Celebrating 60 Years of Marriage: An Interview with Pastor Jim and Sylvia Greenlee
Celebrating 60 Years of Marriage: An Interview with Pastor Jim and Sylvia Greenlee
Pastor Jim and his wife, Sylvia, served for many years at Farrington Road Baptist Church (which became Journey Church). He has been our pastor emeritus and one of the leaders of our prayer ministry since 2017. Jim and Sylvia recently celebrated 60 years of marriage and, thankfully, they were willing to pass on some wisdom to us.
1. How did the two of you meet and decide to get married?
JIM: I was in the Air Force and had just completed my tour of duty in Morocco. Little did I know that God had selected my next assignment! As I had been brought up, church life would continue to play a major role in my life wherever I wound up. So, on the first Sunday evening I was at Homestead Air Force Base, I drove to the close by town of Homestead, Florida and found the First Baptist Church. I was early for the evening service, so I went down close to the front on the right side of the sanctuary near the piano and sat down. Suddenly the door behind the piano opened and in walked a group of girls! They gathered around the piano and began to sing. One of them especially caught my eye! And lo and behold, she began to glance my way. One time when she did I winked at her! I did not waste much time finding out who she was, and we hit it off from the start! Sylvia Ann Wing had come into my life! Before long I found myself accompanying her along with others in her youth group, to her high school’s football games! Yes, she was still in high school! This was 1958 and I was 20 years old. Sylvia was 15 at this time, almost 16. I know that our relationship must have worried her parents, but I gained their trust quickly and spent much time at her house and ate many good meals there!
After about a year of dating, I gave Sylvia an engagement ring! Folks, she was a high school senior! And on June 17, 1960, one week after her graduation, we were married at the First Baptist Church of Homestead. I know that most people would have said that this one would never last! As I write this, that marriage of a 17-year-old girl to a man of 22 has lasted 60 years! Next to asking Jesus to be my Savior, asking Sylvia Wing to be my wife was the best thing I have ever done! Period.
SYLVIA: Yes, when we met I was a junior in high school with aspirations of graduating and going on to college to prepare to become a teacher. I was a Christian and a church member. I was very active in Sunday School, Training Union, Youth Choir, and YWA’s (WMU). Church was a major part of my life. I was even considering going into to a full time Christian vocation. I share this because it sheds light on my relationship with the Lord. I did not grow up in a Christian home, but God became real to me at an early age. He provided Christians to get me connected and involved in a Bible teaching, life building Southern Baptist Church. I was able to observe the difference between a home with God at the center and one where He was not. The desire of my heart was to be a wife and a mom and to have a Christian home. God sent a cute young “fly-boy” into my life to give me the desire of my heart! A biblical truth that I have learned along the way is found in Psalm 37:4, “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”
2. What have been some of the blessings of your 60 years together?
JIM: Among the blessings, I consider God’s leadership throughout the years at the top of the list. Even in my times of forgetting that His Hand was gently guiding us, He brought us through the storms and had sunshine waiting for us on the other side. Our daughter Barby and son Jimmy have blessed our lives beyond measure! Both they and their families continue to bring us joy! The many church families, of which we have been a part through the years, have been a source of many blessings! Along the way we have had the privilege of teaching children, youth, and adults. Amazingly, He even allowed us to pastor a church together. The friendships that have been established through those years still remain to this day. All of these are sweet blessings!
SYLVIA: I agree, over the past 60 years we have been blessed to know that God was leading us all the way. At every new military assignment, God provided a new church family, solid Christian friendships, and opportunities to join God in the work He was doing in that area. It was full-time Christian service but not exactly how I had pictured missions in my mind as a kid. The picture of the great commission in my mind is from a song in a cantata that we sang in one time, “As you go about, as you go, take the Name of Him who loves you so. By His power and command, go disciple every man, as you go about, as you go.” Biggest blessing ever, seeing our children come to know the Lord and experience His salvation.
3. What have been some of the challenges?
JIM: There have been times of financial challenge along the way. Though we have both always worked, at times through the years when my income was quite limited, we with Sylvia’s salary and the help of God “made do” and watched as He brought relief to our situations. Also, we faced the challenge of family separation several times. Once, I was gone for over a month to school in another state, and then we had the Vietnam War separation for a year. Sylvia had to take on both parenting roles during those times.
SYLVIA: After our wedding, Jim was transferred to Massachusetts. Jim had already left his family home and had gone through a time of adjustment and growing up. Now, it was my turn. Friends and family were left behind in Florida, and we were starting a new life together. Homesickness set in. Not only that, we were meeting new challenges of feeding, clothing, and putting a roof over our heads. In June, we were married. In July, we rented our first apartment. In August, I got my first full-time job. In October, I got pregnant. In November and December, we celebrated the holidays without our families in Florida. That year was a year of many new experiences and challenges. One by one, we were learning that God is faithful. Not all of our paychecks lasted to the next payday. No need to dwell on that era, but one biblical truth has been well learned, the tithe is the Lord’s. You can’t expect God to take care of your needs if you have not given Him back His tithe! A biblical truth that I have learned along the way is found in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” You have to trust Him. When He says He will do it, He will! God will not rest until He has finished the thing. Our responsibility is to rest in His ability.
4. What has marriage taught you about God or how have you seen God use your marriage for his glory?
JIM: It has underlined the fact that Our God is faithful and a very present help in times of trouble. And He has used us both to help others in their times of need or distress.
SYLVIA: I don’t know that marriage has taught me this, but I think that God is “always at work” in our lives whether we are married or not. He wants us all to, “Understand therefore, the Lord your God is indeed God. He is the faithful God who keeps His covenant for a thousand generations and lavishes His unfailing love on those who love Him and His commands” (Deut. 7:9 NLT). Along the way as a married couple, as we encountered people with needs or problems, we have been able to agree to reach out to meet the need or help with the problem. It is amazing to see God touch each of our hearts at the same time to recognize the need and then in obedience, respond to the need. The two of us have become one in our response. When needs are met and lives are enriched by our response as a couple, I know our Father is glorified.
5. What advice would you give to others either starting out in marriage or not quite as far down the road?
JIM: Make sure that your lives are compatible! Too often young people just starting out disregard such things as the other’s belief structure, whether or not he or she is a Christian and even denominational preference. And always be ready to admit mistakes and say, “I’m sorry.”
SYLVIA: First and foremost, “Do not be mis-mated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?” (2 Cor 6:14 RSV). Marriage is ordained by God. Marriage is hard. Christ has to be the foundation or what is built will always be at risk.
6. Is there a "secret" to a long and happy marriage?
JIM: Never allow the other partner to have reason to doubt your love and respect for him or her. Let it be known by your words and actions that the special feeling is still there! You cannot show affection and say “I love you” too often! Talk about issues and always pray together daily!
SYLVIA: I think the “secret” to a long and happy marriage may be found in the utilization of the three gifts God has given to empower His church: (1) Sacrifice (for each other), (2) Prayer (for each other), and (3) Forgiveness (for each other). Jesus demonstrated these gifts in the life He lived. Surely, if we love each other like He loved us, all relationships will flourish.