Read the story of entrepreneur, pastor and teacher Brent Phillips.
Born in Johannesburg, South Africa (1978), I enjoyed an “amazing” childhood. I wouldn’t change a single thing about my life, because God has used every event to shape me into who I am today.
At the age of 2 years old, my father decided it would be better if my mom, brother and I lived somewhere else. I still remember sitting on the grass with all our clothes lying around us. My prayer in that moment was that our dog would be kicked out as well, and sure enough, he was. My first answer to prayer
For the next several years we moved around a lot, and despite the circumstances, we felt like we were the luckiest kids on earth; we knew no different. There wasn’t a single day that went by that we didn’t see God intervene in one way or another, whether it was by providing specials on the food we needed, stretching our gas, or providing us with a roof over our heads. Our circumstances in the natural weren’t good at all, but we laughed and loved more in our broken home, than families who seemed to have it all together.
At the age of 5, I developed acute asthma . My asthma was so severe that walking became a challenge. Trips to the emergency room became like trips to the mall. After several years of struggling with this disease, and missing months of schools, my mom came across this verse:
From that moment, my mom and gran began to trust God for that verse to come to pass for me. The doctors by this stage had confirmed that I would be on medication for the rest of my life, and a slow paced life was on the books for me, but my mom and gran believed that God’s word was greater than a Dr’s report or disease.
This would not be a prayer that was answered overnight, but God would answer it in the most amazing way. In primary school, I would try out for the track team every year, because I had been taught that Isa 40:31 was my verse and I would run. Every year, without fail, I would fail, and not be able to complete the distance needed (400m) to qualify to compete. But God would begin to stun the doctors through swimming. I couldn’t run, and couldn’t walk fast, but boy, could I swim. To everyone’s amazement, I would win race after race to the glory of God, but my verse was to run, swimming was just a bonus.
Years later, I graduated to high school, and within a few months of starting high school, the athletics tryouts began. I could enter whichever race I wanted, from 100m to 1500m. The 1500m sounded most like Isa 40:31 I entered the 1500m, and through the amazing power of God, and a brother (Clint Phillips) who ran, in his school uniform, on the outside of the track to encourage me to keep going and to keep my pace. I finished my first athletics race! When I finished the race, in awe of God’s grace and love from my brother, I was informed that I had broken the school record for the 1500m, a record that stood for 20 years! Isa 40:31 was mine.
God wouldn’t leave it there, I would eventually captain the swimming team to a national victory for the first time in 13 years, captain my rugby team to team of the year and hold several more leadership positions. I knew that little broken boy, with no father, and no sporting ability.. I knew him extremely well, and there I stood at the end of high school with my name on several honor boards. Never would I be able to doubt the power of prayer, and God’s power toward those who would dare to trust Him to do amazing, impossible things.
We continued to live a life where miracles were expected and seen. My aunt contracted glaucoma and was told she had a few months left of eye sight. We prayed for healing, and to this day, she doesn’t even wear reading glasses. We saw God take a man who was a body builder, with minimal education, but a passion for God, start a church in his home and years later would be the pastor of the first mega church in Africa, advising presidents and political leaders.
We were pumped full of stories of ordinary and average people who did amazing and extraordinary feats because of God, and we trusted God to do no less in our lives, and God did exactly that. This small, little broken family, became a benchmark for other families to aspire to and follow.
When I was 18, the rage I had seen in my father, was starting to become uncontrollable in me. It started to cause a lot of problems in my life, but God’s grace was more than enough. One of the more significant events that could have destroyed my life came the day before my high-school mathematics final. By this stage, my passion for software engineering was clear, and the only thing standing in my way of going to university was scoring a high grade in mathematics. My mom had bought a BMW convertible – a car that left your mouth wide open. I was supposed to fetch my mother from the shops, but at 18, you will use anything to impress a girl. I took a detour, and 15 minutes later, I had ripped the car in half, tore up 100m of tar road and nearly killed everyone in the car.
As I sat on the grass wondering if I was going to go to jail, the sensation of having destroyed my life was overwhelming. My girlfriend’s father would later forbid me from seeing his daughter again, and I would go on to fail my mathematics exam because of the trauma. University was no longer an option. I had single-handedly destroyed my future, and written off the family investment car, of which I was uninsured to drive. As I sat on my bed weeping because of how quickly I had traveled to the bottom of the pit, I felt God reminding me, that He shines in times when it is the darkest, even if we created the darkness.
That year, for the first time in the history of the university, they offered a program for students who had not met the mathematics requirements. Student were allowed to take the BSc Software Engineering degree, while retaking high-school mathematics simultaneously. God left me speechless. The next miracle came with the car. We had a choice, to lie and say my mom was driving, or admit, the reckless driving was on behalf of an uninsured driver. We told the truth, and threw ourselves on the mercy of the insurance company. Two words that don’t fit in the same sentence: mercy & insurance. The company paid out for the car… completely!
Having grown up in the church, I was ready to get involved. My friend and I studied to be counselors, because that seemed “cool”. The day we completed our counseling course, the children’s church pastor, said we need to be in children’s ministry. I laughed because that was what my mom had done for 20 years and I needed to do something a little more attractive. When I saw the pastor wasn’t really asking a question, we decided to give a try. In the next 5 years, I would learn more about my gifting, communication, and transformation by serving kids, than in the 18 years before. I learned lessons that would be the foundation for the rest of my life. We saw hundreds of street kids be transformed right before our eyes as we would minister God’s word week after week. It was the first time I realized I had a sense of humor and that I could speak. Pastor Ian Mackay intervened and changed the course of my life because he took the time to see past the insecure teenager, to what I could be and was… deep down… very.
We would eventually land up in Aspen, CO, USA. All I knew about Aspen, was from the movie Dumb & Dumber, but God once again had great plans for us. By this stage, God had blessed me in South Africa, in teaching, in business and with an amazing girlfriend. My brother had been living in Aspen for a year, and I went to see what it was all about. With no intention of beginning a ministry, I went to Aspen to have some fun with my brother. While I was there, God opened the door for me to acquire a work visa, and I had my first job in Aspen, installing wireless internet, a far cry from software engineering, but I was happy to be doing something. Without any safety harnesses or concerns, I would climb up onto snowy roofs to get the job done, and it was this hunger that enabled me to be the top paid installer after just 3 weeks. Life was good! It was time for me to return back to South Africa, when I had a thought, that I knew was not my thought. God was speaking to me. My thought was simply this, start a ministry for the younger generation in Aspen. I wanted to be a mighty entrepreneur, I didn’t want to be a pastor, but I knew what I had heard, and by this stage I had learned to listen when God spoke.
After returning to South Africa, and presenting what I believed God had said, I had the support of my family and girlfriend to do this. It would mean I would have to let go of my business in South Africa, a very comfortable life and trust God for a very uncertain future, but I had seen Him do too much to let that hold me back.
Arriving in Aspen, the company who had provided my income had gone bankrupt while I was in South Africa, and God began a journey to mature me. God will never take you where your character can’t keep you. I knew God had called me into ministry, what I wasn’t ready for, was the process to get ready for ministry. David was anointed as King (1 Sam 16), but there were many miles, challenges, and detours to getting there. This was the lesson I was about to learn.
I had a great following in South Africa, who believed in my call to minister the Gospel, and I would often send updates of the things God was doing. There were 2 Christian churches in Aspen, First Baptist Church and one we will call “Kerk”. “Kerk” only had 7 members, where FBC had many, so I thought a good place to start would be serving in a church who needed it most. And it would be here that I would learn valuable and painful lessons. The pastor was not a servant, not even slightly, but made it known that serving him was an honor. Having only had one pastor in my life, I didn’t think much of it, and served “God’s anointed” with everything I had. Whether it was vacuuming, setting up the stage, taking the offering, improving their technology, it was an honor to be part of impacting lives. The time came for me to ask if we could start a Sunday evening service, we would do all the work and any offering would go to the church. We weren’t in it for money, we wanted to see God save people. My brother, a deacon named Curt and myself put this service together. We packed chairs, cleaned, led worship and preached, we were a one-stop-shop and we were excited to see what God could do. The service started to grow after a few months, and eventually we had 35 people. After the church had only seen 7 people for 7 years, it was a lot of people to us
We were so excited to see growth and impact, what we didn’t realized was, the Pastor grew jealous that those people would not come to the service he taught. One Saturday he called us in and used the line that every religious liar loves to use… “God said.” He went on to tell us that God had told him we were trying to take over the church. We were speechless at his accusation, and devastated that he had used the “God said” phrase. We left the meeting not knowing what to do with ourselves, we had been kicked out of the church. My whole reason for coming to Aspen was to minister, to preach, and now I have been kicked out of the church. What came next was the lowest spiritual crash of my life. I had never been betrayed by a man of God, and didn’t know how to handle it. This was God’s anointed. Over the next several months, God taught me that we are all God’s anointed, that title is not reserved for the preacher, but for His children.
The emails continued to flow in from South Africa asking how the ministry was going in Aspen. I didn’t know how to tell everyone that I had been kicked out of the church, so I just didn’t respond.
One day my mom found me staring out the window feeling lost and rejected. She said the words that would launch me into the next chapter of my life. “Son, what is in your hand?”, to which I replied, “Absolutely nothing”. She was referring to the encounter when God asks Moses the same question (Ex 4:2). God was showing Moses that He uses things that we count as insignificant to do something amazing. I had a degree in Software Engineering in my hand, and a video camera. I launched PhillipsPower.com and began uploading messages that I recorded while sitting at the coffee table. I never knew if anyone would ever watch these videos, but it was in my hand, and so I decided to use it. On one of the days when I felt the most dejected, I recorded a video on salvation, where I lead the viewer in the scriptures and the steps to accept Jesus Christ.
One day I awoke to an email in my inbox, from a ministry in India. The email read that they had found my website and wanted me to come preach in the south of India. I laughed at the gall of some spammers, because who am I to go preach, I am an absolute no body who doesn’t even have an audience. There was something about that email that I could not let go of. Eventually, my mom and I would agree to pursue it, and then came the email asking for money to rent venues etc. There it was; I had been waiting for that -the trick, the trap, the scam, but I was so desperate to be used by God, that after prayer, we agreed to send the money (which I had to borrow because I was still unemployed by this stage, despite numerous efforts).
We arrived in India, in a little village airport, nervous that it was a scam. We looked around for a sign with our names on, but there was nothing. We had been bamboozled and I was so disappointed. Although I expected as much, there was a part of me who was hoping it was real. I was desperate to be used by God. My mom decided that we had come too far to not have some fun, and so we decided to catch a taxi somewhere. We climbed in the taxi and I explained our destination, and the taxi driver nodded, the destination was at least real. 2 hours later, we pulled into the town, and to our amazement, big posters hung on the walls of the town: “Pastor Brent and Maureen Phillips from USA”.
It was real, it was actually exactly what they had said it to be! For the next week, we would minister all over the south of India, seeing God transform lives and save people. It was, to this day, one of the most life changing experiences for me. 3 weeks later, the tsunami would hit the south of India, killing thousands of people who we had preached to. As I heard the news I began to cry thinking of all the faces who I had come to know in those regions. It was then that God showed me something amazing. God used a nobody to go to a place no one had heard of, to be a vessel of His grace and mercy. It was not a time of mourning but a time of rejoicing, because those who were lost, had been found!
Not going to church wasn’t an option for us, we needed to hear God’s word, and the only other option was FBC. Having grown up in a charismatic church, I wasn’t that excited to attend a baptist church, but there was something very special about the senior pastor, a man who would later set the benchmark of what it means to be a man of God. Steve invited us to start a Sunday evening service, and reluctantly after the last experience, we agreed, and once again, God’s journey for maturing and developing us began. We thought, “if you build it, they will come”, and we were wrong. We built that Sunday evening service and no one came. Week after week I would preach to my family, but we continued to do what we believed God wanted us to do. It was embarrassing. After 5 years, we were only at 12 people, and that fluctuated depending on the television schedule. If ever I was going to admit failure, it was then. 5 years and nothing to show for it. The problem was, I was looking for the growth out there and missing what God was doing in me.
One day after teaching on healing, we were shocked to find out that the other pastors in the church completely disagreed with us. I had never heard of anything like that. What do you mean you can’t pray for healing? We had seen so many people healed, including ourselves. The pastors told my brother and I to bring all the scriptures that supported our belief and they would show us that we were wrong. We sat across from each other and fought over scripture, something I decided on that day, I would never do again. We were no closer to changing one another’s minds as when we began. By this stage, my brother and I were meeting regularly with the senior pastor (Steve Woodrow), and although he didn’t agree with us, he didn’t discard us either. We continued to seek God together for truth.
After sometime, Pastor Steve developed a growth on his leg, that continue to grow in size, to the point of terror. One Tuesday morning, on a snowy day, Pastor Steve prayed “Lord if healing is for today, let this thing fall off my leg and be as if it was never there”. After months of growing, it fell off in the shower shortly after. There was nothing more to argue about healing, he had seen the scripture prove true. He went on to teach the most powerful messages on “God’s will to heal today!”. It was amazing, we saw the power of God settle a debate, because we asked. After that, our service took off on a Sunday night, and many people came to Christ and experienced miracles. God is often late according to our timetable, but He is always perfectly on time for His.
I would later become an ordained Pastor under Pastor Steve’s leadership at Crossroads Church of Aspen (formally First Baptist Church of Aspen), and look back on that as the best chapter of my life so far, and the chapter where the girlfriend I left behind, had now become my beautiful bride.
We hardly spoke to my dad because of his temper and inability to see things rationally, and although we would have glimpses of hope, it would always end up back at the same place, with us being disowned and the phone being slammed down. My mom never stopped praying for my dad, and never harbored unforgiveness. We were all in South Africa for a holiday when we received the call that my dad had experienced a severe heart attack. Once again, I had been overwhelmed by God’s grace. Had we not been in South Africa, I would never have had the opportunity to say good bye to my dad. My brother and I stood by his bed, and in the last hours of his life, he awoke from his coma, squeezed our hands and later passed away. If passing away could be peaceful, that was it. Later I was at his house, and I asked God to please show me if he was in heaven or in hell, because I did not want to spend my life wondering. Right then I had the idea to check his internet history. It is amazing how God speaks to us where we are. The last entry I found, was a cookie from PhillipsPower.com, the salvation message. I had the privilege of leading my own father to Christ through a video I had recorded at one of the most painful times in my life. My mom’s prayers all those years, had not been wasted.
After my wife and I returned from South Africa, we began fighting about the smallest things. To this day I cannot put my finger on what happened or what caused it, but it came out of no where and it came fast. In pre-marriage counseling we had learned never talk about divorce and never sleep on the couch. I broke both those laws in one day. It seemed to be 6 months that I slept on the couch and “hated” each other. We had been an amazing couple who fought about nothing. I had the easiest going wife in the world, and suddenly I couldn’t stand to be around her. Our last hope was having counseling with my mom, who was always positive about everything. We explained how we felt about each other and she was silent, and gave us the shocking conclusion “You must do what you need to do”. That shocked me so much, that it sobered me up to the fact that my marriage was a few strands away from falling off the cliff. We went home, knelt next to the bed and set the record for the fastest marriage recovery in history. I prayed “Jesus help me”. That was it. In an instant God saved my marriage and we have never been near to that place again. Because of God, I am the happiest married man alive, and I adore my wife more today, than ever before.
We had decided to start having children. We fell pregnant and the fear of whether I could be a better father than my own was overwhelmed by the excitement of God’s grace to be everything I needed to be. The pregnancy had gone perfect up until 7 months. My wife was still working hard in order for us to pay cash for the delivery. The health insurance agent had lied to us about maternity, and now it was going to be completely out of pocket. Jordan had been extremely active for a few months already, but one day my wife came home with a panicked look on her face and said, I haven’t felt Jordan move all day. We asked around, and checked on Google, and found similar cases where this had happened and there was nothing to worry about, just lie down and relax. After lying down several hours, there was still no movement. We knew we had a fight on our hands for her life. We began to pray and NOT pray “If it is your will”, we knew God’s will.. we began to pray “Every good and perfect gift comes from above”, and to remind God He gave us this baby, and He needs to revive this baby. It was not the prayer of arrogance, it was the prayer of desperation. It was now the morning of the 3rd day, and our little Jordan had not moved. Later we would ask the OB a hypothetical question about a baby who didn’t move for 3 days, and she would tell us, without a doubt, the baby is dead. Our little Jordi pie didn’t die, on the 3rd day, she started to kick, and never stopped until she came out, healthy and perfect. She is our miracle baby, and we know God has amazing plans for her life, and when she is being disobedient, we remind ourselves
No one enjoys going through a desert experience, that time where God feels distant and everything seems dry and painful. Usually these times come after great success. After striving and struggling for breakthrough in ministry in Aspen – CO, things could not have been better, people were passionate about change and church, services were full and God was moving. In midst of all of this we had planned a church wide mission trip to South Africa and everything was going according to plan until we received news that our new US visa was declined. We had a choice to make: Skip the mission trip and try rectify the situation or sacrifice “everything” we had worked so hard for, or sell up and move back to South Africa. Knowing the impact this trip would have on countless lives, we sold up and went back to South Africa.
The mission trip was a success in every sense of the word; lives were forever challenged and changed, but now what? We moved around from house to house, with a two year old and a 2 month old baby, while I tried to find the “open door”. Nothing opened, in fact I felt as if they were dead-bolt locked as well. All the success of ministry in Aspen became a distant memory and our resources were disappearing quickly. It was the first time in my life that I did not have my immediate family around for support, and stress and depression started to set in.
To add gasoline to fire, we were running out of money. After not being able to find work in any capacity, the inevitable happened and I had a face a fear that I never thought I would have to, not being able to provide for my family. Once again, we were down on our knees asking God to rescue us.
The very day that I had no idea how I was going to put food on the table, I received a call from my brother Clint. Not knowing our plight, he told me that he was able to raise money for his new business. He wired $10000 to my account to start developing the software. It was a day of celebration, but the joy would be challenged. That same week we received the news that we could never come back to the US, because I had used up all my visas. It was a deathly blow. Would we ever see our family again and everything we had known for the past 9 years?
Back on our knees, but this time, we weren’t begging God for our plans to succeed, but submitting our lives to Him. We only wanted to be where He wanted us, and we only wanted to be doing what He wanted us to do. I was finally ready to sacrifice it all, and the sacrifice was “my” ministry. I had so loved preaching, that I had found my identity in it, and this is what needed to be stripped away. My identity needed to be found on God alone, not in my activities, no matter how noble. Success was never to be measured on external factors, but internal. Finding our satisfaction, joy and reason for living in God alone. Through this time my wife & I became best friends too!
The next day my mom, while in Houston, was talking to someone about our dilemma and they recommended a lawyer in Houston. We had dealt with countless lawyers and there was no solution. But God! On this particular day, God opened a door that didn’t seem to exist. While talking to the lawyer, it came up that my wife is a German citizen and God used this to bring us back to the US. We were coming back different people with different hearts and minds. Broken and surrendered, God had now positioned us for His will and not ours.
Life seemed to be amazing. Everything was a reason for celebration. Even a street lamp was beautiful after not having power and water many times in South Africa. It is amazing how quickly “self” wants to pop back up when life stabilizes. We wanted to join a small church like our mountain church in Aspen because thats where we felt comfortable. Once again God would lead and guide so patiently and gently out of our comfort and into His plan.
A friend, Brett Moody, who attended Second Baptist and taught a bible study along with the senior pastor’s wife, called one day and asked if I would teach his class for the summer while he was in Aspen. My immediate response was no. It was a response out of insecurity. After going from a season of “success” to a season of such “failure”, I wasn’t even sure if I was supposed to be ministry anymore. God would use this experience to seal my call and confidence in Him, no matter the season. After praying, it did not seem as if God had anywhere else for us to go, so I reluctantly and nervously accepted the opportunity, warning my friend that this may reflect badly on him.
I attended another Second Baptist bible study class where my brother was teaching to simply get an idea of what I was getting myself into not realizing I would meet the person (Lisa Milne) who God would use to bring me out of obscurity. We nervously joined Second Baptist and I began teaching bible study classes.
Even though I had nothing to complain about, after a few years, I was becoming increasingly restless. Although I had been given an amazing opportunity as CTO at 2nd.MD, I longed to do something else but could not put my finger on what it was. I had ruled out vocational ministry in my mind, I didn’t even entertain it as a choice. I loved teaching the bible studies, and I couldn’t wait for the next opportunity. In fact they couldn’t come fast enough. I would sometimes teach 3 times on a weekend and it was never enough. The size of the class did not matter, I taught classes of 30 and classes sometimes of 5, but God’s word had never been more delicious and real to me and I couldn’t wait to serve it up to everyone who was hungry. After coming from such a dark place and now having been rescued yet again, I wanted to share it with everyone who would listen so that they too could experience the amazing love, grace and power of God in their lives.
A week was too long to wait in order to share this with people. After asking for my church for permission, I started a bible study on Tuesdays in the home of Jeff and Shana Wood. It had 8 hungry people who wanted to know as much as possible, who did not want to live mediocre Christian lives, but to experience God daily. The passion to share the gospel that had taken me to Aspen nearly a decade before began to rise in me once again. I was starting to find my way home. God began restoring what was lost and in a short period he had filled our lives with incredible friends and support, but I still was restless.
The bible study grew almost every week, and after only 5 months we had grown to over 100 people. It was insane. We were packing out houses. People everywhere. It did not matter where they sat, as long as they could hear God’s word. But we were out of space, what was next?
One day while sitting in a office of Second Baptist, talking about my plans, frustrations and the bible study, they made me the greatest job offer I had ever heard, they said “We can help you reach far more people for Jesus than what you can by yourself.”
That was it! That was what I had been looking for, it was simply wanting to reach people for Jesus with my life not just on the side, why couldn’t I see that all along? My excuses and fears about returning to vocational ministry melted in an instant in the light of that statement. There was only one answer to that statement, YES! The prodigal preacher was coming home!
After God confirming in prayer with my wife, we nervously started making plans to make this dream a reality. God provided the person to replace me at 2nd.MD and it seemed as if all was in order. About a month before I started, two men visited my bible study, not knowing that I was going on staff at Second Baptist and searching for a senior pastor, they offered me the job. They were exceptionally kind and laid out the benefits.
I would be a senior pastor at 34, I would live in a beautiful parsonage with many other benefits. My “pastoral” resume would suddenly have something worth noting. I would be the “big dog” at the helm. On paper, it was truly an amazing offer compared to the “unknown” position at Second Baptist where preaching was not even on the table. For someone who loves preaching, it would seem the choice was obvious. To make the offer even more apparent, due to financial reasons, we would have to move into a small apartment in order to take the job at Second Baptist. I have made many mistakes in my life, and will make many again, but looking back on this decision, I can smile from ear to ear that I finally made a decision based on God’s plan and nothing else.
It was a decision based on surrender. I chose the place where I could be surrendered, where I could once again lay down my ambition on the altar but with this time with joy. For possibly the first time in my life, I had no preconceived ideas on what and how God should use me. I just wanted to be used by God to see people come to know Jesus in the way He wanted to do it… and we loved our apartment!
Many times in life, you cannot control whether or not it rains, but you can choose to put on a coat, boots and dance in the rain. In a period of two months, my cousin (Mandy Gold) was killed by a drunk driver, another cousin (Tammy Andrassy) lost their baby a week before full term and one of my best friends and father-mentor (Stacy Taylor) died of a heart attack. Compounded by many other tests and trials it seemed as if all hell had broken loose. We were no stranger to death and loss, having lost so many people in the past, but the pain is brand always new.
During these times there are two paths you can take: To become bitter because of the unknown reasons why or to press in on what we do know. I don’t know why all these things have happened, but what I do know is God is good.
I have chosen to concentrate on what I do understand and not on what I don’t, on what God has revealed and not what He hasn’t. When all hell breaks loose, it means you are doing something good, and best news is… hell can’t prevail.
At the same time of these massive challenges, we have seen massive impact. After bringing the bible study to the church, it doubled and doubled and doubled. At a recent special event for the bible study, we had over 1100 people attend with over 8 different denominations in the same room and many people surrendering their lives to God. We are only at the beginning of what God is about to do. If singers and rappers can fill stadiums based on garbage, we can overfill stadiums with people who are desperate to hear about truth.
God continues to melt mountains and fill in valleys on our behalf. This blog is dedicated to bringing hope, that no matter what you are facing, no matter what you are going through, God can make a way, God can turn it around and God loves you!
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