By Scott Mims
To go from a drug dealer to a youth minister is nothing short of an amazing transformation. But if you stopped there, you would have only begun to tell the story of Philander (Phil) Browder.
Browder’s journey has taken him from the streets of Birmingham to a hospital room to the lights of Hollywood to an East African village and back to Central Alabama—where he has made it his life’s calling to tell everyone that God has a purpose for their life.
Browder has no qualms about recounting his old way of life. Prior to 1991, instead of pointing kids away from the streets, he was part of the streets, dealing drugs and then doing drugs.
The night of March 8, 1991, he told his now wife, Lucinda, that he was going out to meet some friends. Drunk and behind the wheel, he ran a Birmingham red light and was blindsided by a fast-approaching vehicle.
“That’s where I got this hole in my head,” he said.
But Browder didn’t merely survive the crash. What happened next may be hard for anyone to visualize.
“When I looked up, there was a lady with long, white hair, and she knelt down with me and said, ‘Phil, everything’s going to be OK,’” he said.
Right there on the street, he got down on his knees and prayed. In the hospital room, he remembers hearing a police officer say he was going to go to jail. But when he awoke, he was at home.
“That was my Damascus Road,” Browder said, referring to Saul’s biblical conversion to the Apostle Paul.
Interestingly, Browder bears tattoos which read “Prophet” on his right arm and “Apostle” on his left. He is pastor of Kingdom Builders Ministries on Second Avenue North in Clanton, which recently partnered with Anointed Remnant International Ministries in Prattville in an effort to grow its youth department.
The concept of identity in God’s kingdom is a central part of Browder’s ministry, which is enforced by his ever-growing testimony.
“We’re going to teach the word of God and make sure you know who you are in the Kingdom of God,” Browder said.
Browder says social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace have “destroyed” youth through the effects of cyberbullying, badgering and unhealthy relationships.
“It could be good,” he admitted, “but it’s a bad thing also. This is a global, demonic spirit that’s out to kill our youth.”
Browder wants young people to have positive role models in their lives to teach them how to be successful. That’s why he wants to start a Boys and Girls Club in Chilton County.
“When we teach everyone who they are and whose they are, they will walk as kings and queens,” Browder said.
An unexpected trip to L.A.
Every ministry needs money to grow, and sometimes this support comes from the most unexpected places.
Browder, a service technician with DirecTV, was one of 10 employees selected to participate in an “interview” in which he would tell his life story. Soon thereafter, he was asked to train a new employee by the name of Tom Peters.
Little did Browder know he was “training” DirecTV CEO Michael White and was being filmed for the CBS reality TV show “Undercover Boss,” in which CEOs of major corporations disguise themselves as ordinary employees and get familiar with their stores and workers on a more personal level.
The show was filmed within just a few months of White being named CEO, so most employees would not have recognized him.
“I’m just being me,” Browder recalled. “When I was training him, I was trying to find out what kind of person he was. He started asking me questions.”
Browder shared his testimony with White and talked about his ministry. At the time, Browder and his wife were planning a mission trip to Kenya in East Africa to help provide food and minister to struggling families. He told White of his desire to help local kids find direction in life.
“We had money, but we needed more,” he said.
Then one day, out of the blue, DirecTV informed Browder he would be flown to Los Angeles to vote on a potential employee. On the day of the trip, his best friend from high school met him in his driveway with a limo.
When Browder arrived in L.A., he walked into a room and found Tom Peters, only without the beard and glasses, and found out his true identity. White offered $5,000 toward the ministry, a display of generosity that brought Browder to tears.
A CRUSADE IN KENYA
In Kisii, Kenya, kids walk 3 to 5 miles a day to get to school. They each have one pair of shoes and one uniform. During the rainy season, they must stop to wash their shoes because most families do not have the luxury of running water.
In October 2010, Phil and Lucinda Browder spent eight days in Kisii, working with Pastor Onchoke of Rhema Worship Center and ministering to children of the local orphanage and boarding school.
“If they (the orphanages) run out of food on February 25, they don’t get any until March 1,” Browder explained. “It’s the same thing with boarding schools.”
Churches are not the same as in the United States. In Kenya, a church building is more like a barn. A gas generator supplies electricity.
Upon learning that Pastor Onchoke had lost the property for his church, the Browders prayed about it and made a budget while on the 24-hour flight back home. They decided to buy the property, which they found would cost only $180 every six months.
“I said I’m going to pay rent and you just preach the Gospel; you just do ministry,” Browder told Onchoke.
The church’s first service in their new building was held Easter 2011. During that service, 150 people gave their lives to Christ.
The Browders plan to return to Kisii in October 2012 for a 13-day crusade.
“Those eight days, they really changed us,” Browder said. “That Sunday, when we got ready to leave, we cried.”