From the pit to the pulpit

Published 8:17 am Friday, October 30, 2009

NEWSOMS—Anyone who has ever stepped up to the pulpit and delivered a sermon — pastor, minister, priest — has, at some point, talked about hell.

Randall Phipps has actually been there.

“I’ve had guns drawn to my head, almost committed suicide and people after my money,” the Greensboro, N.C., native says, somehow still smiling as he tells his story.

“I was walking the streets of Greensboro with nowhere to live. I had caused my family to distance themselves from me because of my behavior. I was eating out of garbage cans.”

That was his personal hell.

Phipps now has his sights set on heaven.

The 47-year-old Newsoms man has turned his life around and answered the call to the ministry.

After six years of studying, he will preach his initial sermon at 3 p.m. Saturday at Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in Newsoms.

His talk — focused on Romans 3:23 “… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” — will be intensely personal.

“I’m going to talk about how we fall down, but we get up,” he says. “We have access to total forgiveness and a different lifestyle.”

Phipps says he also will look to Proverbs 24:16 for inspiration.

“For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity.”

“I myself fell more than seven times, so Lord have mercy,” Phipps says. “It’s about how great God’s mercy is despite all the things we do to displease him.”

Phipps says he tested those limits during the 20 years he was an addict.

“I started smoking when I was 14,” he says. “By the time I was 16, I was drinking every day. By the time I was 18, I was doing cocaine.”

Phipps was having run-ins with the law, too. He had been arrested 10 times with 46 counts in North Carolina — charges ranging from drug possession to assault to burglary and worthless checks.

“I had hit rock bottom, and I knew I had to do something or I was going to be dead,” he says.

Phipps went to rehab in Greensboro, where he began training for the ministry. His journey led him to Portsmouth in 2003 for more instruction. He found work with a landscaping company and was getting his life together.

“Three months after coming to Virginia, I fell off the wagon and lost my job,” he says.

A neighbor took him to a church in Chesapeake that was associated with a place called Victory Home, a Christ-centered in-house addiction recovery program.

“They help people who are homeless, addicted, coming out of incarceration and people who are in the hospital because they just tried to commit suicide,” Phipps says. “They provide housing, food, clothes, counseling and after six months of rehabilitation they take as long as they need to help (addicts) transfer back into society.”

After nine months there, Phipps took a job on staff at Victory Home. He stayed there almost two years, supervising the other residents and helping with job assignments.

“What better way to give back than going back and helping,” he says. “It’s easy for people who have been addicted and homeless to con and I pick up on that right away.”

Despite his good work at Victory Home, Phipps says he lost track of his ministry training.

“I was still was not heeding God’s call to the ministry,” he says. “He had to show me. He took everything that I had and caused me to be homeless again.”

Phipps entered another discipleship training program for six months and came to New Life Center in Franklin, where he met Pastor Jeremiah Cole from Mt. Tabor.

Cole was selling his truck and Phipps was interested.

“He ended up giving it to me and invited me to church,” Phipps says. “I have been there ever since.”

Phipps has been acting as an associate minister at the church, which has 100 active members.

“He’s a good person,” says Deaconess Frances Britt, standing outside the small brick church. “He’s a man of God and he helps everybody. You don’t have to call him. He’ll call you. He’s a Godsend.”

Britt says Phipps’ hard life helps him relate to others.

“His style is real down-to-Earth,” she says. “He tells it like it is and doesn’t sugarcoat anything. He tells the straight truth.”

On Saturday, Phipps, who is newly married to evangelist Faye Phipps, will be surrounded by his friends and family to tell his story and preach the word.

“They will really believe that God is a miracle worker when they see me preach,” he says. “There were some times when I said I had changed but my actions didn’t line up with my words. This is proof that a true transformation has taken place, and that only came through a relationship with Jesus Christ.”

Cole says he is excited to officially introduce Phipps as a minister.

“We are so grateful for what he brings to our church and the gift that God has equipped him with,” he says. “I am delighted with the growth and change that I have seen as his pastor over the two years that he has been with us. He brings creative and innovative things with a Kingdom Perspective in mind to minister to all cultures and age groups. I’m excited what God is doing in his life and his ending looks better than his beginning.”