By Bread Staff
Bob and Vivian Parrish met on a blind date in Sunnyvale, Calif. Thus began a nearly 50-year bond that has witnessed heady wins against hunger in their adopted state of Idaho—and a dramatic test of their resilience and faith. When the two met in the early 1970’s, Bob was serving on a ship off the California coast, about to be discharged from the Navy after serving in Vietnam.
“I was very involved in my local Lutheran church,” he says. “But Vivian wasn’t a churchgoer.” Bob cared enough about their future together that he consulted his pastor, who told Bob, “Don’t crowd her. She’ll come along in her own time.” Eight months into their courtship, the two began attending services together.
Since then, Vivian has devoted decades to advocacy on behalf of hungry and poor people. In 1982, their new pastor at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Nampa, Idaho, asked if they had heard of Bread for the World. Vivian was so energized by the opportunity to fight hunger through advocacy that she began leading the church’s Offering of Letters.
Vivian also formed a Bread for the World chapter in Nampa. “This was in the days of the famine in Ethiopia,” Vivian remembers. “Our pastor said, ‘Don’t hide your light under a bushel basket.’ That convinced me that my light was my voice and that I could use it to help people.”
Vivian went on to help form the Idaho Interfaith Roundtable Against Hunger. CROP Hunger Walks across southern Idaho helped establish a breakfast program in the Nampa School District. Asked what has fueled her fire all these years, Vivian answers, “My faith in Jesus Christ. His persistence in serving the hungry and the call I heard to do likewise.”
In those years, Bob was busy working with young people–many of whom were falling through the cracks academically or had brushes with the law—through his work teaching auto mechanics at the local high school. Bob also helped establish their county’s affiliate of Habitat for Humanity. All the while, Vivian and Bob were raising their two children, Matt and Carrie.
Their lives changed with a jolt when Bob was diagnosed with leukemia in 2004, caused by Agent Orange, the defoliant chemical the U.S. military used during the Vietnam War. Over several years, they exhausted every chemotherapy option—to no avail. During this time, the Parrishes say they leaned upon the words of Jesus: “Fear not.”
Then Vivian and Bob travelled west for a major new procedure: a stem cell transplant. For most of a year, the two lived in Seattle, Washington, where Bob prepared for the procedure. For the first time, they were without family and friends around them. “We placed our faith in God, and created community as best we could,” Vivian recalls. They were sequestered for another year at home in Nampa. “It was a special time, although very difficult,” Vivian says.
As soon as Bob’s doctor okayed him for travel, Bob and Vivian embarked on an 8,500-mile road trip across the county to visit friends and family. Their lives had been changed irrevocably. But their bond was closer than ever. The Parrishes had their lives back— but at a very different pace. “God was telling us we were doing too much,” Vivian says, and Bob readily agrees.
Today, the Parrishes live a quiet life and make use of Richard Rohr’s resources for meditation. But they are far from “sequestered.” They still lead Shepherd of the Valley’s Offering of Letters. The two also help organize volunteers for a nearby homeless shelter that serves 160 people each night.
As part of Bread’s Baker’s Dozen program, the Parrishes have a contribution sent by their bank each month. Vivian and Bob have also included Bread for the World in their estate plans. Why Bread? “We believe in the ‘two feet of service,’ addressing hunger here and in the world. We need both direct service and advocacy for the hungry, says Vivian. “And Bread for the World is the tool to help be the advocates for the voiceless to those in power.”