Ernest Bernard Phillips

Life of Ernest Bernard Phillips, 1892-1977 - by Mrs R N Surridge (nee Phillips)

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Ernest Bernard Phillips was born in Stroud, Kent on November 20, 1892, the youngest son of 10 children, whose father was a regimental sergeant major in the Royal Marines.

Ernest, with several members of his family, became a Seventh-day Adventist, and in 1907 went to Stanborough Park Missionary Training College and completed the theological course. Although only a teenager, he held a series of Bible studies in Chatham, where a Mr Bailey attended, was converted, went to study at Stanborough College and finally became an ordained minister.

In 1912, Ernest answered a call to mission service, attended a short course in tropical medicine at Livingstone College and at the age of 19 sailed on the SS Field Marshall to Mombasa. He commenced his ministry in Kenya Colony, East Africa by working in Kisumu, Gendia, and Weary Hill. He established the Karunga Mission station, on Lake Victoria which, because of unhealthy conditions, was closed, the buildings dismantled, and the material used to build Kanyadota Mission. Much of the time, he was working alone, and later said that he even envied people in prison, because they at least had someone with whom to converse! However, he learned Swahili and Luo, becoming fluent in each and translated many parts of the New Testament into these local languages.

During the 1914-1918 War, when the Germans invaded South Nyansa, English missionaries were evacuated to a camp near the Kaimosi Station of the Society of Friends, not far from Kisumu. After the war many mission stations had been looted and damaged, and there was an uphill task of rebuilding. Ernest recalled taking part in brick building, carpentry, and cabinet making while helping to reconstruct a hospital. In 1917 he worked in Kamagambo, a mission station, some 40 miles inland, southeast of Gendia, where 37 people were baptised.

Ernest came home on his first furlough in 1920, and graduated from the ministerial course at Stanborough College. He held a campaign at Cambridge and met a young lady with whom he had been corresponding, Lily Hugill, who was a student at Stanborough College. On 22nd June 1921, they were married and on 18 December that year they sailed from Southampton to Mombasa to commence mission service together.

They were appointed to re-establish Busegwe station in Tanganyika and worked there for several years. A daughter, Joyce was born in 1923, and in 1925 a son, Bernard. Ernest was often away from home, mostly on foot, visiting and preaching, supplies were difficult to obtain, post from and to England, took a very long time, and the sense of isolation was very real. However, many were baptised and joined the church at Busegwe, and in 1926, Ernest was ordained to the gospel ministry at Gendia by W W Armstrong.

They came home on furlough in 1927 to stay with Ernest's parents in Kent. Sadly, their son, Bernard met with a fatal accident. He was buried in Gillingham, and the bereaved family returned to more mission service, in Tanganyika, where Ernest was in charge of the Mwagala Mission station.

This was a difficult area because of the unhealthy climate, and isolation. However, they stayed here from 1927 to 1931. Their nearest English neighbours were Harry and Ada Robson, who were at Ntusu station many, many miles away. In 1928, a second daughter, Rachel, was born at Kendu hospital in Kenya, which had been opened in 1925 by Dr G A S Madgwick.

Ernest made much of the furniture in their simple home. There were constant problems of obtaining suitable food for the baby, and drinking water, for the family. In fact, the washing of clothes was done in the river water, as drinking water supplied from a 400-gallon water tank was too precious to use for washing! In fact, Ernest applied to the Mission board for an extra corrugated iron tank, but there were no finances for this.

Their problem was, that when the tank was full, during the rainy season, the heavy pressure of the water caused it to spring leaks, often in awkward places, and on one occasion, Ernest had one tank down three times, to fix the leaks which were hard to solder. "But the Lord blesses us greatly in spite of the difficulties of getting supplies etc." wrote Ernest's wife on one occasion. Lily was also a missionary not only in her home, but in teaching the girls locally, how to care for themselves, their homes and their babies

The greatest difficulty of isolation was to reach a doctor in times of illness. Sadly, late in 1930, Lily became very ill with blackwater fever. They had been planning to return to England for Joyce's education, as she was nearly 8 years old, and there was no British education in that part of Tanganyika for children of that age. Lily was so ill, she could not walk or sit, so the back seat of the Robson's car was removed and replaced by sacks filled with sand for her to lie on. The journey to the nearest hospital was horrendous, through swollen rivers and rough roads. Finally, the European Hospital at Mombasa was reached, and on 28 January, 1931, Lily died, and was buried there in the British section of the cemetery.

Ernest and his daughters stayed with the Robsons, for several weeks, while all their few possession were packed. Then they began the long six-week journey by boat back to England. They stayed for some time at Ernest's parents' home at Canterbury Street in Gillingham.

After a while, the Principal W G C Murdoch appointed Ernest to teach at Newbold Missionary College and from 1931 to 1957 he gave unbroken service there. He married Alice Gordon from Glasgow, who had graduated from the Bible Work, in 1933. Their daughter, Clemency was born in 1936.

While he was teaching at Newbold, Ernest began an extensive course of studies by correspondence at London University. He gained a BD in 1936, an MTh in 1939 and a Diploma in Education from Oxford University in 1941. He was the first Seventh-day Adventist person in Britain to obtain such senior degrees in theology. He taught many subjects at Newbold College including New Testament Greek, Hebrew, Psychology, Church History, English History, Bible Survey, Epistles and Bible Doctrines. He was affectionately known among his Greek students as Philipos! He was admired for his sense of humour, his kindness and concern for all his students.

During three consecutive summer months, while not teaching students, Ernest ran evangelistic meetings in Hull, Leeds and Sheffield.

Colleagues may not have realised the hardships of many years of inadequate accommodation, and constantly moving house which he and his family experienced, because he never complained and always accepted the "calls" which were given to him. After 26 years of consistent service to Newbold College, he was called to minister in the Irish Mission and in North England. He finally retired to the village of Binfield in 1963. This was no "retirement" as such, because he continued to write articles for the "Our Times" magazine, and sold many of them to people in the village. He taught Greek classes, counselled and ministered to married students at the College, and held Bible studies and prayer meetings at his own home.

He was once asked by his son-in-law, "You have made many sacrifices in your life. Would you do the same again?" He replied simply, "How can I say to my Saviour when we meet, that I have made sacrifices for Him when they are compared with all that He has done for me?"

Ernest died after a short illness on 4 June, 1977.

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