New pastor

The Rev. Justin Sims is the new face in the pulpit at Memorial Assembly of God. He joined the church as its pastor right before the COVID-19 pandemic forced churches to close their doors. Now he’s anxious to begin meeting his congregation one-on-one.

The Rev. Justin Sims has two quotations on his office wall at Memorial Assembly of God.

One states simply “Whatever you do, do it for the Lord.”

And the other is Scripture, Romans 8:28 – “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”

Both fit the man seated behind the desk. The man in the pulpit on Sunday morning.

Sims is a native Southern Californian who has reached a surprising conclusion in his first few months here.

That being he finds more similarities than differences in Los Angeles County and Purcell.

To understand his reasoning, you need to know his back story.

It began with his maternal grandmother who was raised in Arkansas, one of eight children in the family.

She alone, among her siblings, relocated to California in the 1950s, where she raised Sims’ mother who raised Sims, her only child. She was a single mother.

In 2003, the small family’s matriarch died. With nothing left for them in California,  Sims’ mother moved them to Arkansas.

He was 17.

“I knew we had roots in Arkansas, but we’d never come back,” he recalled. “When we moved from California, I ran from God.”

It was seven years of running from God before he was saved and his life took a marked spiritual turn.

He remembers the date and place it happened. Jan. 3, 2010 at the First Assembly of God in Hot Springs.

That marked the beginning of a year of change because  2010 is also when he met the woman he would marry in 2012.

Shana was from Marlow and with a degree in psychology and criminal justice, was working at an Assembly of God children’s home at Hot Springs.

Sims describes his decision to enter the ministry as a “surrender, more than anything.”

“You surrender your life to a calling,” he explained.

At the time, he had a very good job with UPS, but in 2014, he and Shana became fulltime youth pastors.

“The Lord just took me on a journey,” he explained.

He attended an Assembly of God district school of ministry and was credentialed through the denomination’s Arkansas district.

There are three levels of credentials – certified, licensed and ordained.

“I am ordained,” he said.

While he was a youth pastor at Malvern, Ark., Sims said he underwent a “wilderness experience.”

He and Shana moved to Oklahoma and he took a job at Halliburton. He also served as executive pastor for a non-denominational congregation at Eternal Life Church in Marlow.

He stayed in that role for 1-1/2 years.

By the fall of 2019, “God was really dealing with us,” he said.

In January, he decided “to see where the Lord would take us.”

He learned of the opening at Memorial Assembly of God and submitted his resume.

Sims explained that each Assembly of God operates as a sovereign entity under the bylaws of that state’s district.

He and one other candidate were invited to preach on different Sundays in January.

A vote by the congregation led to Sims earning the pulpit.

He replaced the Rev. Duane Elmore, who led the congregation for a quarter of a century before resigning in 2019.

The only downside so far has been caused by the global pandemic and government social distancing orders that necessitated churches closing their doors to in-person worship and relying instead on social media and recorded sermons to spread the Word.

“We’re a body that comes together,” he said. “We’re not designed to function that way (social distancing).”

Sims is anxious to resume regular services, visit with his congregation and reach out to other pastors.

He and his wife have two children – Emory, who will be 5 this month, and Caleb, 2.

“We looked for a place where our children could thrive,” he said.

Purcell fit that bill and they “definitely want to get involved in the community.”

Next year, Shana will start her own path toward being credentialed by the denomination.

It’s a natural next step for a woman “born and bred AG.”

How long the family will stay in Purcell is in God’s hands.

“We want to raise our family here and have the children graduate here. But it’s really up to God.”

Sims’ mother is still in Hot Springs, but she will be moving to Purcell late this year, settling in the new senior community, Village on Green, now under construction south of Purcell High School and the new junior high school.

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