I met Ed and Frances Phillips at the Overcomers Center, an addiction recovery program with a twelve-step, Christian-based curriculum. They were both there to greet me at the door. We exchanged introductions and I followed them to the chapel where 80 men were gathered who are currently in the 27-week program. I took a seat. While Frances began to play the piano, Ed took center stage lifting his hands to signal the beginning of practice and a silence fell over the room.
Suddenly, powerful voices sang out in unison; ‘Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound …’ and from the first note, Ed took charge of the choir’s voices with the deliberate motions of his hands.
Ed moved swiftly through the carefully tailored program while the men followed his lead. When the choir walked up onto the stage to perform a medley of patriotic songs, we all stood and joined in. “Some have never sung before in public but they do here,” noted Ed, matter-of-factly. “And we don’t sing the new stuff. We sing the original music that we grew up on, and they love it!”
Every Thursday evening, Ed and Frances dedicate their time conducting choir practice for the men at Miracle Hill’s Overcomers Center. “Being in this choir is a privilege earned by following the rules, Ed explained. “A lot of these men have never had structure or discipline in their lives but they do here. By the time graduation day comes, they know the cues and put on an inspiring musical performance for their families, as well as, giving moving testimonials of their recovery experiences. It’s a day filled with many blessings.”
Ed and Frances, who have been married for 64 years, have been volunteering with Miracle Hill for 61 of them. Ed pulls out a piece of paper to show me his calculations. He explains, “From 1952 to 2014 at seventeen hours per week, add Sunday school lessons, nursing home visits where Frances plays weekly, banquets, meetings, church visits, holiday affairs, reunions and graduations and speaking at the mission every Wednesday and Tuesday night…see here? That adds up to six years of our lives so far.” Fascinated by his complex equation, I asked what it felt like to dedicate that much of their lives to Miracle Hill. Ed’s voice softens, “We could have done more.” Frances agrees, “Yes, and I feel unworthy.” I stand awe of their humbleness.
The Phillips’ play a huge part in Miracle Hill’s unwavering commitment to the community. “Sometimes the police give the person a choice of coming to the Overcomers program or going to jail. We are doing a service to our community by keeping them off the streets and giving them the choice to rebuild their lives.”
I asked Ed what he thought was the most significant change he had seen in all his years of volunteering. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Well, they doubled our salary last year; we get two zeroes now instead of one.” This loving couple, both in their early 80s, is clearly young at heart.
Just then, a choir member politely interrupts to thank the Phillips’, “I appreciate what y’all do for us.” The look on their faces tells me that these two lovely people might just receive as much as they give.
Israel Taylor may only be 14-years-old, but he’s making a difference in the lives of the women and their children at Shepherd’s Gate, a shelter for homeless women and children.
I asked Betty, Israel’s mother, how he came to be such a young volunteer at Miracle Hill. “The first day I was scheduled to speak at Shepherd’s Gate, I was en route to drop off Israel at his guitar lesson and got a call from his music teacher saying that the lesson was canceled. I panicked but didn’t let Israel see that. I wasn’t sure what to do but decided to ask permission to have Israel sit quietly in the room while I spoke. The ladies welcomed him with open arms and made him feel comfortable. Since he already had his guitar with him, I told him I needed his help with leading worship and would he mind helping me. With my encouragement and the welcoming feeling we received at Shepherd’s Gate, Israel felt confident enough to play and he’s been playing here ever since.”
Every Wednesday evening after school and football practice, Israel and his mother dedicate their time to fellowship with the shelter residents. Betty gives her moving devotional and answers questions about faith, life and creating a personal relationship with God while Israel sits quietly in the back of the room attentively listening to his mother until it’s his turn to fellowship through his music.
“Sometimes, people who have already left the shelter will stop me on the street and tell me how much they liked my music and how it helped them get through a tough time,” Israel shares. “I am going to keep volunteering here as long as I can. “
Israel has been selected to attend The Fine Arts Center in Greenville and continues to develop his talents. I have no doubt that he will be a consistent source of inspiration to the people of our city for many years to come. I look forward to following his journey.