill Street. I remember my cousin stopped at the same gate and took me down the street to the house to attend church—an assembly called Elfers Missionary Baptist Church.

When I was a junior, Uncle Joe Baillie was my teacher. Our class had Sunday school in the church building on the south side, down front. He had a citrus grove and also grew watermelons. We would go to his house and have watermelon socials.

When I became an “Intermediate,” there were always socials to attend. On Sunday nights, our families would go to someone’s house and sing songs, sometimes until one in the morning. We’d have cake, ice tea, soda or coffee—and, in the winter, hot chocolate.

I’d always known who Jesus was and what he’d done so we could be saved. There was never a doubt he was God’s son or that the Bible was true.

In September 1948 I was sitting on the same side of the church where I had Sunday school as a Junior. I was in the seventh grade. The invitation part of the service had always bothered me. It seemed to last forever, and I felt I should respond. One day a friend of mine went forward. This gave me the courage to go as well and accept Jesus as savior and Lord. I was baptized in the Anclote River in May of 1949.

Church was always an important part of my life, whether teaching Sunbeams as a teenager, leading the music, instructing 3rd and 4th graders, or heading the youth department—but I fully realized that doing good works would not get one into Heaven; accepting Jesus as Savior and Lord is the only way. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Jesus is the only answer.

Jesus has always been there for me—even through divorce, cancer and the death of Richard, my husband of 26 years. He’s answered my prayers, though not always as I’d expected. Through it all, I’ve come to recognize that Jesus knows what’s best. When he calls me home, my tombstone will read: “At home with Jesus.”

Oh happy day! 

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