The letter from President Barack Obama arrived at Ronald and Cynthia Knoll's Wilson home last week.
The Knolls' adult son was bringing in the mail when he noticed a white envelope with a Washington postmark. The return address field said simply, "The White House."
"He said, 'Mom, Dad got a letter from the president!'" Cynthia Knoll recalled. "I was very careful. Usually, I just rip the envelope open, but with this letter, I opened the envelope very carefully."
Inside the envelope was a cordial three-paragraph letter from the president thanking Ronald Knoll for a letter he sent to tell Obama he was praying for him.
"Our country faces enormous challenges, but each day I am uplifted by the enduring spirit of the American people," Obama wrote. "I know we will meet these challenges if our optimism and hope are met with the necessary will and hard work."
Cynthia Knoll said an embossed presidential seal with a slight pink hue proves that the letter is authentic.
"It looks like a pink smudge, but it's the presidential seal," she said. "It's not just something that says White House. That seal says it's the real thing."
Ronald Knoll, 81, said he wanted to encourage the president. He composed the April 9 letter in his head and Cynthia Knoll used a typewriter to draft the missive.
"I believe that the president needs prayer," Ronald Knoll said. "I believe that, really, with all my heart."
While recovering at the Avanté nursing and rehabilitation center in Wilson, Ronald Knoll has been reading his Bible and said passages like Romans 13:1 inspired him to pray for local, state and national leaders.
The Knolls didn't want to talk politics -- they said that's beside the point. What matters, they explained, is that American citizens pray that elected leaders are given wisdom and divine guidance.
"One of us is registered Republican and one of us is registered Democrat, so we get both sides," said 69-year-old Cynthia Knoll. "We're not told who to vote for, it's just the fact that we have the freedom to vote."
Ronald Knoll sat in the shade on Avanté's front porch Thursday, a large-print Bible open on his lap. He pointed out a few favorite passages, including Isaiah chapter 53 and 2nd Chronicles 7:14.
"I know that there are many faults that a president has, but he needs help," Ronald Knoll said. "Everybody should do what they can to help."
The Knolls moved to Wilson six years ago from a Washington suburb in Maryland. They celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in February.
Ronald Knoll had a stroke in 2005 and his health has been up and down since. He's in his fourth stint of rehab at Avanté in two years and is looking forward to returning home.
In his reply to Knoll's letter, Obama said he's grateful for the citizens who include him in their prayers.
"I deeply appreciate your prayers for our country, my family and me," Obama wrote. "May God bless you."
The Knolls hope that their correspondence with the commander-in-chief will inspire more prayer for elected leaders of all levels, from the White House to city hall.
"Maybe it will encourage others to follow suit," Cynthia Knoll said.
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