My name is Phillip E. Harris, Jr. I was born on July 4th, 1941 in Fairfield, California. I grew up in the SDA Church in a family that was nominally Adventist. Although my father did not go to church, both he and my mother were raised as Adventist. My grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of the family were also Adventist. Dad's parents, Chan and Myrtle, took their nurses training at the St. Helena Sanitarium, where they were married in 1911. Ellen G. White, gave them a wedding gift and sent them to the mission field in China, which is where my father was born. Chan's father, Franklin Guy Harris was a teacher and lay preacher in the early history of the SDA church. My mother's grandmother, Eva Warner, took her nurses training at the Battle Creek Sanitarium. Grandmother Ruth, my mother's mother, was born in Battle Creek, Michigan. She was old enough to have memories of going to Sabbath School in the old Dime Tabernacle before they moved to Oregon.
I first remember dad's parents living at the St.Helena Sanitarium, near Ellen G. White's home of Elmshaven. Later they moved up the hill to Angwin, the community that surrounds the Pacific Union College, another Adventist institution. As a matter of fact, I lived at Angwin for over two years myself. My first, third, eighth and ninth grades were in Adventist schools. I was sixteen when I rebelled against the church and religion in general. It was many years before I learned that what the Adventist teach is not the same as the true message of Jesus Christ.
At the age of six, my grandmother led both my younger brother and myself to the Lord. Shortly after that my brother died of leukemia and I couldn't understand why everybody seemed so sad. Grandmother, who apparently didn't follow strict SDA teaching, had clearly taught us that we go to heaven and are with Jesus when we die. What I came to know was that I never seemed to be able to overcome the sins in my life. As I grew older, I learned from my Sabbath School teachers that I had be baptized and join the SDA Church and then, maybe I would go to heaven if I repented and had all my sins forgiven. So, at age twelve, I completed all the requirements and joined the church. However, inside I found that I was still the same defeated sinner and I was never going to be free of my sins. It became a nightmare and I was terrified. I then moved on to doing good works. I helped build one of the classrooms at our SDA school on Pine Street and even help build the new church on the corner of "G" and Brown Streets, both in Napa. None of these things made the slightest change of how I felt on the inside. Finally, a visiting preacher made the statement that changed everything. He said; "At least 90% of you, out there today, are going to hell". My response was to give up the struggle and try to become a 'happy sinner'. For the next ten years that is what I attempted to do.
Only one person ever came to me from the SDA church when I stop attending and even he didn't ask why I had left. He mentioned that his daughter had a crush on me and was heart broken over my departure. He ask me to come back for her sake. I took it as an insult. What I needed was an adult male who could become the "spiritual father" I didn't have in my own dad. He could have become that person. Of course, the Lord had other plans and allowed me to join the world for a short time rather than be trapped in SDA slavery.
After high school I spent a three-year tour in the Marine Corps. Then, I went to work at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard. Well into my Shipfitter apprenticeship I met a welder inside a missile tube that I was building. He shared the scriptures and demonstrated from his own life what being a Christian is really about. During this time and under the coaching of Dave, the welder, I met, courted and married my wife. Then Dee, his wife, led my wife to the Lord. The Holy Spirit really put the pressure on me from that time onward. Dave and Dee spent two years witnessing and praying before I surrendered and turned my life back over to the Lord.
Then, came the process of escape from the hold that SDA mindset had on my inner being. I could see others living what it meant to be a Christian, but I had many doubts. The main issue was assurance of my salvation. Dave and Dee had me read Romans chapter 8 over and over. Suddenly, the Holy Spirit lifted the blinders from my eyes and I knew I was saved, and had been since I was a small boy. Other hurdles came and went but with ASSURANCE in place, the rest was simply a time of learning and healing. It took about five or six years, much prayer, a lot of Bible study and several more very patient teachers before I was emotionally free of EGW and SDA slavery.
My wife and I joined the Napa Valley Evangelical Free Church, and the word "FREE" came to have special meaning to me because I was free, free at last. Our adult Sunday School teacher spent over two years in the book of Romans, going verse by verse and word by word. He would never move ahead in the study until every one of us knew the meaning and application of every word, even the "thees" and "thous". Our Wednesday night Bible study leader taught us to always keep each verse in context and ask ourselves; Who is the author speaking to?, What does the verse say?, What does it mean?, and How does it apply to my life?. At first, our meetings were in homes and in a mortuary. There is something special about being in a room full of caskets, in the middle of a cemetery when learning about spiritual truths. Next, we moved to a farm center where whoever had janitorial duty came early to vacuum up the rat droppings before Sunday School began. Then we purchased our own property. This time, it was a real joy to help build the church building.
As I grew away from SDA doctrines, I felt a need to understand how EGW could possibly have believed her own words. Years later, I realized that I was living with the answer. As I mentioned earlier, I gave my heart to Jesus when I was six years old. At the time my mother was an intelligent and clearheaded person who was my closest friend and confidant. Two years later, she fell off a ladder and landed on her head. For two weeks she suffered from amnesia and I became her nurse because I was the only one she "knew" or would allow around her. About a year later almost the same thing happen when visiting my grandparents at Angwin, California.
After these twin accidents, she never was the same and I was no longer able to be close to her. She would make up stories, many times about me as to what I was doing or thinking. What amazed me is people would believe her. Invariably, they would be things that harmed those around her and I have spent a lot of effort setting the record straight, at least where it involved me. Another thing, she went from the SDA Church to being a Catholic and then moved on to join the Mormons. Later, she left the Mormons and expressed to me an understanding in the true salvation message but would later say things that left me wondering what she did believe in. Mother passed away several years ago and is now at rest in the St. Helena Cemetery. Where her soul is only the Lord knows.
Having lived through the results of what a head injury can do to a person, there is no doubt in my mind that EGW's injury was the major cause of her visions and what came afterwards. Furthermore, just like my mother, I think she believed her own words. And like mother, there was a whole host of those who believed. My constant prayer is that I am following the teaching inspired by the Holy Spirit and not man's teaching. One of the dangers we run into when debating with someone over religion or the Bible is that we tend to fall back upon the technique of taking verses and making them mean whatever we are trying to prove. Learning the deep things of God on the other hand takes time, the leading of the Holy Spirit and the willingness to study the scriptures where each verse is kept in context with the theme being presented by the original author. Study whole passages, not the "sound bites" like the world is throwing at us. One concept that I think should be framed in the form of a doctrine is that vertually every part of the Bible points to Jesus Christ and he is the answer to every type of question we may have about our faith.
In 1980, we moved to Washington State and joined one of the local churches. About twelve years ago, there was a major split within the fellowship and a group of us considered it best to leave. There are very few churches in this area so we decided to temporarily form a house church until we could determine what the Lord's leading was going to be. For some reason, that the Lord only knows, we have stayed together. It was never our intention to start something new. One other brother and I became the teaching leaders and one of the others became our shepard/elder. Each one of us has a special place to serve the Lord, those around us and each other. After a long battle with cancer, my teaching partner went to meet the Lord last year. It was a time of both sorrow and joy but with the Lord in control of our lives every day is new and exciting.
One really neat blessing I recently received was when I joined a mid-week bible study being conducted by a pastor of a church in a nearby town. I noticed he was leading the study the same way I was trained. When we compared our stories, we realized that it may have been forty years later and nine hundred miles north of our roots, but we were both introduced to solid bible study by the same welder and his wife. How the Lord works in the lives of those who faithfully follow his leading is truly amazing.
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PHILLIP E. HARRIS, JR.