Editors Note: Paul Sims, a long time member of Frazer who also served on staff here for many years, passed away this week. As we celebrated his life and remembered his legacy today, I reflected back on this article that I had the privilege of writing a few years ago after interviewing Paul and his wife Dian. We republish it here today to honor Paul, and more than that, to do what Paul always did: point people to the love and power of Jesus Christ. --Ken Roach
The Work of an Evangelist: Paul and Dian Sims have spent nearly 40 years finding platforms from which to share the good news of Christ with others.
“But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” –2 Timothy 4:5 NASB
By Ken Roach | When I sit down in the living room of Paul and Dian Sims, he is in between chemo treatments for lymphoma, a few weeks after having a mass removed from his sinus area. However, you wouldn’t know it from Paul’s joyful spirit. He and Dian welcome me into their peaceful home with beautiful smiles and warm hugs. Paul’s just excited that he hasn’t lost all his hair.
It’s not like the Sims are unfamiliar with serious illness. When he retired after 18 years in a staff role with Frazer’s Congregational Care Ministry, Paul had visited thousands of people in and out of area hospitals and treatment centers. Dian herself has been through two different bouts with cancer. To fully understand their joy in the midst of trials, you need to go back to the beginning of Paul and Dian’s journey of following Jesus—one that begins, interestingly enough, in a hospital bed.
The year was 1973. Dian was facing a potentially life-threatening illness. She had been married to Paul for several years and they had one daughter, Paula, who was in first grade at the time. They attended church, but Paul was not a believer. Although Dian had been raised by parents who took her to church, Sunday School, and Vacation Bible School regularly, her relationship with God was only head knowledge.
Lying in a hospital bed, gripped by fear and desperation, Dian cried out with the simplest of prayers: “God help me.” That three word ‘sinner’s prayer’ began a journey that would last a lifetime. By praying that, Dian “acknowledged God and that I needed Him in my life,” she explains. “Changes began to take place and I knew I was different.”
At the same time, Frazer member Linda Suttle was teaching the Sims’ daughter Paula at Trinity Presbyterian School, and she began to come home and discuss what she was learning from the Bible with her parents. That led Dian to begin reading her own Bible in earnest. “I had an indescribable hunger for God’s Word and would sit for hours reading it,” she recalls. “I couldn’t believe how relevant it was to daily life.”
After about a year Dian joined a Frazer women’s sharing group and began to grow rapidly in her Christian life. Sylvia Baldwin led the group. “She made me hungry for Jesus,” says Dian. “I saw in her something I wanted in my own life, an assurance of God’s love and provision.” She also credits her friend Nancy James, among many others, with discipling her to understand the scriptures. Desiring to share her wonderful new life with her husband, Dian and her group began to pray for Paul’s salvation. Two years later their prayer was answered in a unique way.
Like many church members who are not actually followers of Jesus, by 1975 Paul was “going and giving” enough to look the part of a church leader. Ironically, he was chosen to head up the evangelism ministry. So, in an effort to figure out what ‘evangelism’ was all about, he and Dian attended a Campus Crusade conference where Paul was introduced to the Four Spiritual Laws (a simple way of presenting the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know Him). Conference attendees then went out door to door, practicing their skills by sharing Christ with others. Instead, Paul found himself realizing he needed to know more about Jesus himself.
That seed planted by the Holy Spirit grew in Paul’s heart, watered by Dian’s prayers, and in February of 1976 at a Sunday night worship service, Paul came forward and knelt at the altar in Frazer’s East Sanctuary to accept Jesus as his Lord and Savior.
Like Dian, Paul immediately felt a hunger to learn more of God’s Word, now that he was following Jesus. He was connected with a Bible Study being led by John Riley at the Holiday Inn. Starting with 11 members, the study eventually grew to more than 400 meeting at the Civic Center and was influential in shaping the faith of many in our city. At the same time, Paul wanted to be part of a small group, and reached out to Andy Harris. Andy soon started the Saturday morning men’s group that has been meeting ever since.
Every night at home Paul was reading his Bible as well, a practice he continues today along with Dian. They use a variety of devotional materials, some printed and some delivered electronically to their computer or Kindle devices. Both speak highly of the impact of the daily devotions written by [then] Frazer Pastor Tim Thompson for the past couple of years on their lives. Dian uses a prayer system called the 29:59 Plan that helps her focus a daily devotional time with a different prayer focus for each day of the week. She also maintains a running prayer journal that lists all the requests people have shared with her, which she continues to pray over faithfully until she is able to write in that the prayer has been answered.
Those daily devotional habits prepared Paul and Dian for uncertain days ahead. Paul’s first career was with an electrical contractor, and he was successful, becoming president of the corporation. In 1980 when the economy took a downturn, the owner decided to close the company. The Sims found themselves without income for an extended period. Yet time and again, the Lord provided just what they needed, when they needed it.
One day, Paul got a call from a former employee—remarkably, one whom he had fired. “He started by saying that getting fired was the best thing that could have happened to him,” Paul recalls. “It helped him become a better person. Then he went on to tell me about a job opening with the Blount company.” Paul ended up working for Blount for the next 10 years.
In 1993, it happened again; an economic turn that spelled the end of that line of business for Blount. Paul had already scheduled a trip to the Holy Land before he lost his job. While in Israel, he remembers thinking, although there was not much likelihood of him finding another job in his field in Montgomery, “I ain’t leavin’ my church.” Shortly after he returned home, Earl Andrews, who headed up Frazer’s Congregational Care Ministry at the time, approached him about coming on staff with the church.
“I didn’t even like going in hospitals,” Paul admits. But he agreed to pray and seek God’s will. The next week, he rode with Earl on some visits. Paul says, “I knew then it was the right thing. Sometimes, you have to go through the door before you know where the Lord is leading you.” It’s an indication of how right that decision was that, since his illness, Paul has been flooded with cards from around the world. People from Italy, Korea, and China, and all over the U.S. are extending well wishes to the man who ministered to them over the years.
When he looks back on his years visiting hospitals, it’s clear that although Paul’s job title may have been in Congregational Care, he was truly continuing that first job of being an evangelist. The memories that stand out to him the most are the times he had the opportunity to share Christ with someone in need.
In one case, a doctor stopped him in the hall and asked him to look in on a girl whose family had cut her off because of her lifestyle. Paul shared the gospel with her, and she prayed to receive Christ. Later he took her a Bible, which she began to read eagerly. The next week, she died of a hemorrhage. But Paul still has a letter she wrote to him, telling of her joy and sense of new life after receiving forgiveness in Christ, and how she had reunited with her family. “You just can’t do that kind of job in your own strength,” Paul explains. “You have to be sensitive to the little nudges of the Holy Spirit.”
The work of an evangelist hasn’t stopped for Paul. He speaks of the Montgomery Cancer Center, where he receives his treatments, as “the most loving, caring place.” Then he mentions several opportunities he has had to pray for others in need whom he has met there. Going through lymphoma is simply another platform for Paul from which to share the good news of Jesus.
Even before Paul’s work at the church, God was using the Sims to share Christ through words and actions. As Frazer grew from a church of about 350 to more than 4,000, they served in almost every area of ministry, from working in the nursery, to delivering Meals on Wheels, to serving on stewardship campaigns and finance committees. However, one area of service particularly stands out for Dian.
It started with a tugging on Dian’s heart to serve with children, such that she took vacation time off from her job to volunteer in Vacation Bible School. She remembers praying, “Lord, if I’m supposed to be in Children’s Ministry, give me a sign.” Later that day, she came across Mabel Robinson, who was Children’s Director at that time, broken down by the side of the road. As she stopped to help her, she knew she had her sign. Since then, Dian has served in a variety of ways including being the director herself for a time, and the couple have taught 4th or 5th grade Sunday School together with only short breaks for almost 40 years.
“We chose that age because it is such a formative year, before they go off to the Student Ministry,” explains Dian. The influence of their class has been amazing. Former students now serve as missionaries and pastors, professionals and corporate presidents all over. Perhaps most importantly, the Sims were able to teach their daughter Paula at that age, and later teach their granddaughter Elizabeth at the same age.
That sharing of Christ with family is one of the Sims greatest joys. They recall fondly how Paul’s father, who had been “more committed to golf than to church,” saw a difference in Paul and Dian’s lives after they became Christians that drew him to the Lord. At age 70, he gave his heart to Jesus. “It was a wonderful experience they were able to share for the last 13 years of his father’s life,” Dian recalls.
While I am interviewing the Sims, their granddaughter Elizabeth drops in after school. It’s clear she spends plenty of time here as she helps herself to some of Mrs. Dian’s poppyseed chicken casserole and makes herself at home in the living room with us. I can’t help but think of the generational impact the Sims will have for many years to come, if the Lord tarries—from the lives they touched going to door to door with the Four Spiritual Laws even before they knew for themselves what the gospel meant, to the people touched by Paul’s hospital ministry, to the scores of children who have come through their Sunday School class, and to the investments they have made as parents and grandparents in their own family.
Perhaps this is why his cancer seems like such a small thing to Paul; he is still thinking about the bigger issue of how to share the gospel. He asks me sincerely during our meeting, “how do we reach this new generation for Jesus, Ken?”
I fumble over the answer at the time. That’s a big question, one we wrestle with every day in the church world. But I’m pretty sure a big part of the answer is, we’ll reach the next generation through the witness of men and women like Paul and Dian Sims—faithful believers who hunger for God’s Word daily, and who are willing to give their whole lives to doing the work of an evangelist.
PHOTO: Paul and his granddaughter, Elizabeth, at his retirement dinner in 2014.