Right now counts forever. So do something.

Rock Hero: Billy Phillips - February 2011

by Dave Franco | February 28, 2011

The future looked bright for Billy Phillips. He was a football player who showed signs of promise. But after a falling out with his coach and getting kicked-off the team, Billy decided that smoking pot and getting high was a great way of getting-back.

What started out as an I’ll-show-him, quickly turned into a $400 a day meth and pot habit. Desperate for money, Billy hit the streets to sell.

He was arrested several times and was in and out of jail until trying to sell narcotics to an undercover cop. The offense landed him in Ironwood State prison with a four-year sentence.

Upon his release, he started attending church and stopped using drugs, but he was a Sunday’s-only Christian. When the monster reared itself again, there was little strength to defend his sobriety. Billy succumbed to the lure of drugs once more.

He recalls having a crystal meth pipe in his mouth and tears streaming down his face. He cried out, “Please God make it stop!”

It was desperate times as the drugs waged war against his conscience. The battles came to a stop when he was arrested for the transporting, possession and sale of narcotics. It was Billy’s third felony arrest and by law was to be given 25 years due to California’s Three-Strikes Law. But he when the sentence was passed down to him, he was given only five years. Was it an oversight? Or a gift from God?

During prison intake at Donovan State Prison, he was stripped of his possessions, of his clothes and his dignity. He was broken, and had a strong sense that he had been hurting God with his sinful life. Billy felt that through God, he had been provided the means to break his addictions. He surrendered all to Jesus. It began a hunger to learn God’s word.

Over time, Billy became so attached to his bible that they seemed to be one. He saw his bible as life and freedom all wrapped in one. One day a prison guard was to take Billy into a restricted area of the jail for work. As he was walking in, the guard noticed the bible in Billy’s hand.

“You’re not taking that in here,” said the guard.

“But it’s my bible, I take my bible with me where ever I go,” Billy replied.

“Not today, you don’t,” said the guard, and he made Billy leave his bible behind. It was as if Billy had been made to leave his heart behind. The big, burly convict walked in with tears streaming down his face. As the day ended, the guard refused to give Billy’s bible back. As he recounts the story today, the tears still come.

While in prison, Billy was diagnosed with diverticulitus. His intestines burst and he had surgery which left him weakened. He anticipated that the other inmates would see him as a target, as they brutalize anyone who cannot defend themselves. But miraculously, nobody touched him. Billy knew where his protection was coming from.

After his release, he called the Rock’s Prison Ministry Pastor, September Chaser — who ministered to him while at Donovan, and he volunteered as much time as he could at the Rock. It was as if life had turned upside down. He was serving others, making friends, being trusted with sensitive responsibilities and the joy of God came raining down all around him.

It began a dream inside Billy — to work full time at the Rock.

In 1997, he was offered a full time job in the Rock’s facilities department and Billy couldn’t believe God’s grace could give such a gift to someone who spent most of his life running from Him.

Billy now volunteers with the Rock’s Prison Ministry, mentoring men who have recently been released from prison. He gladly uses his story to encourage them to commit their lives to Jesus Christ. For the men who want to take the Ironmen discipleship course, he shares all of his books to keep the cost down so the men can afford to go.

Pastor August is quick to use Billy as a shining example of a life transformed to all former inmates, and the church leadership sees his ability to maintain our building, prepare every event, and give of himself to everyone he encounters, as critical to the success of the Rock.

And no matter what goes on in his life, from the trying to the triumphant, one thing is always with him. Says, Billy, “I can’t believe God loved me enough to use me.”

And we’re blessed to have him.


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