A Place to Call Home
- December 22, 2017
Meeting a need for housing and gospel outreach
The Phokos team does evangelistic outreach in Nairobi, Kenya.
After Corey Fifield ’06 graduated from Moody, he secured a high-paying job working long hours for a downtown Chicago trading firm. When the firm suddenly closed in late 2012, Corey found himself unemployed with a house, a wife, and two young adopted children to support. He tried to find a similar position, but “God didn’t open that door,” he says. Instead he felt God tugging him in a different direction.
“The Spirit of God had really started to stir in me a heart for something more,” he explains. Corey took a factory job with regular hours so he could serve more in his local church, Armitage Baptist, and at Pacific Garden Mission. “I really love what they’re doing there at PGM. Great work,” he says.
Corey noticed that some of the men who graduated from PGM’s rehab program returned to the same program two or three times. The common thread, he discovered, was that their housing options were very limited. “Inevitably, they’d end up on a family couch or in a cheap hotel room surrounded by bad company. And bad company corrupts good character,” Corey says, quoting 1 Corinthians 15:33.
That’s when “God laid a vision for ministry heavy on my heart and it became a burden that wouldn’t go away.”
A Place to Live
Corey wanted to provide a hand up, not just give a handout. He decided that finding safe, affordable housing was difficult for vulnerable populations—not just graduates from Bible-based recovery programs but also others in need, including Christian refugees, missionaries, and even Bible college students. He envisioned providing group housing for godly people who, in turn, would reach other people with the gospel.
To confirm his vision, Corey began dedicating time each morning to pray with his closest friends, including fellow Moody grads, Aaron Johnson ’06, David Washington ’05, and Steve Laughlin ’10, a pastor of Armitage Baptist Church. “We spent the better half of 2015 just praying until we all felt clarity on this vision and our hearts were aligned,” Corey recalls.
Then they formed a board and began to present their vision to Christian leaders and pastors in Chicago. They also contacted pastors in other cities where they had church connections, including Pastor Ezekiel Kayeli, senior pastor of Kahawa Sukari Baptist, a partner church of Armitage Baptist Church in Nairobi, Kenya. “Everyone loved the vision, but it was the people of Nairobi who really combined their enthusiasm with some action,” Corey says. “Before we even asked them, they had already begun looking for facilities and interviewing potential missionaries from Nairobi!”
That, plus lower start-up costs than in Chicago, led Corey and the board to establish a nonprofit ministry called Phokos, launching it first in Nairobi.
A Place to Launch
Phokos provides free housing to qualified Christian men (graduates from Bible-based recovery programs but also Christian refugees, Bible students, and missionaries). Pastor Ezekiel helped interview the applicants, selecting four Kenyan Bible college students to be their first residents. In return these men would spend 10 to 15 hours a week praying, serving in ministry, and preaching the gospel in partnership with local Bible-believing churches.
It was time to raise funds for Phokos housing. With just $100 in the bank, Corey presented the need at a small Mennonite church in central Illinois. “They heard the Phokos vision, and God just touched their hearts,” he says. “Many were teary-eyed, and
they gave an offering, and $12,000 was raised!”
The money was just enough to pay for Corey’s round-trip ticket to Nairobi and a full year of rent for a two-bedroom apartment for the Kenyan Bible college students who comprised the Phokos team. “So bam, right then, God had provided everything we needed.”
In 2016 Corey flew to Nairobi to meet the Phokos team—Joshua, Alex, Eliphas, and John—and hear their testimonies. “Great guys with big hearts,” Corey says.
Their Facebook page (globalphokos) tells the story of John, who lost his parents in the late 1990s and was raised by his grandmother and then an aunt. When they also died, he questioned why God would allow him to lose the most important people in his life. Christ won his heart, however, and he was able to go to high school and college. He sees Phokos as “a great opportunity to reach out to people who have lost hope in life and who feel like God has left them alone.” He explains, “Having grown up in pain and experiencing a lot of loss of people that I value, I feel it is of need of me reaching out to the same people.”
A Place to Grow
Corey knows how important it is to have other believers reach into your life. Raised in a nonreligious home, he became a Christian in early adulthood after multiple people gave him the same message—to turn from his sin and unbelief and trust Jesus as Savior. Corey joined Armitage Baptist Church in Chicago, and two years later he began attending Moody. A biblical studies major, he was hungry for the Word and zealous for the gospel that had changed his life. “I was able to take classes with solid men of God like Dr. Sauer, Dr. Zuber, and Dr. Naaman,” he says. “Moody equipped me by helping me to better understand God’s Word.”
Corey’s passion for missions also developed at Moody. “Listening to George Verwer ’60 and his heart for world missions had a huge impact on me,” he says. “I became passionate for the gospel on a global level.”
Corey did street evangelism, volunteered in the housing projects near Moody, and mentored a boy named Travis, who, he says, “grew up to be an extraordinary young man.”
“I had an awesome resident supervisor at Moody,” Corey adds. “James Elliott ’05 led by example. He was easy to respect, a man above reproach, yet very approachable.”
A Place to Serve
Last April, Corey traveled to Nairobi to visit the Phokos team and to preach in Pastor Ezekiel’s church, Kahawa Sukari Baptist, on Palm Sunday. Corey and the Phokos missionaries also partnered for a day with Special Ministries, the ministry of Arnie ’54 and Marilyn (Mathieson ’55) Newman, Moody alumni and longtime missionaries who founded 10 Hope Centers in Kenya. Together they did children’s outreach at a Hope Center inside Kibera, Africa’s largest slum, where an estimated one million people live within 1.5 square miles.
Unlike the dismal slum conditions, the mood inside the center was marked by “joy, hope, laughter, and kids who knew the Bible and could quote memory verses,” Corey says. “Our team fell right into line. We served, we sang, we played Bible trivia games, and we brought lots of food and fed more than 100 children.”
The Phokos team regularly does street evangelism, prays for people, and serves in their communities. Recently they did an evangelistic outreach and served food in another large slum, wearing shirts emblazoned with “We can. We will.”
“I totally believe we can do this if we will,” explains Corey, who is now looking to expand from four to 10 missionaries. Corey hopes Phokos will eventually grow to include separate housing for godly women. As financial and prayer partners increase, Phokos plans to expand to other cities around the globe.
“This same gospel message that flipped the world upside down still has the power to do that in these times,” Corey says. “If this gospel is released, we don’t have to guess what the results will be: souls will be saved, lives will be changed, and culture will be redirected.”
Linda Piepenbrink is managing editor of Moody Alumni News.