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Missionaries Married for Nearly 70 Years Die within Minutes of Each Other from COVID-19

  • Amanda Casanova

    Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and…

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  • 2021 Mar 23

After being married for nearly 70 years, a husband and wife ministry team died earlier this month within minutes of each other from COVID-19.

Bill and Esther Ilnisky worked as Christian ministers and missionaries, preaching in places such as the Caribbean and Middle East before settling to work for the last 40 years in Florida, ChurchLeaders reports.

Bill was 88, and Esther was 92. Their 67th wedding anniversary would have been this weekend.

“It is so precious, so wonderful, such a heartwarming feeling to know they went together,” their daughter Sarah Milewski said. “I miss them.”

According to the Associated Press, Bill and Esther met in Missouri. Bill had attended Central Bible College, an Assemblies of God school in Springfield, Missouri. He was preaching at nearby churches and needed a piano player.

That piano player was his future wife, Esther Shabaz, a fellow student from Gary, Indiana.

“When my dad proposed, he told her, ‘Esther, I can’t promise you wealth, but I can promise you lots of adventure,’” Milewski said. “She had a lot, a lot of adventure.”

The couple opened churches in the Midwest and after a mission trip to Jamaica, decided to open a church in Montego Bay.

In 1969, after adopting a 2-year-old, Milewski, the family moved to Lebanon where Bill worked with college students and his wife started a Christian rock band.

In 1975, the couple was stuck in the middle of a civil war in Lebanon and fled in 1976 to the U.S.

Bill became the pastor at Calvary Temple in West Palm Beach, later renamed Lighthouse Christian Center International. His wife started Esther Network International, a ministry to teach children to pray.

Bill retired from ministry three years ago, but Esther continued her work via Zoom during the pandemic.

They were diagnosed with COVID-19 in February and later placed in hospice. Esther died at 10:15 on March 1. Bill died 15 minutes later.

“They were always, always together,” Milewski said. “So in sync.”

Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Kayla James


Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.



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