When the pastor at Skip Phillips’ church approached him about making a trip to Africa to hand out supplies and dig wells, his immediate response was less than enthusiastic.
“I said, ‘Why would I go to Africa?’” says the Genesis co-founder and president of Questar Pools and Spas in Escondido, Calif.
The pastor said it could be life-changing, but Phillips wasn’t so sure. He figured he was well read on the plight suffered by many on the continent and that he didn’t need to witness it firsthand. He figured he’d be more useful if he wrote a check.
Ultimately, Phillips credits his wife, Carrie, with changing his mind: “She said, ‘Maybe this isn’t about you … Have you considered that you have a skill set that maybe they don’t have, and that’s the reason they’re asking you?’”
He agreed to go. As part of the deal, he was asked to help raise the typical $6,000 to $7,000 that mission groups generally collect for such trips. Instead, he not only reached out to everyone he knew in the industry, but he also promised to match whatever was pledged by his peers.
“If I don’t do that, I’m not all in,” Phillips said. “It is pretty risky when you think about it. I wondered what I would do if they donated $50,000 … but that only lasted for about a second, then I realized I am so fortunate that why would I even think about it.”
He was able to raise $85,000, in addition to thousands of pairs of shoes arranged by builder Chuck Baumann of Creative Environments in Alamo, Calif. The donations came from as far away as Germany, and one was $10,000.
Phillips spent more than three weeks traveling through Mozambique and South Africa to distribute clothes and shoes, dig wells, and pass out solar-powered speaking Bibles to those who couldn’t read.
The question he asked his pastor – what was the point of witnessing the continent firsthand – was quickly answered. Because all the media coverage, with its accounts of the illness, destitution and violence, doesn’t paint the whole picture, Phillips said.
The photos he took highlight something else. “My images focused on the beauty of the people,” Phillips said. “If you look at the images, I think what you’ll pick up on is that when you look in their eyes, you just realize that they are truly survivors. And they’re not only survivors but they have such joy. I couldn’t possibly have figured that out remotely.”
He experienced other things he hadn’t before. He pulled in fishing nets off ancient boats out of the Indian Ocean, slept on the beach next to a mangrove swamp, using a mosquito net and vitamin B patches to fend off insects and, hopefully, malaria. And he experienced an impromptu religious revival in the middle of the night while he was sleeping in a van.
“I recorded it, and sometimes when things aren’t going good, I turn that on, because you can’t possibly imagine how poor these people are and they have such a joy,” Phillips said. “Why would I even consider that today isn’t great when these folks have such joy and they have nothing?”
Much like his pastor suggested, the trip changed his life. Perhaps the biggest difference is he doesn’t take even the smallest thing for granted. After all, he saw a 70-year-old woman get her first pair of shoes. And people had to walk miles to get water.
“You know how people have a tendency to turn the water on and let it run while they’re brushing their teeth?” Phillips says. “I certainly don’t do that anymore. You can imagine if you had to walk 3 or 4 hours in each direction to get a jug of water, you would treat it much more differently than we do. When you see what people go through for the things we take for granted, you just don’t do it anymore.”
To read more stories about the industry giving back, click here.