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Denny St. Clair: Retired missionary now serves as chaplain for Golding Farms

By Jill Osborn

Denny St. Clair has seen tragedy firsthand and witnessed miracles right before his very eyes. As a pastor, Denny believes God has played a prodigious role in the incredible situations that have been presented.

Denny grew up in Florida. Like many young men, he served in the Vietnam War. He saw much tragedy, but survived the bloody fight. During his last year of service in 1968, Denny was sent to Miami, Florida. There, he was stationed at the Nike Missile Base where missiles where pointed towards Cuba. The base was built after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Denny was in charge of the security. “There were two locations, up range and down range. Down range is where the missiles and silos where. I was there for my last year,” says Denny.

It was also in Miami where Denny met his wife, Scarlett. The two were soon married. Once his duty in the military was up, Denny decided to attend school in order to become a pastor. Denny and his wife went on to have two children, a son named, Joshua, and a girl, Jill. Denny was passionate about his family, his church, and his mission work. Life was beautiful. But once Jill turned four, life took a U-turn. “God knew the type of child He was going to give us. He was going to use that to turn us around and be able to minister to people who have similar situations,” says Denny. “Jill was progressing so well and was even ahead of the game. But she started having seizures at four, and we still don’t know why.”

Young Jill was diagnosed with epilepsy. By the age of seven, she was having 70-80 seizures a day. She had the worst kind of seizures a person can have, a grand mal seizure. “She would go into convulsions, biting her tongue– which can damage your body a lot. The seizures can cause you to blank out; and when you blank out, you can damage yourself when you hit the ground. She was strapped down in a chair with a helmet. She was probably the worst of the worst when it comes to epilepsy,” Denny recollects. Denny and Scarlett were told Jill would likely not survive adulthood. The whole time, the church was behind the family and encouraged them.

Meanwhile, Denny and Scarlett were able to mentor others in similar situations, as they cling onto hope. With their daughter as she was, their life revolved around Jill and trying to make sure she survived each seizure. Soon, an unexpected opportunity presented itself in an unprecedented manner. The couple were invited to help start a church in Chile. In order to do so, Denny and Scarlett would need to commit an entire year to living in Chile. Denny recalls, “We prayed about it because we weren’t sure if we wanted to take Jill. But we found out there was a medical opportunity in Chile that the FDA had not yet approved of. We thought maybe this was a way to find something for Jill. We prayed about it and with the approval of our church, we did this for a year. When we went, she was really bad off.” In fact, her situation had deteriorated to the point that she stopped communicating. She had become a mute. Denny and Scarlett feared for the worst, but prayed for the best.

In Chile, Jill was set to see a neurologist. At this point, she had not spoken for 70 days. Not a word. “At our first appointment, the neurologist said we have a drug out of Europe and I think it will help, Jill. We didn’t have a lot of hope because we had tried so many drugs.” But Denny and Scarlett tried it anyway. Jill took the drug that very day. The next morning, Denny and Scarlett went to check on their little seven-year-old girl. “She looked at us and said, ‘What are we having for breakfast?’ We started weeping. She said it very plainly. My wife and I today still say those were the most beautiful words.” By the time the year was up, Denny and Scarlett could not wait to get back to the United States to show off Jill’s progress.

For eight years, other missionaries brought the drug back into the country for Jill since the FDA did still not approve it. Finally, the FDA realized the benefits. “She has been on that and another drug out of Europe. We have had to change it because it damages your liver. She still has seizures, but no more than one every 2 or 3 months. Jill is a real people person. At church, we are known as Jill’s parents because everyone knows her. She is 40 years old today.” Jill will always have to live with her parents, but she is as lively as she can be and proof that miracles are possible.

Denny and Scarlett’s son is an adult now as well. He lives in Anchorage, Alaska, where he works for the FAA as a computer engineer. With two grown kids and a career as a pastor that has spanned his entire adult life, Denny has finally decided to retire. However, he will still continue missionary work in Africa.

Denny spoke about his decision to retire in his bible study group. A friend in the Bible study asked Denny to come work with him when Denny found himself back home from missionary trips. His friend, Tony Golding, who owns Golding Farms in Clemmons, wanted to have a chaplain on site for his employees. “Tysons Foods has 75 full-time chaplains; Coke has 75-100 full-time chaplains. Around 70 percent of the work force is unchurched today and do not have what you call a church home. So there is a great need to have a spiritual influence in the workforce today.”

Denny agreed to his friend’s offer and started his work at Golding Farms a little over 12 years ago. Many people have come and prayed with him. There is a prayer request list. There is also a list of prayers that have been answered. Those who would like to, come and pray together on National Day of Prayer where employees assemble around the flag pole as well as other holidays. No one is ostracized or penalized for not attending. It is simply a way to come together and celebrate God if the employee feels so willing. “I have married several of the couples here and done funerals. I do not have a counselor’s degree, so I am more in the coaching role. Many come to me for advice and prayer.” Denny admits he will probably never really retire.

Our neighbor will continue on, just like his daughter, Jill.

“Your Neighbor” is a feature by Jill Osborn. If you have a neighbor everybody should know, reach Jill at jill.n.osborn@gmail.com. Also follow her blog on parenting at MuchAdoAboutMothering.com/