Man on barge in Texas raising funds for Liberia clean water
DALLAS (AP) — As relentless rain and waves rocked the barge Todd Phillips had been on for about a week, he turned to his Port-o-Potty for solace.
The Dallas Morning News reports after lying down in his tent for so many hours, riding out a storm as part of a peculiar fund drive, Phillips needed to stand. But every time he tried, he fell — there was nothing to hold onto in the tent.
Finally, he put on his rain gear and stepped into what he calls the “outhouse.” Inside, Phillips put his hands on the wall to brace himself, reveling in how good it felt to stand without being knocked down.
“It’s crazy, but it felt wonderful,” Phillips said.
He stayed in the Port-o-Potty for an hour and a half, he said, watching cars zip by on Interstate 30 through the vents.
Phillips stepped onto the barge floating on Lake Ray Hubbard on Oct. 10, and he says he won’t set foot on land again until he has raised $2.29 million for the Last Well, his nonprofit that aims to provide clean water for all of Liberia by 2020.
The Dallas Morning News reports he’s already raised more than $754,000.
Phillips’ wife, Julie, hopes he’ll be home by November. But she knows his goal is steep, and their family has started to wonder whether they should make backup plans for Thanksgiving.
Even though Todd Phillips is only 10 minutes away from the family’s home in Heath, “it might as well be on the other side of the world,” his wife said.
Julie Phillips said she hasn’t been able to visit her husband on the barge as often as she hoped — recent record-setting rain washed out those plans. But she’s brought him meals and supplies including toilet paper and soap and taken home wet clothes and towels that she’ll launder and return to the barge.
Todd Phillips’ team has to renew the permit they have from the city of Dallas every 10 days he’s on the lake, and he said the city has agreed to keep renewing his permits for at least six weeks.
“I hope I’m not out here in six weeks, but we have that if we need it,” he said.
Hundreds of people tune into Phillips’ nightly updates on Facebook Live, where people pledge donations to the Last Well in the comments.
He recently went live for a few minutes to update his followers on his progress and the weather, greeting them individually.
“We’re hanging out in the light rain and light wind. It’s actually the best day ever,” Phillips said to the camera. “What’s up, Aaron? Hey, Amy. Hi, Mistie. Stacye, what’s up?”
Later that evening, he went live for about an hour. In that time, people pledged $67,000 in donations, he said.
Phillips’ floating barge is anchored near Interstate 30 on Lake Ray Hubbard, so anyone driving east just ahead of the Village Drive/Horizon Road exit can spot him.
It’s a 22-by-20-foot barge with a wooden base. On board, Phillips has a generator so he has power to charge his phone and computer, and he has Wi-Fi on the barge, too. Bolted to the base of the barge is his Peloton stationary bike.
There’s also a replica of the Wilson volleyball from the movie “Castaway” in his supply box — a gift from his staff at the Last Well, where he’s founder and executive director.
Inside his tent, Phillips has a cot (an upgrade from the sleeping bag he was using for his first nights on the barge), a table he uses as a desk and a mini-fridge to keep medication cool. To stay hydrated, he filters a few buckets-worth of lake water each morning.
The weather has provided a challenge Phillips hadn’t bargained for.
He likes to climb mountains, so he got ready for his time on the barge the same way he’d prepare for a mountain climb.
“I’m used to extreme weather, and I love the outdoors,” he said. “But the difference here is this would be like mountaineering if the mountain was constantly in an earthquake.”
Phillips said he got a visit from a few Dallas police officers, who came to check on him after they’d gotten calls from concerned citizens. The callers wanted to know: Where does Phillips go to the bathroom? Is he throwing trash in the water? Is he out there by himself? Is it safe? What if he gets struck by lightning?
As for the last question, the barge is equipped with a lightning rod. So if lightning strikes, it’ll hit the rod and the current will dissipate into the water.
Phillips insists he’s safe — he has support from the community at Chandler’s Landing Marina, where people such as Robert Livingston have offered to take supplies and visitors out to the barge.
Livingston heard about what Phillips was doing from a church friend who works for the Last Well, so he offered his help.
“I said, my boat is big enough and powerful enough — I’m out here year-round. And I’ve been in crazy weather,” Livingston said.
If Phillips needs anything, “I’ll come as soon as I can,” he said.
The Last Well launched in 2008 by a group at Frontline Church in Washington, D.C., where Phillips was senior pastor. He took on a full-time role with the Last Well in 2013, after he had been a pastor at Lake Pointe Church in Rockwall.
The group settled on its mission to provide clean drinking water to Liberia after its members asked themselves: What’s the most challenging place in the world, and what is that place’s greatest need?
Since 2008, the group says it has provided access to clean water for 1.7 million Liberians. Phillips stressed that the Last Well’s overhead costs are covered by private donors, so money donated to the organization goes directly toward its mission.
Phillips said he hopes Dallas-Fort Worth can rally around the Last Well’s cause and make a big difference in the lives of Liberians. Then, he said, we can challenge Houston, asking the city what it’ll do to change the world.
“We’re politically divided, religiously divided in this country,” Philips said. “We need a unifying story — a story of coming together. We need a story that we can still make big things happen in our generation.”
Donations to The Last Well can be made online at thelastwell.org
Information from: The Dallas Morning News, http://www.dallasnews.com