From Sea to Shining Sea

By Colonel Dennis Phillips – 


After the second ring, my son, Paul, answers the phone in his usual matter of fact voice. “H’lo.” “Paul, this is Dad.” “Oh,” he brightens up, but just a bit. “Howzitgoin?” “That’s what we’re calling about.”…”Waddaya talkin’ about?” he asks, his voice perking up a bit more. “We are, uh, going.” Now some real animation begins to come across the telephone wire. “No, ya gotta be kidding…Where?”…”The Caribbean…Jamaica.” “Jamaica?…Man, you guys just move from one tropical paradise to another.”

Well, yes, perhaps so. In fact one could say we are going “from sea to shining sea,” but there’s a lot more to it than that. This particular appointment was first planted in my heart 45 years ago when 14-year-old Denny Phillips was awarded a scholarship to the Territorial Leadership Institute at Camp Lake, Wisconsin. (No way could I have known then that 26 years later, as the territorial youth secretary I would be the director of that same Institute for five years and during that time change its name to Central Bible and Leadership Institute.) It was 1953, and I can almost smell the knotty pine and cedar of the main building of Shagbark Camp which housed the kitchen, dining room and the one and only indoor meeting hall. Old time Centralites will remember the historic totem poles which stood guard in front of the log-construction building that resembled a cavalry fortress of the Old West (at least the kind you see in movies). The lighting left a lot to be desired and the sound system was barely one step above a megaphone, but the acoustics were great, making the singing of the 125 delegates sound rather magnificent (especially for a kid from Grand Rapids Burton Heights Corps, where the attendance seldom exceeded 40).

The program that night featured a missionary on homeland furlough, and God used the moment to zap me with the next page of his detailed manual for my life. He planted a calling to missionary service on my heart, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. At age 14, I was still dealing with the calling to officership which first came to me when I was but 12. While I had accepted that calling, I still had not adjusted to it. “Isn’t officership enough?” I, rather trembling, asked the Lord. But the “hound of Heaven” persisted throughout the meeting, throughout the night and throughout the encampment. Two or three nights later, now being spiritually tormented by this new Holy expectation, I resorted to a Gideonic measure and tested God with my own plan. I decided to flip through the songbook (the old green Young People’s Songbook) and let the message of the song tell me what to do. Lesson: Don’t ever test God. The book opened to pages 124 and 125, and the messages were, “I’ll Go Where You Want Me To Go, Dear Lord,” and “Follow, I Will Follow Thee.” There are no other two pages that communicate such a clear message. And so it was on that August night, I stepped forward and at the crude wooden bench of a mercy seat, told God I would go wherever he wanted me to go. And the unbearable burden of resisting God’s will lifted from me.

Surprise! The very next morning, the calling disappeared as it if had never been. I could only conclude that God was pulling an “Abraham/Isaac” scenario (I didn’t really use that word then, but you know what I mean) on me, and all he wanted to know was that I was willing. End of story. Or so I thought.

Six years later, I am worshipping in the old Lecture Hall of the (then) School for Officers’ Training as a cadet in the “Greathearts” session. And again, the calling to missionary service swept over me. “No problem,” says I. I’ve been down this road before. I’ll just tell God, “Sure, you want me to be a missionary, I’ll do it.” And I fully expected the calling to once again disappear by the next morning, just as it had when I was a young teenager. But it didn’t happen that way this time. God had issued “marching orders.” I had said “Yes.” This time, it seemed, he meant it. And I realized I didn’t. Oh oh! Now what?

Spiritual unrest set in and lasted for weeks. I wasn’t a kid anymore. This is big time adult stuff happening here. I was engaged to Lieutenant Noella Round (and she still has the letters I wrote her about this spiritual struggle–she says she remembers being worried). I knew that my perfunctory submission was meaningless, and my spiritual life was going nowhere until the issue was settled. And finally, settled it was. It was not easy. I did not know what my fiancée would think. Would I lose her? The price of submission could be high. But the cost of refusal was beyond comprehension.

So, once again, I stepped forward, this time to a much nicer penitent form, and I sincerely surrendered my life–all of it–to God’s will, including missionary service wherever he would lead. Whew. I felt good, yet a bit scared.

Another surprise. The next day, the calling had lifted again. But this time, there was a clear message which God left upon my heart, and it was this, “Not now, Denny, but some day.” I have been waiting all my officer life for that day to occur, and that day has come. And as difficult as it is to leave the USA Western Territory where there are so many people we dearly love, I cannot disguise my spiritual euphoria over the opportunity that awaits us in the Caribbean. Because God planned this years ago. Not just when I was 14. No, it was planned when I was conceived and while my bones were forming in my mother’s womb. Just read Psalm 139, verses13-16. That is how God works in our lives when we totally release ourselves to his will.

So this is my final message to you through New Frontier. (1) Know that God already has your life planned. (2) Realize it is up to you to want that plan and to seek it with all your heart. (3) Accept his plan as the absolutely best way to live your life on this earth. And then, as I often say, “fasten your seatbelt,” for “tomorrow, the Lord will do wonders among you.”

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