Phillips, Joseph (1891–1984)

By Kalumu Paul

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Kalumu Paul, M.A. in education, M.Min. and M.A. in religion with emphasis on Buddhism (Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies), is the director for the Buddhist ministry of Myanmar Union Mission. He is married to Khin Mar Lwin and has a son and two daughters.

First Published: April 29, 2021

Joseph Phillips was an English missionary, colporteur, church planter, editor, educator, and church administrator.

Early Life, Education and Marriage

Joseph Phillips was born on October 4, 1891, to William John and Salina Phillips in Tregonning, Luxullion,1 in Cornwall, England.2 Joseph was the second to the last of five siblings–namely, Harriet Emma, Elizabeth, William, Joseph, and Philip.3 He spent his growing-up years in England. He received his elementary education from Luxullion, Cornwall, England, where he spent his nine years of basic education. In 1905, when he was 14 years old, the Phillips family emigrated to the United States of America, first moving to Kansas and then to Nebraska. He became an Adventist in 1909 through the Christian influence of an Adventist family who took him into their house. He was baptized by Elder Knot in Kansas.4

Phillips earned his high school education from 1910 to 1914 at Strode Adventist Academy in Kansas, U.S.A.5 In 1914, he attended the Academy in Oswego, Kansas, and later moved to Union College in Nebraska, where he earned a ministerial degree in 1920.6

Phillips was married to Marian Helen Heywood of Bozeman, Montana on November 2, 1920, in Livingston, Park, Montana, United States.7 She was born on October 12, 1896, in Pillager, Minnesota, to George and Christine Heywood, both American citizens. They bore a son named Winston Wade Phillips.8

Ministry

Phillips started his denominational work in 1911 as a colporteur in Kansas during school vacations. This continued through 1913. In 1914, he joined a tent work for three months during school vacation again. Then, he spent one year in ministerial work at Kansas in 19159 and another year later in 1919.10 In November 1920, Phillips was ordained in the ministry by Elder R. A. Underwood and Professor H. A. Morrison at College View, Nebraska. Shortly after ordination, he was called to the mission service in Burma.11 From 1920 until 1936, he served Burma in different capacities. He was appointed as the superintendent of Burma Mission from March 192112 to 1932.13 From 1932 until 1936, he served as the superintendent of Burma Training School.14

He was a board member and a missionary editor of The Educational Messenger, which was printed by Union College.15

He learned to speak the local language, so he could write and preach well in Myanmar. His language skills helped him a lot in breaking the cultural and language barriers. To expand the Advent message, he went from one place to another whether urban or rural. He conducted evangelistic efforts extensively and was able to organize several churches. He worked rigorously to spread the good news among the local people.

Phillips was able to identify with the people. He was well-adapted to the Myanmar culture in terms of food and lifestyle. His relationship with the locals was well-noted. He also was well-loved and appreciated by his fellow workers.

During the Biennial Meeting of Burma Union Conference in 1924 at Rangoon, J. Phillips related the increased spiritual nurturing of the event through prayer and Bible study both in English and Burmese churches. Reports of the meeting showed growth and development in various departments including the steady increase of tithes and offerings, baptism, and the printed media. However, this was also accompanied by challenges brought by changes in the educational system and policies of the land that Adventist institutions had to face such as decrease in student enrollment.16

In 1928, the Phillips made a trip to England to visit family, friends, and churches. The gospel message spread around Europe and America during this time. J. Phillips was requested to preach in a Wesleyan place of worship, and he took the opportunity to share the truth of the Sabbath and Jesus’ second coming. He also visited the European General Hospital to pray for the sick, Sister Stewart-Jacks, and Mr. Stevenson. They went home to Rangoon with gladsome hearts that someday their family members and some of the brothers and sisters will know Jesus and return to God’s fold.17

From 1933 to 1936,18 Joseph Phillips and J. L. Christian switched responsibilities, so Phillips transferred to Meiktila Technical School (MTS) to work as the principal of this first mission training school.19 The school aimed to cultivate the harmonious development of the physical, mental, social, and spiritual faculties of the students.20 He developed good relationships with the local teachers, and they worked together efficiently. He practically taught the art of preaching to his students through modeling, mentoring, and monitoring as they spent time together visiting one village to another. He was a good preacher, and this allowed him to organize urban evangelistic events in the town of Meiktila. He also trained his students to do the same. Young people who knew him personally cherished these memories in their work later.21

Many young people who underwent his training became church leaders of the Myanmar Union Mission. He helped them and shaped their worldviews and character. His wife, Marian, was also very kind and good-hearted. The couple served as good role models as Christian missionaries to these young people. They regarded them as their own children, so they fed them when they were hungry and rebuked them when they went astray.

The Phillips’ had many wonderful experiences while in Rangoon. They engaged in various activities such as welcoming friends to their homes. Their number was increasing22 since they were attending church services and annual meetings,23 travelling to neighboring countries,24 and other activities.

In 1936, the Phillips returned to the United States due to the failing health of Mrs. Marian Phillips.25 They stayed in the U.S. until December 31, 1937, to give Mrs. Phillips some time to recuperate.26 While on furlough, J. Phillips was invited to and attended the Educational Council of the General Conference,27 and it strengthened his educational leadership in MTS. Phillips returned to Myanmar to resume his ministry as education and YPMV secretary of the Burma Mission.28

Later Life

After serving Myanmar for more or less 18 years, from 1920 until 1938, the Phillips family permanently returned to the U.S. From 1939 until 1942, he served as principal of the Arizona Academy, and was a minister for the Arizona Conference.29 He spent his final years serving as an ordained minister in the Northern California Conference.30

Joseph Philips died on August 24, 1984, in Covelo, Mendocino, in California of the United States of America at the age of 92, and he was buried there.31

Legacy

One of Phillips’ memorable legacies while serving Myanmar as the mission president took place in 1928 when he bought a piece of land where the Myanmar Union Mission office currently stands. Moreover, he led the building of a church on that property which is now the Central Church in Yangon. Along with the church building, he helped in raising apartments for workers. In 1977, these apartments were replaced with two or three stories of a residential brick structure to house workers. The ground floor is currently the Union offices. Under Joseph Phillips’ leadership, the mission work in Myanmar was well established and expanded.

Sources

Biographical Information Blank, Joseph Phillips. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventist Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.

"Burma News Notes." Eastern Tidings, January 1, 1926.

Cramer, P. H. “The Bombay Church.” Eastern Tidings, February 1, 1929.

Fletcher, W. W. “Executive Board Meeting,” Eastern Tidings, March 15, 1921.

General Conference Committee Minutes for August 1937, Accessed November 26, 2020. https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1937-08.pdf.

“College of Liberal Arts: Bachelor of Arts.” The Educational Messenger, June 1, 1919.

“Messenger Board.” The Educational Messenger, October 1, 1919.

Phillips, J. “Biennial Meeting of the Burma Union Conference.” Eastern Tidings, April 15, 1924.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association. Various years. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Education, Policy FE05, FE10. Accessed November 17, 2020. http://circle.adventist.org/download/PhilStat2003.pdf.

Wyman, F. A. “Irrawaddy Delta Annual Meeting, Burma.” Eastern Tidings, February 1929.

Yee, P. The Story of the Adventist Church in Myanmar. Kinsuang Press Publishing Association, n. d. In the author’s private collection.

Notes

  1. In another source, this place is spelled “Luxulyan,” Obituary of Joseph Phillips, Accessed June 8, 2021. https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/L5KK-5RB/joseph-phillips-1891-1984.

  2. Biographical Information Blank, Joseph Phillips, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.A.

  3. Obituary of Joseph Phillips.

  4. Biographical Information Blank.

  5. Ibid.

  6. “College of Liberal Arts: Bachelor of Arts,” The Educational Messenger, June 1, 1920, 7.

  7. Obituary of Joseph Phillips, accessed June 8, 2021, https://ancestors.familysearch.org/en/L5KK-5RB/joseph-phillips-1891-1984.

  8. Biographical Information Blank.

  9. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1916), 28.

  10. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920), 34.

  11. Biographical Information Blank.

  12. P. H. Cramer. “The Bombay Church,” Eastern Tidings, February 1, 1929, 7. Cf. W. W. Fletcher, “Executive Board Meeting,” Eastern Tidings, March 15, 1921, 5.

  13. Biographical Information Blank.

  14. Ibid.

  15. “Messenger Board,” The Educational Messenger, October 1919, 1.

  16. J. Phillips, “Biennial Meeting of the Burma Union Conference” Eastern Tidings, April 15, 1924, 4.

  17. P. H. Cramer. “The Bombay Church” Eastern Tidings, February 1929, 7.

  18. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1934), 258.

  19. Biographical Information Blank.

  20. Seventh-day Adventist Philosophy of Education, Policy FE05, FE10. Accessed November 17, 2020. http://circle.adventist.org/download/PhilStat2003.pdf.

  21. See Pe Yee, The Story of the Adventist Church in Myanmar (Kinsuang Press Publishing Association, n. d.).

  22. “Burma News Notes,” Eastern Tidings, January 1926, 3.

  23. F. A. Wyman, “Irrawaddy Delta Annual Meeting, Burma” Eastern Tidings, January 15, 1926, 3.

  24. P. H. Cramer. “The Bombay Church,” Eastern Tidings, February 1, 1929, 7.

  25. Pe Yee, The Story of the Adventist Church in Myanmar, 110-111.

  26. General Conference Committee Minutes for August 1937. Accessed November 26, 2020. https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Minutes/GCC/GCC1937-08.pdf.

  27. Ibid.

  28. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1938), 206.

  29. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1940), 54. https://documents.adventistarchives.org/Yearbooks/YB1940.pdf. Accessed June 27, 2021. Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 6324.

  30. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1951), 67.

  31. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1985), 573. See also Obituary of Joseph Phillips.

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Paul, Kalumu. "Phillips, Joseph (1891–1984)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 29, 2021. Accessed February 29, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8G0J.

Paul, Kalumu. "Phillips, Joseph (1891–1984)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 29, 2021. Date of access February 29, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8G0J.

Paul, Kalumu (2021, April 29). Phillips, Joseph (1891–1984). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved February 29, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8G0J.