From a Rebellious Teen to a Pastor’s Wife

May 30, 2017

At age fifteen Sylvia wanted to see what the world had to offer her, but God gave her more than she had hoped for.

By Sylvia Phillips

W

hat a joy it is to know that Jesus loves me! Throughout my life, I’ve had opportunities to prove His love over and over again.

I grew up in a large family of seven girls and four boys. Before my birth, my parents had come to Dallas, Oregon, from Canada with two little girls. A baby boy was born after they moved to Dallas, but he was very sickly. In fact, by the time he was four months old, he had never smiled. My mother’s brother attended the Apostolic Faith Church in Dallas, and after my folks had been there a short time, he said to her, “Do you want the church people to come and pray for your baby?” She did want prayer, but she merely responded, “It’s okay if you want them to.” They came and prayed for the baby, and the very next day he smiled and began gaining weight.

After that, my uncle frequently told my mother, “You know, you ought to come to church.” Though she claimed to be a Christian, she kept making excuses. Finally one Sunday morning, she gave in and went to a service. My mother sat right behind her brother, and she said that as the message went forth, it seemed like the preacher told her life story. Finally she reached forward, tapped her brother on the shoulder, and said, “Tattle-tale!” She figured he had told the preacher all about her.

After the service ended, some of the people asked my mother if she wanted to pray. She said no because she had the baby. However, as she walked toward the back of the church, the Lord spoke to her and said, “You know, you say you’re a Christian, so you should be able to pray with these folks.” She went forward to the altar, and there the Lord opened her eyes to her need of Him and saved her soul.

My father had never heard that a person could be saved until they moved to Dallas and began attending the Apostolic Faith Church. He did not know he was committing sin, but when he heard that God could come into a person’s heart and sin would go out, that sounded good to Him. One night the preacher asked for those who wanted to be saved to raise their hands. My father did not raise his hand, but when they began singing the song, “Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling” something in that song just broke him up inside. He made his way down to the altar and God gave him a repentant heart. He had not been there for five minutes when he knew he had the old-time religion. Peace and joy flooded his heart, and he knew God had saved his soul.

A Christian upbringing

Our family did not have a lot of earthly goods as I was growing up, but we had God in our home. We lived on a farm and there were many chores to tend to, but my parents were not too busy to teach us children the Word of God. We all knew what was right and what was wrong. We knew that if the Lord came, we would have to be ready if we wanted to spend eternity with Him.

It was a beautiful feeling to know that my parents could get in touch with God; I felt safe. I can remember walking into the house and finding my mother there on her knees.

It was a beautiful feeling to know that my parents could get in touch with God; I felt safe. I can remember walking into the house and finding my mother there on her knees. I knew she was praying for her family; with eleven kids, there was lot to pray about!

At different times in my childhood, the hand of God worked in our home. My father was the head of our family in every way. One time, though, he was struggling with a horrible throat infection. He was in such pain that he had to sleep in a chair—he couldn’t lie down because he could not swallow. I had never seen my dad cry, but when the Lord came down and touched that man, he sat there weeping and praising God. Instances like that helped me know for sure that God was real.

As a child I loved God, but when I was twelve years old, we moved from the farm to Portland, Oregon, and the world began to seem bright and attractive to me. There was a lot of rebellion and stubbornness in my heart and it was difficult for me to tell the truth. That caused some unhappy moments in our home. I figured that the Christian life was fine for my folks, but I thought it would be the end of all my fun if I yielded my life to God. While I certainly didn’t want to go to Hell, I felt like I was missing something out there in the world.

I am sure my parents often thought, What are we going to do with that girl? I was one of those kids who sat in the back at church and talked with my friends during the service, not paying attention to what was said. After a while, I found myself not liking the church at all. I began to think, When I am eighteen, I’m going to leave. Mom and Dad are just too strict. My plan was to enjoy myself while I was young, and when I was old and ready to die, I would pray and get saved.

The call of God

God had other plans for me though, and I am so grateful for His mercy. He talked to my heart constantly, though I rejected Him many times. My heart was full of condemnation, and deep inside I was troubled about the sins that were in my life.

On the night of March 21, 1948, I was sitting in church with my older sister and her husband. They were newlyweds but they were already having trouble in their marriage and were talking about divorce. Their sadness broke my heart. The minister who preached that night was Jack Robbins, and I could feel the Spirit of God calling. I did not really understand what was happening, but He was softening my resistance.

In a moment of time, the rebellion and lying tongue were gone. God gave me joy and a deep inward peace settled over my heart. I literally felt like I could float out of the church that night, I was so happy.

When the church service was over, a minister came and spoke to the three of us, asking if we would like to pray. My sister and brother-in-law said yes, and I was glad to go down to an altar of prayer too. There I knelt and poured out my heart, telling the Lord how sorry I was for the wrong things I had done, for my rebellion and disobedience, and for the lies I had told. I said, “If You will put something real in my life—something that I know about—I will serve You the rest of my life.” When I meant those words with everything in me, the most wonderful thing happened: Jesus came into my heart! What a change He made! I felt like I was brand new. In fact, I was brand new; my very nature was transformed. In a moment of time, the rebellion and lying tongue were gone. God gave me joy and a deep inward peace settled over my heart. I literally felt like I could float out of the church that night, I was so happy.

At school the next day, I went to the vice principal’s office and told her I needed to talk to her. One time while selling candy bars for our club at school, I decided I deserved a candy bar for my efforts and took one without paying for it. No one knew, but God saw. That morning I confessed to the vice principal what I had done and paid for the candy bar. When I left the room, I broke down and cried, and waves of glory flooded my heart. I felt so good! No one could have made me do that, but God put it in my heart to make restitution.

Of course, when you are just fifteen, you have no idea what the rest of your life will bring. I was still a teenager, but I was a lot better teenager, that’s for sure. And that was just the beginning of a wonderful, fulfilling walk with God. Through the years I have proved that God is always the same and always there. He has kept me with peace in my heart in the good times and the hard times. I am so thankful for His blessings.

The same night I prayed through, a young man prayed through to salvation as well. While we were not well acquainted, I knew of him and figured he needed to be saved for sure. The Lord had a plan! I had no interest in that young man at the time, but the Lord brought him to me a few years later, and he has been a wonderful husband. We have been married for over sixty-six years now, and we have enjoyed a beautiful life together.

A friend for all times

While there have been many mountain-top experiences, of course there have been some rough times and hard places along the way as well. I remember when our children were young that I went through a time of feeling lonely. I was home a lot with four small children, and I began to feel sorry for myself. One day as I was weeping and praying, the Lord spoke to my heart and said, “I can be your Friend.” I realized I had not taken advantage of the fellowship that Jesus offered. Through that, I was able to draw closer to Him, and I learned that Jesus truly was my very best Friend!

During a church service at camp meeting that year, I was singing in the choir. The song chosen was “If Jesus Goes with Me, I’ll Go Anywhere.” As I sang those words, tears suddenly came to my eyes. I thought, Lord, what is going on? Why am I crying?  I did not realize it, but the Lord was calling me into a closer walk with Him. As I prayed, He put something in my soul that just wanted to line up to everything He required. He put a desire in my heart to be more than just “in the Gospel.” There was a longing to really serve Him.

It seems almost unbelievable, but the Lord took the kind of person I was and made me into a pastor’s wife. It is nothing in myself but only what God has done.

Though I did not understand what was happening, God knew what He was doing: He was getting me ready for a future assignment. Shortly after that, the Lord called my husband to be a minister, and later he became a pastor. It seems almost unbelievable, but the Lord took the kind of person I was and made me into a pastor’s wife. It is nothing in myself but only what God has done.

At different times in our lives, my husband and I have experienced God’s healing touch. Several years ago I had a bout with shingles on my head. It was one of the most excruciating pains I have ever endured. My husband was scheduled to go to Hempstead, New York, for special services there, and I had intended to go with him, but God had other plans. It was hard to be home alone and suffering so severely, but I learned new lessons about trusting God day by day during that time. Several times the ministers came by and prayed for me. One evening as I was sitting at home and listening to some music, the Lord came down and assured me, “My grace is sufficient.” It truly is. He brought me through that trial.

Another time I became ill while we were visiting some of our churches in the Caribbean. We arrived on a Friday night, and had only been there a few hours when I started feeling sick. As the night went on, I got more and more violently ill. The thought went through my mind, I am going to be in bed the whole time we are here. But thank the good Lord, He touched me. The next morning I was weak, but as the day progressed, I felt better and better. On Sunday morning, we went to a church up in the mountains. Though it was only twenty miles away, it took us two hours to get there, so you can imagine how rough the roads were. We left at 8:00 in the morning and did not get back until 7:00 in the evening, but God kept me feeling fine throughout that whole day. I am so grateful He is there when we need Him!

My husband and I were able to raise our four children in the Gospel, and what a wonderful privilege it has been to pray with them and for them through the years. We now have nine grandchildren and twenty-six great-grandchildren, and my heart just overflows with joy for what God has done for us and our family.

Recently we had a chance to visit our church in Dallas, Oregon, where I had been taken when I was just a child. As I sat in the service, I thought of the little Sunday school room in that building where I first felt God’s love in a definite way. I recall sitting on a wooden bench, when I was so little that my feet could not even touch the floor, and listening to my Sunday school teacher tell us the Christmas story about Jesus being born. The love of God touched my heart that day, and all these years later, I still remember it. How good God has been to me!  He has been a perfect Friend all these years. It is wonderful to have an anchor in Jesus, and truly I love Him with all my heart.

About the author

Sylvia Phillips and her husband, Earl, live in Portland, Oregon, where they continue to assist in the work of the Lord after his retirement from pastoring.