York couple to work on life’s mission in Ethiopia

When Ben and Tabitha Phillips’ daughter Violet was born 20 months ago, the little girl and her older brother, Burke, were additions that brought their parents great inspiration.

Tabitha Phillips, an attorney turned stay-at-home mom, would dust off her sewing machine and start creating children’s clothes. Her blog, Violet and Burke, took off and people started buying her products at Elizabeth and West in downtown York.

But each time she sat at the sewing machine, Tabitha Phillips was reminded that she and Ben weren’t living the life they first dreamed of as a young couple.

The York pair felt their hearts pulling them toward life on a farm, much like the one Tabitha grew up on in East Berlin.

“It started with that urge and it went from there,” Tabitha said.

Those feelings were the start of a five-year journey that would take the Phillips to where they are today — planning to move their family of four to Ethiopia to teach sustainable farming skills for six months.

When they’re finished in Africa, they hope to return to York County, buy a farm and teach others similar life skills so they, too, can travel the world and help those in need.

Since selling their home in May, they’ve been couch hopping all summer — house sitting for friends throughout the county.

A farm never came available for them, so they kept waiting for the opportunity.

While the family entered a period of homelessness, they continued to wait for direction.

In July, Tabitha discovered an organization called Fields of Hope working to free women and girls from the sex trade in Ethiopia. The group leaders had a vision to create a farm on which women could work, heal and learn to become self-sustaining through growing their own food.

The Phillips were more afraid of staying comfortable and missing their chance than they were of diving into a life in a different country.

Ben put in his notice at Clearview Elementary School and they started getting Violet and Burke ready with passports and vaccinations.

But going to Ethiopia won’t be the end of their journey.

After living in Ethiopia for six months, they’ll return to York County, buy that farm and teach others farming and other trades, such as Tabitha’s talent in sewing.

They created a nonprofit called Freedom Gate, which will be their foundation when they return from their mission in Africa.

“It’s coming together really fast, but we’ve never felt more ready,” Ben Phillips said.

He’ll officially resign as a teacher on Oct. 17 and the family will take about a week to sell one of their cars, finish up the kids’ vaccines and pack a few items for their short, but productive life in Ethiopia.

While they want to make York County their base for Freedom Gate, they hope to do additional short-term mission trips in the future.

Ethiopia is just the start, Tabitha Phillips said.

“We’re not just going to these countries, throwing these skills at them and then saying, ‘good luck,'” she said. “We’ll come back. We’ll check up on them. We’ll still be a support system.”

While the family has goals in mind, they’re open to anything, Ben Phillips said.

“The American dream is changing,” he said. “Not everyone has the plan of going to college and making a lot of money. Today people can do whatever they want to do. We can lead with compassionate hearts and let people know they can live differently.”

Leaving that American dream can be overwhelming for some people, but as Ben and Tabitha Phillips stood on Tabitha’s parent’s farm, pushing Violet in a swing and chasing Burke around the yard, they seemed at peace with the adventure before them.

“I don’t feel brave,” Tabitha Phillips said. “But I’m so passionate about it that the regret of not going is greater than not going.”

Contact Rebecca Hanlon at 717-771-2088.

About Freedom Gate

The mission of Freedom Gate is to provide a future for people through sustainable farming and artisanal skills while sharing the love of Jesus. The Phillips family will be updating their followers through the Freedom Gate website at www.thefreedomgatemovement.org.

Donations can be made to help the family support themselves in Ethiopia and start their mission when they return.

Tabitha Phillips will also continue to write about her family’s journey on her blog, www.raisinguparrows.com.

Also of interest

Dover Twp. church’s mission trip benefits wounded veterans

Mission possible: Local church welcomes Jamaican pastors

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