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Anita Birkland (left) greeting Sister Aimee (right) with flowers

Aimee Semple McPherson preached in my home church, Portland Foursquare Church in Oregon, when I was 16. I was selected to present her with a bouquet of roses and offer a greeting. It was only a few words, but I was nervous, and my hands were shaking. She was gracious, and her friendliness had a calming effect on me.

Like Sister McPherson, the founder of The Foursquare Church, my pastor was a lady preacher, Mrs. Ione Jefferies. Mrs. Jefferies and her husband, Dr. Harold Jefferies, were saved in Angelus Temple after hearing Sister McPherson preach. Their lives were transformed, and the couple was trusted to establish what was then called a “branch church” in the Northwest, where my family lived.

In the early days, Dr. Jefferies was the administrative genius, the personable leader of the church, but definitely not the preacher in the family. He became an excellent speaker, and we all loved him for his leadership, but it was the dynamic, oratorical skill of Mrs. Jefferies that first drew us to Portland Foursquare.

In fact, for a long time, my family attended the Presbyterian church on Sunday mornings and the Foursquare services on Sunday nights. The modern musical style of the Foursquare services was quite different, and the dramatic, almost flamboyant, illustrated sermons were captivating.

I would come to appreciate the way Mrs. Jefferies preached and could see the influence of Sister McPherson in her delivery and mannerisms. Mrs. Jefferies was young and beautiful, a confident woman possessed by the power of the gospel. It was easy to respect her and want to emulate her, so our family eventually attended the Foursquare church full time. Our new church was truly like a second home, and we were always there, involved in some aspect of ministry.

Dr. Jefferies launched a local radio broadcast, following again in the footsteps of Sister McPherson’s successful KFSG radio station in Los Angeles. The cost of our local broadcast, as I recall, was somewhere around $1,000 each month. My parents wanted to support the radio broadcast so that the message of the gospel could be heard locally, and people might want to visit our church.

Initially, our support took the form of an advertisement for the family business, Alpenrose Dairy. When my mother heard the advertisement, she bristled, not wanting the gospel program to sound so commercial. For the next decade, our family donated the money anonymously, so the broadcast could go forth without the advertisements.

It pleases me, so many years later, to reflect on the generosity of my parents to the church and to remember why they were so willing to invest in the work of God that Dr. and Mrs. Jefferies led in Portland. The ministry they started in the Northwest was like a large family all working together to serve the community, to bring others to Christ, and to train children and youth for a life of Christian service. The memories of building Portland Foursquare Church still resonate within me.

When Dr. and Mrs. Jefferies retired to Southern California, I moved there, too. In 1936, I traveled with them for nearly a year on a world speaking tour, during which I learned so much about the Lord, my pastor friends and ministry. It was one more life-transforming experience at the hand of my beloved mentors.

Even when Mrs. Jefferies was alone following her husband’s death, I saw her every day. Her mind had begun to slip due to illness, but she remained ever the faithful pastor. Her words of encouragement and fervent prayers for the body of Christ never failed. She remained a passionate servant of the Lord until the end.

When we kids went to camp, Dr. and Mrs. Jefferies were there with us, making breakfast for us over an open campfire and leading us through the hills on hikes. We laughed together and cried together as true family. They truly were giants in the faith. My life, and that of my family, was richer for knowing Dr. and Mrs. Harold Jefferies.

(1919–2013), adapted from a video interview conducted in Portland, Ore.

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