I was born in 1919 on a homestead on the northern edge of South Dakota, near the Standing Rock Sioux Indian Reservation. My father was the county sheriff, and we lived in a real little house on the prairie.
Because of my father’s responsibilities and friendships, Native Americans often camped, danced and celebrated in our yard. He also owned the only grocery and general store in town, and farmed, and raised cattle and horses. He managed all these duties with the help of his wife, four sons and four daughters.
Looking back at those early years of my life, I see how God used my talents, interests and experiences to prepare me for His service. Our Indian neighbors gave me a heart for different cultures and foreign missions. Growing up on the prairie, I learned to appreciate the vastness of God. I still find myself more comfortable worshiping Him outdoors than anywhere else.
Our family moved to St. Peter, Minn., when I was 17, and for the second time in my young life, we lost our family home to fire. We lost everything except the clothing on our backs, but we buckled down to rebuild our homes and our lives.
We were raised Presbyterian, but my older sister discovered the most unique little church on the railroad tracks at the edge of town. It was a Foursquare church that had been started in an abandoned railroad passenger car by Foursquare ministers Charles Hollis and Kenneth Erickson. The two men had become friends as students at L.I.F.E. Bible College (now called Life Pacific College) in Los Angeles, and after graduation the friends set out to evangelize in the Great Lakes area.
My mother didn’t much like my sister visiting this “new” church because she didn’t know much about it, but my sister wasn’t detoured. In fact, she bribed me to attend a service with her. All it took was a candy bar. I found a seat in the railcar furthest from the “pulpit” so I could slouch down in my seat and enjoy my candy bar; I ate it slowly so it lasted throughout the entire service.
Somehow God reached me in that hidden place in the backseat of a deserted railroad car. It didn’t take long before the truth of the gospel and the reality of Jesus’ presence found me, and I knew I belonged to Him.
I remember distinctly how I prayed the night I was filled with the Holy Spirit in the railroad car church—I told the Lord that I didn’t know how to do this, but I wanted everything He had for me. Soon, something happened inside, and I switched from speaking English words to speaking in a tongue I had never learned.
The presence of God was dramatically evident in my life, and He has remained with me throughout my life, equipping me as a wife and mother, minister of the gospel and senior pastor. I could never imagine trying to live one moment without the fullness of God’s presence guiding me and keeping me in His care.
In 1939, Kenneth Erickson and I were married, and I became the wife of a Foursquare evangelist and pastor. He had the privilege of being formally trained for ministry by Aimee Semple McPherson at L.I.F.E. I had no formal ministry training but diligently reviewed Kenneth’s class notes and faithfully attended annual Foursquare conventions, where I gleaned much from the teaching of Foursquare ministers and the fellowship of other leaders.
Sister McPherson was a kind and gentle person, very down to earth, and although I never knew her well, I benefited greatly from her life and ministry. Kenneth and I always followed her example of raising up young leaders for ministry.
I especially appreciated the multi-sensory way Sister McPherson presented the gospel, and I tried to follow her example of helping people experience the gospel through all the senses and not hearing alone. This was especially true in the special themed services our church presented for the community during Christmas, Easter and throughout the year.
Kenneth and I were appointed as senior pastors of the Foursquare church in Decatur, Ill., in 1941, and we began to build a ministry that honors the Lord and helps people grow in the Word of God. When we arrived in Decatur, the congregation was about 40 in number, very much in debt, and met in a corrugated metal building with sawdust floors and two wood burning stoves.
The congregation grew, and we erected three church buildings and a parsonage. Through the years, our congregation has seen many people trained at L.I.F.E. and commissioned to the ministry. Some 20 couples still gather annually for a reunion to celebrate what God has done in their lives since the early days in Decatur.
On two occasions, I found myself serving the Decatur Foursquare Church as its senior pastor. The first occasion was a temporary assignment when Kenneth was on an extended missionary trip in Asia. The second occasion was after Kenneth was promoted to heaven in 1965. I served for 11 years, and during that time our Sunday school attendance grew to 1,500 people. I never imagined myself being the senior pastor of a church, and I never aspired to become a pastor, but it was God’s plan for my life, and I tried to obey the best I could.
Aimee Semple McPherson’s passion for the world was a significant influence on Kenneth and me, and the ministry we led in Decatur. Almost every year, our congregation’s missions giving was in the top two or three of all Foursquare churches in the nation.
Kenneth had the vision for TV ministry, and for a number of years our church successfully operated our own Christian TV station in the Greater Decatur Area. When we sold the station, the decision was made to use a portion of the proceeds to help launch a new missions outreach in the nation of Cambodia with a local Foursquare minister from Chicago named Ted Olbrich and his wife, Sou. Our church family became deeply committed to the Olbrichs, and we have been so pleased to watch how Ted and Sou’s ministry in Cambodia has transformed that nation.
Looking back on the perseverance I experienced when our family lost our home twice to fire, the love for the nations that God placed in my heart growing up with Sioux Indians as neighbors, and the way the Holy Spirit prepared me daily for ministry, I am grateful.
The Lord promised to be my ever-present guide and mentor. Kenneth and I learned through good and bad times that our God answers prayer, and we always tried to focus on developing a congregation of prayer warriors and godly people who could do spiritual battle. God answered our prayers in a thousand specific ways, large and small, with restored lives, physical healings and mended marriages. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve the Lord.
So proud of being a life time of Decatur, Ill Life Foursquare Church, And to
Be under the Ministry of Dr. Kenneth and Sylvia Erickson