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Marshall Phillips had a story he wanted to tell, one from the earth in Shelby County to the villages of East Africa and back, so he did what most people only think of doing: He sat down and wrote a book.
Phillips has published He Leadeth Me, which he calls an autobiography that’s about half about his life as a farm boy from Chestnut Grove and the rest about the years he served as a minister and with the Southern Baptist Church’s Foreign Mission Board in Kenya and Tanganyika.
“It’s one of the things I wanted to do, to write things down for my family,” said Phillips, 83. “My son Todd’s little girl is a junior at Georgetown, and she was the one who got me to do it.
“[His wife] Dorsie’s grandmother was a Boone, we think the daughter of Edward Boone, Daniel’s brother. I wanted my kids and grandkids to know things. When Cumberland [College] celebrated its hundredth year, they chose a hundred graduates to honor. I was one of those.
“If you don’t write this stuff down, it’s gone.”
So last summer, while Dorsie was out of town for a week, he sat down and wrote out his thoughts in longhand on legal pads.
“I wrote the whole time she was gone,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do. I had an outline. I knew where I wanted it to go.”
He never planned to have it printed –“I just wrote it to leave it for my kids and grandkids” – but then he shared his efforts with esteemed Shelby County author Byron Crawford.
“When Byron read it, he said, ‘You’ve got to print it,’” Phillips said. “He got me into trouble.”
Crawford at least contributed to the trouble he had caused by writing the forward for He Leadeth Me, which created some other trouble, too.
“I’m barely adequate on a computer,” Phillips said. “I was in a state of shock when I saw the book was going to be done on a computer.”
If you’ve lived around Shelby County very long, chances are that you have crossed paths with Marshall and Dorsie Phillips. You may even know much of their story.
From the family farm in northern Shelby County, Marshall Phillips attended the old Gleneyrie High School before dropping out for six years. He returned to high school at Simpsonville at the age of 21, already married to Dorsie, and completed three years of work in two (1953).
He went off to the University of the Cumberlands, when it was still a junior college, then to Georgetown College and by 1956 he had a bachelor’s degree (1956). He later got his master’s from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.
Out of Burks Branch Baptist Church, where under Pastor Lyndon Collings he was commissioned to the ministry, his path widened. He was serving as pastor at Highland Baptist –in the little white building across from Masonic Home -- but in 1961, when he felt the calling to pick up his family and spread the Gospel in Africa.
For the next 12.5 years, except for the times every few years when they brought daughters Sandy and Pam and son Todd (born in Tanganyika) home for several months of sabbatical and some educational time at Simpsonville and Shelby County High School, the Phillips evangelized.
“I worked with President Obama’s people from Kenya,” he said. “I know where some of his family lived in Nairobi.”
Phillips retired in 1973 but said he has returned to Africa five times since then. He pastored a church in Middletown and also was the director of Cedarmore when it was operated by the state Baptist Association. And he said he also has served as interim pastor at just about every Baptist church in the county.
He even taught Swahili for a while at the University of Louisville. “I’m a Big Blue fan, but I didn’t tell them,” he said.
But there’s one thing he learned in Kenya that has resonated with him for all these years.
“I learned what Christmas was all about,” he said. “They didn’t celebrate like we do. There were no gifts. No big hullabaloo with family get-together. Christmas was a day of worship.”
He Leadeth Meis billed as an “inspiration to young people to find what God wants to be their place in life…inspiration to what you can do if you are determined to do it.”
And Phillips was determined to tell his story in bout 60 pages, with photographs – Crawford advised him to keep it short – because “I didn’t want to overburden people.”
On Sunday Phillips will spend his day at First Baptist Church in Shelbyville, signing copies at the morning services and at the Baptist associational meeting in the afternoon. He said people have been coming up to him in the store saying they would attend.
Apparently, his story connected with more than his family after all.
“I had ordered three hundred copies,” Phillips said. “they’re about finished. I’ve ordered some more for Sunday.”
WHAT:Marshall Phillips signing for his book He Leadeth Me
WHEN: Sunday at the 8:30 a.m. and 11 a.m.worship services and at 2-4 p.m. during the Shelby Baptist Association meeting,
WHERE: First Baptist Church, Shelbyville
COST OF BOOK:$12