She was at a Salvation Army women’s camp in central Newfoundland and Labrador in June 2017 when Major Darlene Masters came into her cabin and said, “Sylvia, I’d like to use this song in our vocal group tomorrow morning. Would you sing it for me?” Having never heard the song before, Sylvia remarked, “I don’t have time to learn how to sing that. I don’t even know the music.”
“You can do it!” Darlene persisted. “I’ll find somebody to play it if you will try.” Sylvia could tell she wasn’t going to get out of singing, so she handed her phone to Darlene so she could track someone down to record the tune. Ten minutes later, Darlene returned with the audio, compliments of another camper who had played it on the piano. “She thinks she knows you,” Darlene said upon returning the phone.
The pianist was Major Janice Rowe, who had been in her cabin when Darlene entered and asked her to play the tune. While Janice was playing the piano, Darlene told her, “You’ll just love the vocalist’s voice; she’s an English lady and her voice is so sweet.” When the recording was complete, Darlene commented, “I’ve got to get Sylvia’s phone back to her.”
“It’s remarkable how God has intertwined our lives.” —Major Janice Rowe
Upon hearing “English lady” and “Sylvia,” Janice’s mind immediately made a connection.
“Sylvia, the midwife?” she asked.
“Well, she was—she’s retired now,” Darlene replied.
“Sylvia’s here?” Janice said in shock.
“Yes!” exclaimed Darlene.
In the Beginning, God
Sylvia’s calling to be a midwife started when she was nine years old. In a hospital one day, she found herself watching the nurses intently. “I went home after and said to my mother, ‘I’m going to be a nurse.’ ” She kept that promise to herself. As a nurse, she began shadowing community midwives, who helped mothers deliver their babies in the comfort of their own homes, for three weeks.
“I absolutely adored it,” she recalls. “In nursing you’re involved in the abnormality of people’s health, whereas with midwifery you’re involved in the normality of people’s lives.” When the opportunity arose to become a midwife, she took the chance. “Maybe it was God’s calling—I don’t know—I didn’t even know God then,” she says. “When I look back over my life now as a Christian, I believe there were times in my life when this was chosen for me by him.”
Sylvia’s father was a Canadian soldier and her mother an English war bride. Mother and daughter went to live in Canada when she was just a baby, and then returned to England six years later. “I never knew my father, but it was almost like I needed to come to Canada,” she says. “It’s a part of me, it’s my heritage.” As needs for midwifery increased in Canada, Sylvia seized the opportunity. She saw an advertisement for a position, applied and got the job.
In 1994, she moved from England to St. Anthony, N.L., to take the position of a registered midwife and nurse. That’s where she met then Lieutenants Janice and Peter Rowe, who were stationed in Roddickton, N.L., as corps officers. They were expecting a baby boy, and Sylvia was called into the delivery room.
“It was my first independent delivery in Newfoundland,” she remembers. That day, Sylvia assisted Janice in her delivery, not knowing that in God’s divine timing he would have them meet again at a Salvation Army women’s camp.
An Emotional Reunion
That day when Darlene returned Sylvia’s phone and said, “I found someone to play the song. She thinks she knows you,” she was unphased because she knew many Salvationists from other corps. Nevertheless, the two walked to another cabin down the hill where a few women sat around on their bunks. There, in the middle, was Janice. When Sylvia looked at her, she saw a familiar face, but could not quite place where she had seen her before.
“It is you!” Janice cried out. “I’ve been looking for you for 23 years.”
That’s when she took out her phone to show some pictures. One was a headshot of Sylvia that had been used in a book on nurses who had come from abroad to work in Canada. Janice had seen the book and recognized Sylvia as her midwife.
Another photo was of Sylvia holding Janice’s son, Allan, in the delivery room when he was first born. “I can’t even remember you taking that picture!” Sylvia remarked. Having seen thousands of babies and mothers over her career as a midwife, it took her a minute to remember Janice’s delivery, but she did, and they both cried tears of joy. “Delivering a baby to a family is a very intimate and moving time,” says Sylvia.
“It was an emotional reunion,” recalls Janice. “It’s remarkable how God has intertwined our lives. If you look at the back of a blanket, you just see a mess of stitching—and then there’s a beautiful design on the other side.”
“It is you!” Janice cried out. “I’ve been looking for you for 23 years.”Sylvia was delighted. “I wish I could meet Allan,” she said. By this time, she knew that the Rowes were serving as the corps officers at St. John’s Temple, so she asked if they would be attending the divisional congress that was on the Canada Day weekend in 2017. She was.
“Allan will be there, too,” Janice explained, so they arranged to meet and took a picture together in their Salvation Army uniforms. When the two women had first met in 1994, Sylvia wasn’t a churchgoer. It wasn’t until 1997 that she accepted Christ into her life and became a Salvation Army soldier one year later.
“We believe this reunion was a spiritual connection,” Sylvia says. “It was definitely God leading us together for some reason—we still can’t get over it!”
The Fruit of Labour
“ Not too many midwives can say they’ve got this kind of connection with a family.” —Sylvia Patey
Three years after that special reunion at congress, Sylvia received a message from Allan that he was getting married.
“Oh, how I would like to be a fly on the wall at that wedding,” she vocalized. Soon after, she was given an invitation to attend the wedding via Zoom, since COVID-19 restrictions prohibited her from attending in person.
One week later, Sylvia received another message from Allan asking if he and his new wife could stop by to visit, since they were driving past her home en route to Nova Scotia for their honeymoon.
“It’s been surreal for me, and such a blessing,” says Sylvia. “It’s not too many midwives that I know who can actually say that they’ve got this kind of connection with a family 27 years later!”
As an officer, trusting in God has been central to Janice’s life. “A theme in my life has been waiting, listening and watching what God does in my life,” she says. “It is so important to keep trusting and being hopeful in him.”
And for Sylvia, God’s plan is wonderfully poetic. “Janice and I were brought together; Allan and I were brought together—just like a thread that God weaves through your life.”
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