Andrew Kooman: Why did you pack your bags, get on a plane, and head to Israel for your DTS?
Shailoh Phillips: I went because I wanted to be changed, and to bring change to the world around me. Steeped in Christianity since childhood, I was teeming with questions and didn’t feel fully equipped to make major decisions regarding my the rest of my life. Jerusalem sounded like the ultimate place to go for some soul-searching.
AK: What was the most significant lesson that you learned during your time in the school?
SP: I saw that it is possible to remain impartial yet compassionate, engaged without choosing sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; an important lesson on nuance and conflict mediation that I cherish to this day.
It has also been a life-long lesson for me to have undergone such a group experience, with so little privacy and so much hypocrisy. The absence of personal freedom, under the supervision of young leaders, enforcing rules that were often unreasonable, simply for the sake of the D of Discipline. The discipline I learned there perhaps backfired on me: instead of humbling me into submission, I felt squelched. In the end, this did make me stronger. It helped me cherish the importance of allowing people to flourish in diversity. I have the impression that this experience has helped me be a better leader, by being able to recognize and deal with other peoples’ frustrations.
AK: When you look back, how do you place or view your DTS in the context of your life? Why was it significant? What expectations did it meet or fall short of?
SP: In many ways, the DTS was the beginning of the end for me, as far as organized religion is concerned. A few years later, my faith crisis culminated to a point where I felt compelled to leave the church. I have no regrets about enrolling in the DTS in the first place, but it was quite a disappointment on the long run, a last attempt at grasping for straws. As I look back, that time period seems far removed, as if I were looking in on the life of someone else.
AK: Did you do any further training or work with YWAM or complete any other post-secondary education?
SP: I never directly had anything to do with YWAM again, except for the fact that I sometimes have lunch with my Dad or my sister in a cafe founded by ywammers in downtown Amsterdam. I have however frequently visited the Middle East, including a visit to the orphanage and school where we helped out in Egypt. I went on to study – first undergraduate work in anthropology and philosophy, with a minor in Arabic (in Amsterdam and Berlin). I started working in documentary film, and got some training at the film academy (audio productions, screenwriting). Then I continued for an MA in cultural analysis and conflict studies.
AK: What do you do now?
SP: Currently, I run a production company called Studio Babel in Amsterdam. My work consists of research, documentary film making, writing, translation, interaction design, concept development, screenwriting. Whatever it takes to bring a story to life. For a recent example see: www.collapsus.com. As of September, I also have a day job, as head of new media at an art education institution in Delft, developing games and interactive learning environments for kids. My work doesn’t feel like work at all.
I mainly divide my time between work in Amsterdam, and living with my girlfriend and daughter in Rotterdam.
AK: What specific vision or purpose do you have in your life? How did you discover it and how do you mean to achieve it?
SP: For me, it’s all about sharing creativity. Mankind is created in the image of God, hence, we too are creators – this is a thought (in resonance with Francis Schaeffer) that has inspired me for many years. It is in doing the best work that I can do, in creating stories, that I find my vision. For a long time I have fostered the dream of starting an art school where theory meets practice, where rigorous thinking and experimentation enables young people to develop their creativity. One day I hope to start such a school, but first, I have have a lot of learning to do in my creative practice.
AK: What do you hope your personal legacy will be?
SP: I hope to be a creator, a connector, a peace-maker. Often I am immersed in my projects and only in retrospect do I see how the puzzle pieces all fit together. I also hope to contribute to greater acceptance of gay people in Christian circles.
AK: What, at this point in your life, is your view of God?
SP: My view of God has changed dramatically in the past 10 years. I no longer ascribe to an anthropomorphic male personal deity, or a literal interpretation of scripture. I remember some prophetic words given to me during the DTS, that my destiny would be “to know God”. Strangely, even though I am stripped of religion or doctrine, I still do feel close to ‘God’, as the force that knits the universe together. I don’t think that it makes any sense that puny human beings need get their doctrine right in order to get saved. Don’t get me started… my pet peeve is the sin-salvation contract in Christianity. I believe that all living creatures are wrapped up in an amazing cosmos, which is largely incomprehensible for human minds. To be alive in the first place is a gift, not a damning burden. Everybody can connect with the life-giving source – with love, grace, forgiveness – and it makes all the difference when we do. I suppose I could best be described as a spiritual agnostic. I don’t know what exactly what to believe, but I am still searching. And as I search I see God everywhere.
AK: What inspires you?
SP: Things that grow. Finding a community of likeminded creators.
AK: What most challenges you?
SP: On a practical level: meeting deadlines, paying the bills, the hustle and bustle of career life, public speaking, shouldering domestic responsibilities. On a deeper level, I am most challenged by an urgent curiosity to understand things that escape me: Why we are here? what we are supposed to do? why is there so much suffering in the world? how can we understand each other? where is my place in this all?
As YWAM celebrates its 50th year, Andrew wanted to catch up with people who’ve experienced the global organization’s flagship training program: the Discipleship Training School.
Andrew started by asking 10 Qs of people in his DTS which took place in Israel in 1999. Shailoh was one of 6 students in that school, and excellent at folding laundry.