Phil spent his early years in a small village in Wiltshire,UK, later moving with his family into a nearby town. He is the youngest in a family of four boys and one girl, who never experienced stable family life, growing up exposed to violence and aggression, feeling unloved, and distant from his brothers and sister.
Phil had a deep longing for a supernatural experience and a desire to be loved. He was forced to grow up fast after suffering sexual abuse from a neighbour. As he reached his teenage years, he began to smoke and drink, getting involved with the occult and looking into witchcraft, but he still didn't find what he was looking for.
He was searching for love and the identity he didn't appear to have, growing up in the shadow of his older brother.
He wasn't wanted by anyone and had quite often thought he didn't deserve to live. This was only confirmed when, on two separate occasions, two of his own brothers tried to kill him. Then one day a local church held a tent crusade in the town. It was here that God called him, and Phil finally found what he was looking for.
During his Christian life, Phil has worked with London City Mission as a voluntary Evangelist, and with British Youth For Christ as a youth worker.
He is now married to Karen and they have three sons and one daughter. They live in North East Somerset and attend a vibrant church where they are both active members.
Phil has faced many trials during his life, including long-term illness, abuse and clinical depression. God has taught him so much through these times of adversity and it has deepened his faith.
Phil has a passion and a burden to see those that are broken in mind and spirit healed, restored and set free with the love of Jesus.
Phil brings with him a message of hope and faith - showing God's love and grace through times of adversity.
Chapters 16;17 and 18 are from my autobiography
Chapter 16 Wake Up Call
It was the day of the church weekend away. The teenagers from our youth group were going too, so I guessed we'd be looking after them while we were away.
Most of the church made their own way down; however, we had the pleasure of travelling down with the youth group in the 'Boneshaker', also known as the church minibus. It was not renowned for being comfortable. It had brown leather seats, now quite worn in some places, revealing the sharp metal springs. There was always a race for the best seats, so it was no surprise that upon our arrival, we all got off the bus aching and holding our backs.
We were surrounded by open countryside, nothing but fields to be seen. I stepped back to get a good view of the house we would be staying in. It looked quite old, with green ivy covering most of the walls. It looked pretty, just like one of those pictures you see on a postcard. However it didn't look that spacious; considering all that were coming we would probably be a little cramped.
I was surprised to learn that I would be bunking in with the lads from my youth group. "Great! No sleep for me this weekend then!" I thought.
We were to spend the whole weekend looking at the subject of Fatherhood, broken down neatly into four bite-size sessions. After the second session had finished on Saturday morning, I had already had enough and was beginning to find it an uncomfortable subject to talk about.
Things were beginning to stir within me and my stomach felt all knotted up. Paul and Adam didn't help things; they kept me awake most of the night, as I expected. They wouldn't stop chatting, despite me telling them to shut up! Finally, at around 3am when all was quiet I managed to fall asleep. "I'll be glad to get back home" I whispered to myself.
Most of the weekend I spent wandering about in the surrounding fields, alone, trying to understand why I was feeling like this. I could sense that God was stirring something up within me. Something he wanted me to deal with, but now was not the right time - surely!
I was determined to push back anything God brought to the surface; I was not dealing with it here. I would fight it all the way.
Sunday morning soon arrived and it was the last of the sessions on Fatherhood. I couldn't take much more of this. I didn't understand why I was feeling like I was. I sat there right at the back and listened to the speaker talking about it. I could feel myself welling up, like a dam just about to burst. There was no way I was going to cry in front of all these people, especially those from my youth group. But I could hold on no longer: I had to get out. As quietly as possible, I made my way to the exit. I left, shutting the door behind me and went off for a walk.
As I walked, feelings and emotions I didn't realise I had started flooding to the surface. I thought back to a time long ago where I saw a child in his garden. I could see the joy in the boy's face as he was playing football with his dad. They were having so much fun together. His face lit up with a smile as his dad picked him up and cuddled him. I could only dream of such father and son time. I felt so jealous of that boy. He had something I so desperately wanted. I felt robbed and cheated out of something I had a right to. I wanted a dad who would be there for me, to love me and hold me in his arms. But I never got that from my father.
This memory was so painful that I didn't want to deal with it now, so I did my best to suppress it and wandered back.
I got back just in time, as they were now beginning to serve lunch. "Where have you been?" asked Becky, appearing from nowhere. "I saw you sneak out during the meeting. What's up?" "I just needed to get some air, that's all" I said. "Are you all right, Phil?" she enquired. "Look Becky, I don't want to talk about it now... I'll tell you later" I said and then quickly wandered over to get some lunch, not allowing her the opportunity to pose any more questions.
I remained silent on the way home on the minibus. I just wasn't in the mood for conversation. What a relief when the bus pulled up outside the church! It had been an uncomfortable return journey.
I quickly got off the bus and made my way back to Rose Cottage with Becky following me. I knew I would have to say something; otherwise I would have her on my case all afternoon, hovering round me like an excited wasp over an open jam jar.
"Phil, are you going to tell me what's going on; you didn't say a word on the way back". "Look" I said "I just don't feel right at the moment and don't ask me to explain because I can't... I just need some time on my own, that's all". She didn't push me for an explanation, which was good, as I didn't have one.
The rest of the afternoon was spent watching TV, mostly in silence. Sometime later, Wes turned up wanting to hear about the weekend. "How did it go then?" he asked, in his usual cheery manner. "I'm going into the office to play on the computer... on my own" I said, and with that I got up to leave. "Are you OK Phil?" he asked, with a worried expression on his face. "Leave him Wes" said Becky. I could tell that they were worried about me as I was beginning to behave out of character, but I just wasn't in the mood for socialising.
I spent the rest of the afternoon alone in the office, only disturbed once when Wes peered round the office door and smiled at me. "Just checking you're OK mate" he explained, sticking his thumb up, before disappearing.
That evening, seeking some solitude, I wandered off and shut myself in the photocopying room with the light out. I sat down on a small wooden chair in the darkness. All was quiet, nothing but silence. "Phil...where are you?" cried Wes, breaking the silence. I could hear them both shouting out as they searched for me for several minutes. I could hear the fear in their voices as they were getting worried about me. After all, this was the second time today that, I had just disappeared out of sight.
I was holding a carving knife in my hands. I stroked it gently up and down the blade. Its edge was razor-sharp. Then gripping it tightly, I placed the blade against my throat and then gently added some pressure, to leave a visible mark of where it had been. Suddenly I could hear the door handle being turned and the door swung wide open.
"Phil where are.... What the hell are you doing?" Wes cried, turning on the lights. "Put the knife down Phil" he continued. There was a tremor of fear in his voice. I pondered about what he must be thinking, opening the door to discover his friend holding a knife to his throat. "This isn't what you think Wes" I said, trying to reassure him. "Oh really?" he replied, unconvinced. "Look" I said "I wanted to see the red mark on my neck... like in the Rambo film. You know, where he holds a knife up against the sheriff and leaves a mark".
The room went horribly silent. Wes looked at me in disbelief. "Sheriff in the wood?... you have totally lost it mate!" he said.
I did manage to convince him eventually that I did not intend to harm myself, but he was right: my behaviour was quite disturbing. I took it upon myself to seek help.
I decided to seek support from someone outside my work, so contacted a minister of a church I new of. We talked through some things together and then he prayed for me. He also suggested that as I had such a hectic schedule, I should take some time off work to think things through. I made the decision to return home to my parents' house and stay there for a few days.
The curate was not at home that evening so I left a note for him to let him know I had gone home for a few days to sort some things out. I left Becky to tell YFC of my absence but later discovered upon my return that the director had said I had gone AWOL (absent without leave).
I returned home the next day and spent many hours sat in the field overlooking the town. Here I prayed through with God all the issues I had, all the hurt. It was hard to believe that all this emotion had been deep-rooted within me. God had decided now was the time to bring this to the surface and let it all-go. I was feeling jealous and I felt robbed of what I should have had.
As I cried, I let God take it all from me, and He prompted me to forgive my dad, to release him, as this would release me too. I had always thought that I had forgiven my dad sometime before, but obviously that had been just words and not from the heart.
I forgave my dad for not being there, for not being the dad he should have been. This time I meant it from the heart. It was such a release to let all that emotion go, to feel free.
A few days later, I was able to return to work feeling refreshed and restored. At the time, it was hard to understand why the issue of fatherhood had affected me in this way. But there was a reason I reacted in such an extreme manner. Little did I know that it was the beginning of a dark cloud that was soon to come upon my life.
A few weeks later, it was a Spring Harvest Bible Week and as part of our training, we had to go to work as small group leaders. I headed off to Minehead with some of the Bath YFC team.
During the week, I was responsible for the 15 children in my group. It was a hard but rewarding time, as it was fantastic to see hundreds of children coming to our meetings, learning about Jesus.
At the end of one evening, an appeal went out and many came to be counselled. It was my great pleasure and honour to lead a young lad to Christ. I had a fantastic week working with all the kids and had formed good relationships with the young people in my group.
When the week finished, I stood on a hill to have my photo taken by them. It was sad to see them go and have to say goodbye. But on that hill, behind the laughter and the smiles, something was brewing inside.
As I sat there, reflecting over the past week I just knew something was wrong. Yes, I'd had a laugh and a smile, but that was only on the surface. Inside I was sad and lonely; I was hurting, but I didn't know why.
After returning from Spring Harvest, I returned home to my parents for Easter. I spent many hours walking through the open countryside trying to analyse my strange feelings, but just couldn't understand what was wrong, so I tried to ignore it.
Once back in Bath, I began to spend sometime thinking about where to serve next; my term with YFC would end in July. The only thing I knew was that I wanted to work with children in some capacity.
During my search, I came across a theatre company specialising in children's work, based in the West Midlands. This is what I wanted to do for the next year, so I applied to join and everything was going well. With my next year sorted out, I could now channel all my energy into the remaining time I had in Bath.
I was beginning to spend a lot more time with the students who lived nearby in Argyle Terrace. We would often go out for a drink together. I would also frequently visit them for meals, especially when it was Richard's turn to cook. He would
throw the most bizarre ingredients together to make a meal. The funny thing was, it always tasted nice. Perhaps he just had the knack. They had become good friends and I often turned to them for advice.
As it turned out things were slowing down and the school work we had been doing was drying out, so I was able to channel my extra time working with the children in Primary School.
I began working as a general assistant in two junior schools working with years 3, 5 and 6. I was invited by one school to come along on their Year 6 residential 4-day trip to Cornwall as a member of staff; I was delighted. God was obviously opening doors for me.
We stayed in a lovely hotel overlooking the sea where all our needs were catered for. The food was fabulous and my room had wonderful views of the coastline.
I had five children to look after during our stay, making sure they were in bed on time, up for breakfast and looking after them during our days out when we visited places of interest on our itinerary. On the way home on the coach I felt very privileged and was so thankful to God. I was doing something I never dreamt I would be doing.
I was encouraged even further when sometime later I was asked to co-write Year 6's end-of-year school play and help out with some of the choreography on the dance routines. It had been such a blessing to be involved so heavily in my work in primary school.
A couple of weeks later and I was off again with the young people from Club X . We spent the weekend at a retreat in Bristol. Everyone had such a good-time and the marshmallows around the campfire on Saturday night were a memorable experience for all.
Not long after this I had to say goodbye to my host family. They had sold their house and were moving into a smaller home, so there would no longer be any room for me.
But I was soon offered a new place to stay with another family from church. It was sad to leave. I had built up such a good relationship with the family and their pets. I adored the children and it was a wrench, but I knew I had to move on.
My remaining time with YFC was soon to end and we all headed off to Birmingham for our end-of-year retreat. It was so great to meet with all my friends again, sharing stories and talking about the work we had been doing. I was going to miss YFC.
The theatre company I was joining was based here, so I was pleased to see one of the leaders making her way towards me. Little did I know it wasn't going to be good news. "Hi Phil! How are you?" she asked. "OK and you?" I replied. "I'm fine... look Phil! I'm afraid we have decided not to run the company this year. We are going to have a break". I lost interest in the rest of the conversation, too wrapped up with the disappointment. Her words were like an arrow released from a bow, piercing my chest. "What am going to do now?" I asked myself. I had pinned all my hopes on doing this. I felt robbed. I had nothing else in place. I spent the remainder of my time at the retreat, pondering over my next move. "Where do I go from here?" I thought. I was left with nothing to do.
After a few tears, we said our goodbyes and returned home. I had made some good friends this year but the chances were I wouldn't be seeing them again.
Back in Bath, I had two weeks left before my term ended. I spent most of that time searching for something to move onto. I wanted to work with children, I knew that much.
Our time at YFC had ended and I said goodbye to Becky as she left to return home. I reflected on how much I had used this word recently.
My year with YFC was now over, but. I decided that I wanted to stay living in Bath. Eventually, after much thought and advice from friends, I decided upon a career as a primary school teacher.
I applied to Bath College to enrol on an Access Course so I could gain the relevant qualifications to go on to university. Thankfully I passed the Maths and English tests with flying colours and could begin my course in September.
I spent most of the summer hanging out with Wes and the students. I also was making regular visits home to my parents. Sometimes though I wondered why I bothered returning as my dad would always say, "I don't know what you are bothering with that for. You won't make it... you're not intelligent enough to be a teacher" and "Why don't you get a proper job?" He never realised how much those negative comments wounded me. I wanted him to be proud of me, but no matter what I did, it was never good enough.
I was beginning to get what I could only describe as 'low moods'. I would feel fed up and shut myself off from everyone. Many years previously when I was younger, I would have periods of about three days when I would shut myself off and wander lonely through the fields, before it would just disappear. This seemed to happen two to three times a year and I had no explanation for it.
The summer quickly disappeared and soon it was time to begin my course at college. I settled in to the study well, but soon found that I was beginning to struggle. It was so hard to concentrate for long periods and my mind would just wander.
As the days went by, I found it increasingly difficult to concentrate.
After another morning of struggling to get through college, I wandered off during break, grabbed myself a coffee, and sat down on a bench near the river. It was here that, for the first time I realised there was something seriously wrong. I was struggling to hold it together and was finding it difficult at college. I just couldn't concentrate. I started to ask myself "What's wrong with me? Why am I feeling like this? "Come on Phil, snap out of it" I told myself. But I just couldn't. Why was I powerless to do anything about it?
I began to realise the enormity of the situation. Something was seriously wrong with me, but I didn't know what. I was frightened to discover that I was no longer in control. "I'm a Christian, I shouldn't feel this way. "What's wrong with me Lord? Why can't I snap out of it?" I cried. I knew it was hopeless to return to college, so I sat in the park all day, analysing my thoughts, in the hope that I could find an answer. It was hopeless I just couldn't work it out, so I wandered back home, never to return to my college course again.
The thought of going to visit the doctor did cross my mind, but I convinced myself that these feelings were just going to pass, and I would soon be back to normal. Anyway, I didn't want to waste my time. I'm sure he would just tell me to pull my socks up and get on with life.
It wasn't long before I soon got a job working for the council as a refuse collector working on the dustcarts. The job was made more difficult as I felt miserable all the time and lacked any motivation, but had to do it, as I needed the money.
It was almost Christmas and everything was covered in a blanket of snow, making the city look beautiful and picturesque, but rendering our job difficult. One particular morning after it had snowed heavily overnight, I was sent to work with a different team on an unfamiliar route. "Go down those steps, along the path and get the bags from the first house on your left" I was told.. I did my best to follow these instructions, but somehow managed to enter the wrong garden. Unable to find any rubbish bags, I left and started to return to the dustcart, only to find the bag outside the right house. How I missed it, I don't know.
Sometime later, a police car pulled up alongside the dustcart. We watched as two police officers got out and began to approach us. "Let me see the bottom of your
shoes lads" said one officer. We thought it was some kind of joke, but did as we were asked. I lifted my shoes to let them see the bottom. "Right you!" he said, grabbing me and pressing me up against the dustcart. I stood there with my arms and legs outstretched so they could search me. I started to think that Jeremy Beadle was going to jump out at any moment with his microphone.
He didn't. Instead one officer pulled me round to face him. He was tall and well-built. He looked down at me through his glasses, which were hanging on the end of his nose.
"We had a call from a woman saying there was a burglar in her garden. We found a footprint in the snow and the tread matches yours" he said in a gruff voice, pointing his finger at me.
"I'm a rubbish collector" I objected "not a burglar. I was looking for her rubbish, but I couldn't find it". "Yes well... It just so happens that refuse collectors took her rubbish away earlier" he said. "Look! I went into the wrong garden, that's all. I don't know this route...she's made a mistake" I exclaimed. "I'll decide whether it's a mistake or not... not you!" he shouted. "I could arrest you now for further questioning if I feel the need to... As it happens, I agree; I think you made a simple mistake".
As he took down my details, I glanced across at my work colleagues, who were in fits of laughter, which I had to endure for the rest of the afternoon. Then on my arrival back at the depot I was summoned into the office. Behind the desk was my manager, the anger building up in his face. "I don't want people like you working for me..." "Look I can explain" I cried, interrupting him. "Now get out!" he shouted, refusing to listen. "But I didn't do anything" I explained. "Get out! You're fired! he retorted, jumping up out of his seat.
I left as I knew he would not see reason. "It's almost Christmas and now I don't have a job. Life can be so unfair" I thought. I could feel the anger starting to flare up deep within me, almost as if it was flowing through my veins; I was like a volcano about to erupt. "I'm going to go and see that woman. She made me lose my job. The cow! Well now she's going to get it" I thought, storming off down the road.
As I approached her gate, I suddenly stopped. "What the hell am I doing?" I wondered, coming to my senses. "I'm a Christian and here I am about to punch out some defenceless woman". The whole incident was blown out of all proportion as again I started to behave out of character. I couldn't understand why I was behaving this way; it was just not like me. I went home and spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself.
The days went by and my mood seemed to be spiralling down, deeper and deeper. I struggled to go about my daily routine and was now signing on as unemployed. My life felt empty and seemed to serve no purpose, and I began to lose interest in everything. What was the point to life anyway?
I didn't realise at the time, but the depression had started to take hold. Hopelessness had now begun to take up residence in my soul.
I returned home to my parents' house to spend Christmas and New Year. I didn't bother going out New Year's Eve.
I had nothing to celebrate. What did I have to look forward to? As far as I was concerned, it was just another year of misery.
I didn't have to wait long for my thoughts to be confirmed with some concrete evidence.
I had been back in Bath for no more than a few weeks, when after visiting the swimming pool I cycled back to my lodgings. Leaving my bike in the garden, up against the front window, I went in to make a quick phone call to Wes to arrange to meet him and then went back outside to collect my bike, only to discover it had gone. "I can't believe it!" I cried. "Someone has nicked my bike". I was devastated. Feeling robbed hit me like a blow to the head. I wandered down to the local park and sat there, crying in the darkness. Misery and hopelessness were setting in.
The next day I had to go and sign on which I dreaded because pressure was being put on me to get a job. I knew I wouldn't be able to cope with a job; it was becoming a struggle just to get out of bed in the morning. I lacked the energy and enthusiasm to carry out my normal everyday tasks, let alone get a job.
I had just got off the phone to my mother who had given me the news that a good friend of mine had just committed suicide. He had set light to himself in his car. I was so shocked. I was speechless. "What a way to go" I thought. Feeling sorrowful, I made my way into town to sign on.
It was the usual custom to wait at least half an hour past your signing-on time; they never seemed to have enough staff. I used to think they made you wait on purpose, just to wind you up. Well it worked for me, as I was already uptight and agitated. I didn't even bother looking at the boards, as I had no interest in getting a job.
It was soon my turn. After signing, I started to get up to leave. "Sit down Mr Russ. We need to have a chat" was the stern response. "Looking at your records, it appears you have made no attempt to find a job in the last six weeks. This isn't good enough Mr Russ!" "I don't need this, not now" I said, getting up to leave. I made my way across the room towards the exit. I could feel everyone's eyes burning into my back as the room fell silent. "So they will suspend my benefit. Who cares!"? I thought, exiting the building.
The tears were beginning to run uncontrollably down my face as I headed off down the road towards the park. I sat down on a bench; my mind was being bombarded by all the negative events of the last twenty-four hours.
As they began to sink in, I fell to the floor, unable to breathe. It felt like I had an elephant sitting on my chest. "Help me!" I shouted. "I can't breathe!" I thought I was going to die right there in the park, alone. "It's just an anxiety attack, Phil. Try to breathe normally" I kept telling myself.
Eventually after a while my breathing returned to normal and I sat there in a daze. Thoughts of death and suicide were racing uncontrollably through my mind.
Sunset ushered in the darkness, conferring a new identity on the world. Light swallowed up by darkness, just as it had been in my life. Once my life had seemed full of light, but now it was full of darkness. All the ugliness of the world was hidden in the darkness where no one could see it. This was also true of me. The pain and the anguish were hidden in the darkness of my soul.