This is my second interview— or more precisely, Q&A. This one is with Barry Phillips who has served in the Philippines for many years. The Phillips have been friends of ours for many years, so it is great to be able to do this Q&A.
Can you tell us about yourself and your family?
Let me tell you about the new Barry Phillips; the old Barry is gone. I surrendered my life to Christ while taking a sabbatical in the Philippines on June 29th, 2000. And when I say surrendered, I mean it. I gave Christ control over my profession, finances, possessions, friends, family, and time. Rather than return to my lucrative IT job in Seattle, my wife and I opted to remain in a jungle region of the Philippines and make disciples. We began by holding Bible studies with teenagers and quickly earned their confidence and respect. Our weekly Bible studies quickly became four weekly Bible studies as siblings and parents joined in. And in the spring of 2021 we planted a church in my neighborhood. I agreed to pastor the church until we could find a suitable Filipino pastor. I wasn’t qualified for the job for many reasons: I was still a new believer, I wasn’t theologically trained, I didn’t even speak the language. But God blessed the ministry because we were obedient. And he continues to bless it. We’ve planted thirteen churches in the central Aurora Province, and God led us to open up a Bible school designed to train local leaders and prepare Filipinos to go as missionaries to other nations. It’s all the Lord’s work, and I’m still in shock that he used me to be take part in it.
My wife, Lilia, and I have been married for forty years. She’s a gem, and she’s relentless with the gospel. We have two sons, Jesse, who is now 33 and Dylan, who is 28. Jesse was ten, and Dylan was five when we moved to the Philippines. I was privileged to be their home school teacher (grade 5-12 for Jesse and K-12 for Dylan.) And, despite being ill-prepared as a teacher, both of the boys have now completed their master’s degrees: Jesse has an MBA from Liberty University and Dylan has his Master’s in Information Systems from the University of the Cordilleras in Baguio City Philippines. My father feared that they were being deprived of a “proper” education while under my care, but both have done quite well. Jesse is a music producer in Nashville, focused on worship music. He’s so busy he has to turn down projects. And Dylan, at age 28, is a mid-level software developer for a Nashville-based company that treats him like he’s a rock star. Both of my sons are married, selecting fabulous women of faith, and Jesse’s wife, Kendall just gave birth to our first grandson, Judah Dean Phillips.
My mother passed away in March of 2020, just as COVID raised its ugly head. We traveled from the Philippines to Georgia to attend her funeral and were unable to return to the Philippines for over 18 months due to COVID restrictions. During that time, we bought a townhouse near our two sons in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and began serving within a local church here. We are leading a team of missionaries to Aurora this summer, and are unsure whether we will be more effective at strengthening the Philippine ministry from here in Tennessee, or whether we will return full time to serve again in Aurora. We will follow where the Lord leads.
- Please share with me how you became a convert to Christianity.
My complete testimony was recorded and can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIIPIboo3XI I was an unlikely convert because of my advanced age and my hatred of the church. Watch this short video and you’ll understand that God sometimes chooses the most unlikely people to do his work.
- What is your present ministries and where you serve?
I am currently the Director of Aurora College of Intercultural Studies, which is located in Maria Aurora, a town located in the Aurora Province of the Philippines NE of Manila. Our mission is to train Asians to reach Asia for Christ. We offer one degree, which is a BA in Intercultural Studies. During COVID we were forced to shut down our on-campus training (which has now been resumed). But the Lord did an amazing thing as we shifted our classes to an online format. Filipinos from the Middle East began enrolling in our training. A large congregation of Filipinos in Qatar joined us online. Soon we had students from Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Riyadh, and even Muslim regions of the Philippines joining us online for training. We have quadrupled the number of students during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve become partners with Horizon Education Network in Grand Rapids, Michigan and we’re now developing fully interactive, asynchronous training courses (in English) to better serve our students.
- What are some of the blessings and struggles associated with hosting Short-term mission teams from the United States?
I wrote a book about short-term missions entitled, “I Planted the Seed, and Woody Squashed it.” The reason that I wrote the book was because I felt we can do a much better job of preparing those who travel on short-term mission trips. Too often the only qualification is that they are able to raise money to come along. That’s a poor selection criterion to determine who will represent the Lord of Lords in a region in need of Him. Some teams have been amazing, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with their effort, teamwork, and the result of their effort. And other teams caused damage. Let me rephrase that, some individuals on other teams caused damage. They argued with their team members, rebelled against their team leader, refused to participate at times, complained about the food, the heat, the accommodations, … I’ve created an online Moodle course based on my experience and on the book. I’d like to invite you, free of charge, to take and critique the course for me. Contact me at my e-mail address below and I’ll send you a link.
- Where is God leading you to in your work in the next few years?
I’m unsure. I thought that I’d be able to find work in the ministry in the Nashville area, but it appears that 66-year-old missionaries are not in high demand. I’d like to resurrect a child sponsorship program we started years ago. We were able to lift the burden of poverty from over a thousand families by supporting their kids in school. We used this as a platform to make Christ known and it was a highly successful initiative. But we were living in the Philippines at the time and could find nobody in the US willing to do the work at this end (depositing checks, sending thank you letters, filing annual renewal with government, filing our taxes, etc.) So we had to give it up. If this program were to be resurrected, we can run the effort from the states and visit the Philippines a couple times each year to train and encourage our workers there. I would not rely on volunteers again – the workers would receive proper compensation. I’ve learned that you can’t fire or even scold volunteers when they let you down; they are helping out of the goodness of their hearts and encouraging them may not be enough to retain them. As the ministry grows and prospers, more volunteers are needed, not adding more responsibilities to those who are already serving.
- How do you balance your life as a husband and father with your ministry work?
My wife is my ministry partner. We serve together, discussing every aspect of what is happening, who we should be investing our time with, when certain activities and events should occur, where we will spend our time, and how we’ll approach things. Lilia is an evangelist and moves too fast for me to keep up with. Our only conflict was when she wanted to take on more than I felt we could handle. I spent every day with my sons in school, so I had plenty of time with them. They might even say that it was too much time. There has never been a problem balancing the work with family. I was blessed to be a self-supporting missionary and I did not answer to others for my daily schedule. I did not keep regular office hours, and my schedule was quite fluid.
- Do you believe that serving in the mission field was good for your children or bad? Why?
It was neither good nor bad, just different. But if you ask either of my sons today about the experience they will tell you that they wouldn’t trade it for a “typical” upbringing. They were forced to endure weeks without power after strong typhoons. They did not have hot running water in the house, and got used to taking cold showers. For four years we had to travel to Cabanatuan, about four hours away, just to use the internet. They were oblivious to US pop culture. They didn’t spend much time with their American grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins. And they were confined to a small community where they were forced to adopt a new language, new customs, and new friends. Neither of my sons had trouble transitioning from the jungle back to the US. Jesse was given a music scholarship at Liberty University (answered prayer) and they extended his scholarship for his master’s degree if he agreed to play bass on their Campus Band. Dylan was able to find work within a couple of months of being back in the states due to his proficiency as a software developer. His wife, Abby, joined him in the US after a couple of years (they met in college in the Philippines.) My sons are clearly two-culture kids as their mother is Filipina. They appreciate Filipino food, culture and they have family members in both countries. Neither of them, however, is likely to take up residence again in the Philippines. Life in the US is more comfortable, safer, and offers them better opportunities to support their young families.
- What activities/hobbies help refresh you after the stresses of ministry?
I make guitars and give them away. Each instrument requires about 100 hours of effort, and I use the solitude during the process to pray for the intended recipient. It’s creative work that allows my mind to wander and it refreshes my soul.
- Tell me about some of the books that you have written.
Through the Lord’s leading, I’ve authored four books:
(a) Accidental Missionary – (now out of print) It was a topical book of prayers with scriptural support for each of the topics. I used it frequently for Bible studies.
(b) I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it) – This was written to strengthen short-term mission efforts. Here is the synopsis from Amazon.com:
I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it) takes you on a brisk mountain bus ride into a Philippine jungle filled with dangerous reptiles, rabid dogs, drunks with machetes, armed insurgents, military checkpoints and people who are hungry to know Jesus. It includes accounts of missionaries who, while on mission, became involved in illicit romances, fell seriously ill, suffered from emotional meltdown, ran out of money, and who flagrantly violated their team covenant. I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it) contains candid, essential advice for short-term missionaries. It illuminates rarely considered factors when planning a mission trip. And it challenges the notion that everyone who is able to raise enough money is suitable to participate in missions. It prepares you how to respond to beggars, angry drunks, or people infected with deadly, communicable diseases like tuberculosis or leprosy. Open this book and look at the table of contents and you’ll be hooked. With chapter titles like “Revolutionary Taxes” or “Am I Still Colored?” you know that this is no ordinary missionary training book! Short term missionaries have the potential to transform ministries around the world. Unfortunately, not all mission efforts are positive. I Planted the Seed (and Woody Squashed it) provides practical guidance to maximize effectiveness of short-term missionaries. It prescribes humility, cooperation, and alignment with host missionary efforts. It also includes a generous dose of common sense to prevent injury, sickness, robbery and a myriad of issues that affect international travelers.
(c) The 24h Province – The 24th Province is the only fictional book I’ve written. It’s a redemption story, but filled with action and drama. Here’s the Amazon synopsis:
Medical missionaries hunker down in the path of Typhoon Kiko, the fiercest storm ever recorded. They fight for their lives as their shelter is ripped apart by howling winds. They struggle through darkness, rising flood waters and flying debris to their new haven. But just when they believe that they’ve found refuge and safety they discover that two members of their team are missing. Their horror is just beginning. The People’s Republic of China uses the chaos created by Typhoon Kiko to invade the Philippines. America weighs the cost of intervention and opts out of the fight, leaving the island nation without electricity, communications, allies or hope. The missionaries find themselves in the path of a brutal group of Chinese marines who are led by a heartless Captain. They attempt an escape but are captured and brutalized. But God shines through when the unforgivable is forgiven. The 24th Province is a tale of survival, treachery, brutality, miracles and forgiveness in the face of the unforgivable. Ultimately the 24th Province is a story of redemption. Would the United States go to war against the People’s Republic of China to defend the Philippines? Interesting issues are presented from both sides of this argument. The 24th Province provides illumination without judgment on the political issues. But what makes the 24th Province powerful is the response of the characters when they are tested beyond human limits.
(d) Church Doctor – Prescriptions for a Healthy Church. I love the church, and I’m troubled by its poor health. This was written to suggest ways that we can strengthen our local fellowship. Here’s the Amazon synopsis:
Church Doctor (Prescriptions for a Healthy Church) provides frank advice to our ailing church. Be forewarned – Jesus is not returning to claim your congregation; He’s coming to gather the faithful. Not faithful attenders, but obedient followers. And, as a whole, the contemporary institutional church is utterly unprepared for His return. Our inward focus, lack of discipleship, and abysmally low expectations have created a church that is filled with spectators who practice dead faith. We’ve lost our love for the lost. And we’ve lost our identity. The world around us views us as hypocritical and judgmental, and sadly, they are not wrong. Church Doctor (Prescriptions for a Healthy Church) contains candid, essential advice to the church. The prescribed remedies for the church will challenge you, perhaps even painfully. Are you ready?
- What would you do differently in your ministry if you had the opportunity to start over?
With what I know now, there are two things I would do quite differently if we began the ministry today.
Number One: I would focus less on raising funds for church land, church buildings, church furnishings, and church equipment. Our first church was planted on a couple of acres of land, and the building is impressive. We added a fellowship hall and equipped the church with musical instruments, high quality microphones and a soundboard. And we fully supported a local pastor for almost nineteen years. Such a church cannot easily replicate itself. It’s not impossible, but highly unlikely in that region due to the amount of resources required. If I could do it all over again, I’d plant many smaller, home-based, fellowships instead of larger churches. I would use available funds to meet more physical needs (such as clothing, food, clean water, or schooling for the kids.) We would demonstrate the love of Christ instead of talk about it. The growth of the gospel was hindered as we waited for funds to buy land, build buildings, and support a trained pastor. Training small group leaders would require more effort and oversight, but I believe that a discipleship-based growth strategy would have extended God’s Kingdom far beyond our thirteen churches over the past 21 years.
Number Two: I would err more frequently on the side of grace. I’ll give you one example. Two of our missionary students, a male and a female, became entangled in a relationship that resulted in a single sexual encounter while they were on an extended summer internship in a remote province. They were both tearfully repentant and confessed what had happened. They asked for mercy, but none was shown. The covenant they both signed to become students strictly forbade any sexual relationships, and they were both suspended indefinitely. Now some, if not most of you, who read this would agree with the suspension or even expulsion. How can we expect to train effective missionaries if they commit sin and break the rules? That answer is now easy for me: by showing grace. Too often we begin to think institutionally, following rules instead of extending grace, as Christ did. As a Christian education institution, we announced to the world that grace doesn’t apply when you break our rules. It was more than a school rule; they committed a repugnant sin in the eyes of God. But both of my students confessed, were repentant, and begged for mercy that never came. Instead, they were sent home to their families and home churches in shame. Is there any better place to teach grace than in a school designed to teach Christian leaders? In the future, I will often err on the side of grace.
- How can people pray for you or support you?
Please pray that the Lord will provide us with clear direction in the coming months. Now that the Philippines has relaxed COVID requirements, we are able to return to our home in Aurora. But we may be even more effective by remaining here in Tennessee to raise funds or organize mission trips to assist the ministry. We’re unsure what step to take next.
Regarding support: My wife and I do not require any personal support; I’m retired from the USAF and we can live on my retirement and social security incomes. But if you are interested in helping out the ministry we can certainly use your help. If you’d like to support a faculty member, a missionary student, or a Moodle developer, any amount at all would be a blessing. You can learn more about Aurora College of Intercultural Studies at our website: https://www.auroracis.com/ The link to give is on the website.
You can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d love to hear from you.