Oklahoma Baptist Homes for Children


Home Changes Direction of Merrifield's Life

By Dana Williamson, Associate Editor
The Baptist Messenger

When he was 9, his mother dropped him off at a bus station in California. She gave him money for a ticket to Oklahoma City.

At age 13, his grandfather met him at the door of his Oklahoma City home with his suitcase and $20 and told him, If you are going to make it, you'll have to do it on your own.

William Merrifield didn't use the money for a bus ticket to Oklahoma City. He put the money in his pocket and hitchhiked to his grandparents' home where 10 people were living together in a small house.

Merrifield, his mother and stepfather had moved from Oklahoma City to California where his stepfather got a job driving "wetbacks" up and down the coast to do migrant work. Both his parents drank heavily, fought constantly and often left the young child home alone.

Later, when he was kicked out of his grandparents' home, the young teenager hit the road, working the wheat harvest in Kansas, the potato harvest in Idaho, the apple harvest in Washington; worked a tuna boat off Alaska, ice fished, and tried his hand at working brick in St. Louis and Illinois, and making venetian blinds in Ohio.

He met his biological father in Clearfield, Pa., where his birth certificate said he was born. But problems with his stepmother put him on the road again. This time, he headed for Washington, D.C. There he was picked up by the police, his only crime being he was a boy on his own. Not having anyone to turn to, Merrifield called Sen. Robert S. Kerr's office. The Southern Baptist Oklahoma Senator was willing to help a boy in trouble and arranged for Merrifield to be sent back to Oklahoma City to the Baptist Children's Home.

Still untrusting and a trouble maker, he was sent to Superintendent James Browning.

"It was the first time I could remember someone hearing my side of the story," recalled Merrifield. "I don't mean just listening, but really hearing. It was also the first time anyone took the time to pray with me.”

Merrifield had made a profession of faith before his family left for California, and was baptized at Oklahoma City, Downtown.

After Merrifield was expelled from high school, Browning arranged for him to enter the Army. He was three months short of his 17th birthday.

"Mr. Browning told me I should look at it as a new beginning," Merrifield said. "The time in the home was a respite to me, a time of recovery. I would still have some trouble growing up, but my feet had been set on a different path. I was going to make it."

Lt. Colonel William MerrifieldAnd make it he did. He got his GED in the 101st Airborne Division in 1963 and a one-year college GED in Vietnam in 1967. He became the youngest Sergeant First Class in the U.S. Army in 1970. After being discharged from the Army, he graduated from Oklahoma City University with a B.S. in professional law enforcement in 1977. A year before, he answered God's call to full-time ministry while a member of Oklahoma City, Springdale.

He received a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Seminary in 1980. He was called to the Army as a Chaplain in 1982, completed a doctor of ministry degree in 1992, and on Nov. 1, 1997, was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Now living in South Carolina with his wife of 45 years, Merrifield has just completed his second book, Who Do You Say I Am, Jesus Called the Christ.

He will be in Oklahoma City in early April, and will stay through the Mother's Day Offering, promoting the book and speaking to groups about his time at the Children's Home.

"This road I travel started at the Baptist Children's Home when an unlovable boy found love through people who were willing to share the Christ they knew with one of His children," said Merrifield. "I am thankful to Oklahoma Baptists for giving me a lift at a very critical time in my life."

William Merrifield in his dress greens
William Merrifield

If you are interested in having Mr. Merrifield speak at your event, please call or email Scott Conrad, Oklahoma City Campus Administrator, at (405) 691-7781.
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