HEARTLAND | Nate Adams
Many Illinois Baptists know by now that Melissa Phillips, who was Associate Executive Director of IBSA’s Church Cooperation (Business) Team, went home to be with the Lord on July 2, almost a year after her initial cancer diagnosis.
Melissa was strong and determined, and she managed her initial months of chemo and radiation treatments so amazingly well that we all grew optimistic. And of course we were praying, diligently and daily (often wearing “Team Melissa” buttons). So her rapid health decline in June and then her passing have seemed sudden, especially to those who only saw her occasionally. For those of you just joining us in that grief, I am truly sorry for your loss, too.
Near the end of the movie, “The Last Samurai,” Tom Cruise’s character, Nathan Algren, travels to Tokyo to present the emperor with the sword of Samurai Lord Katsoumoto, who has just heroically given his life in battle. Somberly, the emperor says to Captain Algren, “Tell me how he died.” And with great respect and tear-filled eyes, Algren instead replies, “I will tell you how he lived.”
So let me write just a few words here about how Melissa Phillips lived. Melissa was one of the most loving, serving, capable professionals I have ever known. She was intelligent, intuitive, poised and articulate. I trusted her completely, and she brought the highest integrity and work ethic to every decision she made and every task she performed. She was often the first person at her desk in the morning, and the last to leave at night.
Melissa was 18 when she started at IBSA. It was just a few days after graduating from high school, and marrying her sweetheart Doug. As I said during her funeral service, in her 35 years at IBSA she not only trained a husband and two daughters, she trained six different executive directors. I am privileged to have been the most recent, and now the last.
Melissa was a reluctant executive, preferring to serve others and work behind the scenes for the good of IBSA, its churches and leaders. Yet she led well, and was strong and decisive when she needed to be, or when I needed her to be. Her moral compass and her wisdom were rooted deeply in her relationship to Jesus Christ and her understanding of God’s Word and his ways.
A few years ago, our son Caleb and Melissa’s daughter Laura got reacquainted at the annual IBSA family picnic. Talking led
to writing, and writing led to visits, and then a courtship led to marriage. So while Melissa has now gone on to be with the Lord, our families continue to be lovingly intertwined. And so in addition to all she gave me personally as a friend and staff member, through God’s providence she and Doug also gave us a daughter, one who seems to me to grow more like her mother every day.
As I watched hundreds of people patiently file through during the funeral visitation, and then pack every square foot of Springfield Southern Baptist Church for Melissa’s home-going service the next day, it became evident to me how many people loved and respected Melissa. The sentiment many expressed could be summed up by the question, “How can we go
on without her?”
This of course is the question Jesus’ disciples were asking themselves after his seemingly sudden death. Yet because Jesus then conquered death, and because he sent his Spirit to be present with us, and help us continue his example and his mission to the world, we find joy and purpose in moving forward, longing eagerly to see him again. How like Melissa to follow Jesus’ example, and leave those of us who loved and depended on her so much with that same wonderful assurance and hope.
Nate Adams is executive director of the Illinois Baptist State Association.