My mother accepted Christ at a street mission in Oakland, Calif., and I remember hearing about Jesus from my earliest years. When I was 5, I was one of several children and youth who would preach on the street corner in downtown Oakland with the goal of inviting people from the streets to our mission to hear more about the gospel.
I never really thought about the fact that I was just a little girl. It seemed the right thing to do—preach about Jesus and then provide hungry people with a warm meal of soup and donated bread.
From the time I was a young child, I recognized that God had His hand on my life for ministry. We moved to Portland, Ore., and began attending Portland Foursquare Church. I attended high school during the day; when I was 14, I also began Bible college classes that were held at night at the church.
I met “Sister,” as we called her in those days, when I moved to Los Angeles to attend L.I.F.E. Bible College in 1937. I soon discovered that she was a creative and brilliant woman. Looking back, I don’t think I fully appreciated, at the time, what an opportunity I had working closely with her as her research secretary for some of her legendary sermons.
Most mornings during the week, I would arrive in my office and await a phone call from Sister. She would share with me the scriptures and themes the Lord had put on her heart to preach in the days and weeks ahead.
Armed with that information, I would begin researching relevant facts, events, historical references and other interesting details for her sermons. In those days we used typewriters, and I would type up the sermons and send them to her. She would mark them up and return them to me so I could finalize the text.
Preparation for Sister’s Sunday night illustrated sermons required the behind-the-scenes work of an entire team of people. These illustrated sermons were grand and professional, as impressive as anything Hollywood would produce. I enjoyed the process of helping prepare these sermons. After I had typed Sister’s notes, I would draw little pictures in the margins to make sure the sermons and the dramas flowed together when she spoke.
She often borrowed themes from current movies and melodies from popular music to illustrate her sermons. I remember one in particular based on the musical theme from The Wizard of Oz, where Sister adapted the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to preach about the second coming of Christ.
When the tune “Roll Out the Barrel” became popular, she reclaimed the theme for the Lord and preached on a “barrel full of healing.” There were wooden barrels everywhere on the platform as she preached, but the message was completely different than what the world expected when they heard the song sung in public!
During this time, people were still suffering from the Great Depression, and scores of families had lost everything. I saw children and adults, dirty from living on the streets, come to Sister for prayer. Without hesitation she would throw her arms around them, especially the children, hug them, and show them care and compassion.
I remember seeing Sister on the platform, preaching and calling people to repent of their sins and give their lives to Christ. She called everyone to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to expect God to bring healing where they needed it most.
The compassion of the Holy Spirit was evident on her face as she preached and called the streams of people forward for prayer around the altar at Angelus Temple. She would stand for hours and personally pray for everyone.
Then she extended her arms in the general direction of the people as she prayed for them. The power of the Holy Spirit would come on those people, and I watched them fall backwards into their seats. And they were healed at that moment! God’s healing power was marvelous in those days.
Sister was extremely creative and self-confident. It didn’t seem to intimidate her in the least that politicians and officials from the City of Los Angeles and Hollywood celebrities were frequently in the congregation when she spoke. Regardless of who was in attendance, her message was always clear and simple. She preached the gospel message and sought to bring as many people as possible into the kingdom of God. There was something unique and special about this lady, God’s servant, our founder, and truly one of my mentors.
Since my retirement, and now that my husband is with the Lord, I’ve often wondered what else God might have for me to do. I try never to miss an opportunity to speak up for Jesus, and I lead Bible studies when I can. People today are just as hungry for God as they were when they crowded around the altars of Angelus Temple during the Great Depression.
As I reflect on how I once typed Sister’s sermon notes on pieces of paper that would fit neatly inside her Bible, I realize how God has used me to help present the gospel to countless people. I am blessed by the memory. But my current hope and prayer is that I will continue to be an effective messenger of the gospel today and for the rest of my life.
This article was adapted from a video interview with Emily Plies filmed on January 26, 2005.