God’s Providence in the Steps of Life
David Sills never thought he would minister to indigenous people in Ecuador. He wanted to go to law school. But God’s providence led him in another direction.
Sills grew up in a family that faithfully attended a Southern Baptist church. As a child, Sills asked his mom how a person is baptized, which led to the pastor leading him to pray a confessional prayer. But Sills did not understand what the pastor said. In his teenage years he did not go to church and lived “like a pagan.”
When Sills met Mary Phillips, she was home from college for a weekend in Jackson, Miss. Phillips grew up attending church, but was not truly converted. Sills and Phillips met through friends and began dating long-distance. After dating for nine months, in 1977, they married.
In 1983, several years after the Sills married, they experienced three life-changing situations within a brief period of time that led them toward salvation, further evidence of God’s providence in their lives.
First, the Sills’ son, Christopher, almost died during childbirth. He survived and suffered no complications. But this caused Sills to contemplate life’s fragility. Two weeks later, an armed robber walked into Sills’ workplace and placed his gun to Sills’ back. Sills feared that if the robber pulled the trigger he would go to hell. In the end, the man only asked Sills for money — but he nonetheless left Sills grateful for life. And then, several weeks later, a dentist performed a routine check-up and found what he thought was cancer in Sills’ mouth. It wasn’t, but it took a month to receive the results.
Through these events, God revealed himself to Sills and gave him a desire to study the Word. Sills submitted his life to Christ, and a few months later, Mary did, too.
Then the Lord placed a desire in Sills to work in ministry. He began studying Scripture in depth. He also read Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor and The Savage My Kinsman, which played a role in his desire to be a missionary.
He later visited the home of Nate Saint, fellow missionary to Elliot’s husband, Jim, who was martyred by the native Huaorani people in 1956. Sills said this confirmed his desire to minister in Ecuador.
In God’s providence, Sills and his wife began attending Briarwood Baptist Church in Jackson, Miss. Sills sees the church and that season of learning as a providential act of God in his life and ministry.
“That was a great grace that the Lord gave to us in the beginning of our formation spiritually,” he said.
Part of God’s providence in the Sills attending Briarwood included the interim pastor, Tom Nettles. The Sills are grateful that in God’s kindness, Nettles mentored them early in their faith. Nettles eventually became professor of historical theology at Southern Seminary in 1997, a role he continues today.
In 1989, they took a mission trip to Puerto Rico. Mary, who initially did not like the idea of living overseas, sensed that the Lord may be calling them to missions.
Two years later, the Sills applied to work with the International Mission Board. Sills graduated with his master’s from New Orleans Theological Seminary in May, the IMB approved the Sills and they moved to Ecuador in June. The Sills decided to work with the Highland Quichua people, a people group of the Andes mountains. They read a devotional, published by the Women’s Missionary Union, earlier that year that asked people to pray about ministering to the Quichua people. After that, the Sills knew that’s where God wanted them to go.
The Sills originally planned to work in Ecuador as church planters. But when the Ecuadorian Baptist Theological Seminary needed a Greek and Hebrew professor, they called Sills. He had never taught before, which made him nervous, but once he began teaching he loved it.
He later returned to the States to complete a doctoral degree from Reformed Theological Seminary.
In 1999, the Ecuadorian convention president asked Sills if he would return to teach full-time at the school. He agreed to return and minister among the Highland Quichua people and seminary students. He taught for four more years.
During this time, Southern Seminary needed a missions professor. In 2002, Sills received a phone call from lead missions professor, John Mark Terry, asking if he would be interested in the position. Sills visited campus in December, accepted the position and moved to Louisville, Ky., in January of 2003.
“It’s a great opportunity to be here and we’re thankful for that. We miss the field a lot, but I tell people that if you’ve got to be in the States and you’re into academia, there’s no better place to go from here except Heaven.”
When he moved into his office at Southern Seminary, he discovered that Nettles, the interim pastor from the Sills’ early season of spiritual growth, worked across the hall. God’s providence continued to guide Sills as he moved to Southern.
The seminary hired Sills as the A.P. and Faye Stone Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology, a position he continues today.
The Sills’ plans weren’t God’s plans. And many seminarians, missionaries and pastors — in Ecuador and Louisville — may thank the Lord for the providential circumstances and events that brought Sills where he is today.
David Sills serves as the A. P. and Faye Stone Professor of Christian Missions and Cultural Anthropology (2003); Director of Intercultural Programs; Director of the Doctor of Missiology Program; Director of the 2+ International Church Planting Program; Director of the MATSIL Degree Program