CIU Graduate: Ministering to the homeless during COVID at Christmas

Karen Phillips with her family on graduation day (left to right) husband Rodney Phillips, daughters Shayla and Brittani, and son Jaylen.
December 02, 2020

Columbia International University alumna Karen Phillips is a pastor to the homeless. Phillips, who earned her Master of Divinity in Bible Exposition from CIU in 2019, is pastor at Christ Central Ministries - Columbia Mission Station. Located on Columbia’s Main Street near downtown, the Mission Station not only gathers as a church, but also meets basic needs such as food, clothing, personal hygiene, some health care needs and spiritual counseling.

Phillips continues her education at CIU as a student in the Doctor of Ministerial Leadership program. She describes more of her work at Christ Central in this Q&A, including how the ministry is dealing with COVID at Christmas.

Are there needs met by Christ Central that are unique to the Columbia area?

I wouldn't say that the needs are unique to the Columbia area. But the clientele that we serve is a bit unique when you think about the typical church setting. Our congregation is comprised of about 95% homeless folks. The rest of our church family is comprised of others from different churches that also participate in our services. 

What will be different about the Christmas season at Christ Central?

In past years, we had local churches that came in and cooked dinners and provided gifts for the homeless. This would be an opportunity to fellowship and enjoy the time together since many of them do not have families. This year, we will provide meals and gifts via take-out to avoid COVID exposure.  

In what ways has COVID changed the way you minister?

COVID has changed our ministry in many ways.  Because of it, we have had to go to a virtual format. Because the people that we serve do not have computers or have limited access to the internet, we use a conference call format to have worship services. It has challenged us to be very cognizant of how we use our voices to make sure that we are clear and easy to understand. It has forced us to prepare to a greater degree so that the person on the other end feels as if they are inside the church even though they are on the telephone. Actually, it has taught us to not depend on having a crowd to preach or teach. It has forced us to realize that in whatever setting we are in, to deliver the Word of God with conviction and power. 

We’ve heard of plans for expanding into suicide prevention and sex trafficking in 2021. What might that look like?

We develop partnerships with the organizations that have services that we need or may need to service our homeless members. Both suicide and involvement in sex trafficking are big issues within the homeless population. Christ Central will facilitate training with local churches and organizations so that we will be aware of the signs of those who may be prone to suicide or will be involved in sex trafficking.  

How has your CIU education assisted you in your ministry?

My CIU education has been beneficial in that it has prepared me with the educational foundation that I need to clearly communicate the gospel. It has helped to expand my perspective of God's people and the wide range of what ministry looks like. 

What is your ultimate goal for those to whom you minister?

My ultimate goal is to meet our congregants' needs, holistically. It is not just about feeding empty bellies. But, my goal is to meet needs by plugging into community resources that can help us to grow those that we serve spiritually, economically, psychologically, and emotionally.  

With record enrollment in 2020, BestColleges.com ranks Columbia International University the 2020 Best Online College in South Carolina, and CIU is #2 in the state for Best College Campus. CIU also consistently ranks among the Top Regional Universities in the South and a Best Value Regional University in the South by U.S. News & World Report. Request information on enrollment at CIU and Columbia Biblical Seminary or call (800) 777-2227, ext. 5024.