By Samantha Lambert
Kenny Phillips is a 1976 graduate of Fort Walton Beach High School who still loves to go surfing and be outdoors as much as possible. He has been married to his wife Kim since 1983 and has three grown daughters and two grandchildren. He has owned his business, Kenny Phillips Paint and Carpentry, since 1980.
Phillips grew up in the First Baptist Church of Fort Walton Beach. It was around age 40 that he was inspired by a missionary who had come to speak to the congregation. Clint Akins had been a missionary in Madagascar for about 25 years and had started a seminary there. Madagascar is a third world country off the coast of Mozambique. Akins wanted to build a church in the town of Antsalova.
“As I was listening to Clint’s story, I heard a voice in my ear saying it’s time to give back. It was so loud that I turned around to see who was talking to me,” says Phillips. He then announced to his family at lunch that he was going to Madagascar.
Phillips left for Madagascar in the early part of 2001 after raising funds for the trip. He stayed in the base camp in Morondava on the Mozambique Channel. He wrote in his journal every night.
“That trip changed my world,” says Phillips. He started getting involved in mission work the church was doing and went on trips to Alaska, West Virginia, Nevada and Montana.
“I always came back home wondering—what did I just do? What was the impact? Are we going back? It was an empty feeling that I just could not figure out,” he says.
Akins and Tim Quigley mentored Phillips, helping him to find a better relationship with God. In 2004, Phillips decided he wanted to start a mission organization. “I realized that I needed to be more obedient to God, and things just started coming together,” he says.
Phillips received a call from a friend who was willing to assemble a website. His accountant did the nonprofit paperwork for free. It took less than 90 days to receive the 501(c)(3) certification from the IRS. In 2007, Give Me Shelter Ministries was official. Phillips then set up a board of directors and started raising funds.
At the time, he was working in Mexico with a local pastor there and building houses for women and children. In 2008, Phillips got involved in Haiti. When an earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, Phillips had already built good relations there. He headed there to help with disaster relief.
After that, Phillips continued to make periodic trips to Madagascar and helped Akins. In 2012, Give Me Shelter Ministries opened a school for grades 1-6 in Haiti’s Croix-des-Bouquets and hired teachers. Retired Okaloosa County teacher Nancy Hale was instrumental in helping get the school started.
“The school is in a really poor agricultural community and is still struggling,” says Phillips. “Parents there want their children in the fields. The school could operate on just $700 a month.”
A massive cyclone hit the Philippines in 2013. Conscience International out of Roswell, Georgia, was mobilizing to go there. Phillips contacted Jim Jennings from the organization and headed over. He went to a small fishing village called Kinatarkan, which had been decimated by the cyclone. He helped build seven homes for the indigenous villagers there.
In 2015 and 2016, Phillips traveled to Greece and Turkey with Conscience International and worked with Syrian refugees. He helped provide shelter, food and clothing. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew hit Haiti, and Phillips realized the people there were most in need of shelter. So he came back home and began to raise funds.
When Phillips returned to Haiti, he saw that a small village up in the mountains was not receiving any assistance. There were 100 homes there, and 80 needed roofs.
So far, Give Me Shelter Ministries has helped build 10 new roofs. They are looking at doing 70 more, but need to raise at least $35,000.
“Any donations are 100 percent tax deductible,” he says. “We are a humanitarian relief organization.”
He adds: “This work gives me purpose in my Christian walk. I want people to see my life lived out in a Christian way. The Bible says, Believers are known by their fruit. That’s why I do what I do.”
For more information, call 850-496-7398 or visit GiveMeShelterMinistries.org.