FORT LODDERLE, Fl. (AP) – Bill and Esther Ilnisky spent nearly seven decades together as Christian missionary ministers, including standards in the Caribbean and the Middle East, before preaching in Florida for 40 years.
They complemented each other. He is a book lover, he is charismatic. One seemed unbelievable without the other.
So when they died at a hospital in Palm Beach, minutes away from COVID-19 this month, it may have been a hidden blessing, said their only child, Sarah Milsky, even if it was a devastating double loss for her. His father was 88 years old and his mother was 92. It would be their 67th wedding anniversary this weekend.
“It’s so precious, so wonderful, so heartwarming to know they’re gone together,” Milsky said, adding that “I miss them.”
Bill Ilnisky grew up in Detroit and decided to dedicate his life to God at the age of 16, Milsky said. He headed to the Central Bible College and the Congregations of God School in Springfield, Missouri. He preached in nearby churches and needed a piano player. Friends suggested Esther Shabaz, a student from Gary, Indiana. They fell in love.
“When my father proposed, he said, ‘Esther, I can not promise you wealth, but I can promise you many adventures,'” said Milsky. “He had a lot of adventures.”
After their wedding, Bill Ilnisky opened churches in the Middle East. In the late 1950s, the Ilniskis embarked on a mission for the Congregation, fell in love with the island, and continued to lead a church in the Gulf of Montego.
They then adopted 2-year-old Milewski from a Miami foster home. In 1969, the family moved from Jamaica to Lebanon, where Bill Ilnisky served as a college student. His wife set up an awareness center and had a Christian rock band.
“Lebanon was an amazing country at that time, a luxury,” Milsky said.
But in 1975, a civil war broke out between Christian “Muslim groups” and the nation’s capital, Beirut, became a battleground. “Twice bombs exploded in front of their apartment.” The first knocked Milsky out of bed, and the second knocked his father to the ground.
“My mother thought he was dead,” Milsky said. “My mother and I went and hid in the bathroom all night, crying and praying.” The next morning, bullet holes filled the walls of each floor of the apartment except them.
“We attributed it to prayer,” he said.
They fled in 1976 when US Marines evacuated the Americans, pulling out the last plane.
Shortly after returning to the United States, Bill Ilnisky became a pastor at Galvar Temple in West Palm Beach, later renamed the Lighthouse Christian Center International. His wife founded the Esther Network International, which aims to teach children to pray.
Tom Belt, a retired missionary in Oklahoma City, was a teenager at Galway Temple when the couple arrived. He said that the tales of Bill Ilniski’s missionary work stimulate his desire to travel.
Belt said the Ilniskis were “very accommodating, trusting in others, very forgiving.”
Bill Ilniski retired three years ago և being physically fit for a late octogenarian and had some dementia. His wife was still leading her prayer network, raising the bells.
When the epidemic took place last year, the couple took precautions, Milsky said. His mother stayed at home and delivered food, but Bill Ilnisky sometimes went out.
“She could not bear it,” said the daughter. “He had to be with people.”
Sarah Milewski և her husband visited his parents on Valentine’s Day, his mother’s birthday. A few days later, her mother fell ill, and it was not long before the couple was diagnosed with the virus and hospitalized.
Although the prognosis was good at first, the disease hit them. The decision was made on February 27 to host them. Ust Aklin Lopez-Devin, chief clinical officer of Trustbridge Hospice, said no couple had been together for 15 years while working with the deceased. He said they would not hesitate to put them in the same room for the last few days.
Because of the virus, Milevsky said goodbye through the window. The microphone on the bed of the parents who carry “I love you”. They looked like they were asleep, with the father lying on his right side and the mother on his side. He was shaking his head when Milevski was speaking. His mother tried to speak but could not.
“It was terrible,” Milsky said.
March 1 at 10 o’clock in the morning. Esther Ilniski died on the 15th. Fifteen minutes later, her husband returned.
“They were always, always together,” Milsky said. “So synchronized.”