'It was very much a God thing'

Edward Phillips, Director of Kimbilio Project, grew up in the small town of Lynchburg, SC. He was recently interviewed by one of the newspapers in his hometown. The Item published his story on the front page:

Edward Phillips Jr. knows all about feeling God's hand on his life.

The 22-year-old from Lynchburg is on a mission to open an orphanage in East Africa. It's something he felt called to do two years ago when he first visited an orphanage there.

"I walked through the old gate and was looking at this four-story, concrete building," he said. "As I got closer and closer, I knew something was going on. God was trying to tell me to start an orphanage or help start an orphanage. I was like, 'do you know who You are talking to?' At the time I was 19, and it seemed kind of crazy. But the closer and closer we got, I thought, 'I get it. I understand what you want me to do.'''

ANSWERS TO PRAYERS

Phillips spoke to the leaders of Choose to Invest, who were guides on the internship trip, and he learned they had a vision, too.

"They always wanted to start a children's home, but the founders and directors said, 'we don't have the margin or time,'" Phillips said. "'We've been praying for someone to come along that would be willing to start a children's home.' I said, 'That could possibly be me.'"

After returning to college, he continued to volunteer with the organization and began researching the necessary steps to start the project. By February 2011, Phillips had a decent idea about what he'd be getting into, but he still had questions.

"I thought, 'well, if this is really going to happen, we should give it a name,'" he said. "I was reading II Samuel 22 about David's song to the Lord, about the Lord being his refuge. 'Refuge' really clicked with me."

The Swahili word for "refuge" is "kimbilio," and so it became the Kimbilio Project.

"I loved it," Phillips said. "I preferred Swahili because we're meeting these kids where they are."

That summer while in East Africa,  he asked someone what "kimbilio" meant to him.

"He told me, 'a place where the enemy could not access,'" Phillips said. "'A safe place that was beautiful.' That is what we are going for, so it was even more confirmation."

GUIDANCE

After graduating East Clarendon Middle/High School, the "ultimate planner" went to Clemson University intending to be a special education major.

He figured out that although the classroom was not for him, he liked working with children with disabilities, so he switched to therapeutic recreation.

It wasn't until Christmas of 2010 that his bosses at Choose to Invest asked if he'd thought about marketing.

"They said that I was really gifted at that," Phillips said.

So when he returned to Clemson, he started exploring communication studies. Then it snowed, and classes were canceled.

"It was obviously God's timing," Phillips said. "They still had office hours, so I met with someone in communications studies. I really prayed for it because I thought this could be a worthwhile degree."

He ended up dropping all of his classes and getting 15 hours worth of new ones. He'd heard getting into the program was hard, but he took a class online last summer  and applied to the major in fall of 2011. He was accepted and graduated May of this year.

"God's favor was on that decision," Phillips said.

In October of 2011 the Kimbilio Project was officially announced to the public, and Phillips was asked to manage the project once he graduated. He started taking on his responsibilities as he finished school.

"I made my office in Starbucks," he said. "I catered school to work around the orphanage. The teachers were very supportive."

In her 10 years teaching at Clemson, Karyn Jones, associate professor and interim chair of the department of communication studies, said she had many students impress her with their sense of “altruism and commitment to serving others,” but none of them “quite like Edward.” So she wasn’t surprised when he told her about the plans for the orphanage.

“After he returned from his first trip and stopped by my office to tell me about it, he was so excited but also so focused on what he planned to do next that I knew he would continue his work there,” Jones said. “One of the courses Edward and I had together was an upper-level quantitative research methods course. Edward created a survey research study that examined participants' willingness to donate to his charity. It was one of the best, most well-thought-out projects I've seen developed by an undergraduate student.”

Since graduating, he has moved to Georgia to work with Choose to Invest full time and is now taking the steps necessary to legally certify the Kimbilio Project as a charitable organization in East Africa. It is already a certified nonprofit in the United States, Phillips said.

He hopes to purchase a plot of land by December. One family has already donated $10,000 to the project specifically for that purpose.

"It was very much a God thing," Phillips said.

ROOTS

He still remembers the annual bake sales that first helped him get to Africa.

"I'd call all the ladies at church and ask them to make their special cakes," Phillips said. "I never raised less than $2,000. It's been cool to see all the people of my hometown really support and encourage me."

His family attends Pleasant Grove Baptist Church.

"Them supporting me financially and praying for me was a huge part of my growing up," Phillips said. "I know God orchestrated me growing up in a small town."

People beyond Clarendon County have helped, too.

Jean Phillips, his mother, knits and crochets. She was making baby hats for the orphanage, and needed some yarn. While she was in the craft section of a store in Florence, she started talking to some women who volunteered to make items, too.

"Seeing all those blankets and baby hats is just mind blowing," she said.

"We're definitely proud of him. I'm blown away, but then again, I kind of knew it was coming. When he was young, still in elementary school, a preacher said God had plans for Edward that none of us yet knew about."

Written by Jade Anderson, The Item, Sumter, SC.