Mountain View Conference Member Practices Barbershop Evangelism
Story by Chris Hasse/Mountain View Conference
Pictured below: Phil cuts Pastor Farley Blankenship’s hair. The pastor is one of his regular customers from the community.
Phil Balisciano was brought up in a nominal Protestant home where he was not grounded in the Word of God. So he set off early to pursue what he thought was his real purpose of life—“having a good time.” That was his philosophy, but God had His own deep and wonderful purposes for this party-lover.
As a young married man, Phil met a charismatic barber who shared with him a pamphlet about Bible prophecy. Although the pamphlet was not an accurate portrayal of Bible events, Phil said, “An appetite for prophetic biblical themes was born in me.” In the prophecies he saw an appeal from God to surrender his life to Jesus Christ. He prayed and did just that.
While they were living in Connecticut, Phil and his wife, Cheryl, attended a Daniel seminar in a local hotel and then went on to attend evangelism meetings led by Mark Finley.
Phil began to present the material he was learning to his boss, but continued to work on Sabbath. In September of 1979, his dad died suddenly in a car accident, so Phil was given that Sabbath off. At his dad’s funeral, Balisciano was faced with the two great realities of life, “There is a war going on, and I must choose.” Right there in front of him, in his dead father’s body, he saw the end result of Satan’s plan for humanity: suffering and, ultimately, death. Satan had taken his dad’s physical life. And he would take Phil’s eternal life, unless he chose to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. That did it for Phil. In March of 1980, he was baptized as a Sabbath-keeping Seventh-day Adventist.
He worked several years in Connecticut, and opened his own barbershop. There had been a big influx of young people from the Finley meetings, and Phil studied with them and many others he met as he was cutting hair. Several of these studies resulted in baptisms.
When the economy lost its footing in Connecticut, he moved to upstate New York. In Saranac Lake, N.Y., a mother and her mentally-challenged son were meeting in their home. Phil and Cheryl joined their meetings, and within three years, through Bible studies with Phil’s business and social contacts, the little company was buying back the same Adventist church that had, years before, been closed due to lack of attendance. Young families with children filled the pews.
Soon Phil became interested in purchasing land in West Virginia. Ultimately, Phil cut enough hair to purchase some land in West Virginia. In Spencer, home of the closest Adventist church, Phil opened his First-day Barber Shop, as a witness to the sanctity of God’s holy day. Within two years, through the urging of fellow church members in the real estate business, he signed up for real estate training and found, upon completion of the course, that he enjoyed the work and was successful at it.
For five of the eight years that Phil lived in West Virginia, he hosted the Narcotics Anonymous/Alcoholics Anonymous meetings at Living Waters, which the Spencer church rented on Main Street. Several rehab program participants have even attended the church.
Four barbers had businesses in Spencer when Phil rented his space for his First-day Barber Shop, which didn’t make for a very lucrative practice. In 2009, through God’s benevolent providence, he was led to purchase a barber shop business in Glenville inside the Glenville Hardware Store.
Business is good, with 100 to 150 weekly customers who enter his doors, Phil says contacts for spiritual things are “phenomenal.” He says that he sees his career as a conduit for the gospel and that the Holy Spirit makes it easy for him to talk about spiritual things with his customers. Since this year’s camp meeting, he has already given away a full case of The Great Controversy to serious interests, and he has just ordered two more cases. Business people of all stripes are his customers, and he has “heavy duty” talks with preachers of other denominations, as well as with his fellow barber, from whom he purchased the business.
“The Lord has called me to understand that there is no other more important thing than reaching others for Christ,” Phil shares. “This is important to me because the Lord has put His love in my heart for the souls He invested so much for.”
The Baliscianos’ children have married and “flown” the coop. This has made even more space in their rambling farmhouse for many interesting personalities to take up residence for varying periods of time. This wasn’t always easy, especially for Cheryl, who works as a hospital X-ray technician. But she graciously welcomes whomever Phil, through real estate, or through his benevolent social nature, brings home. Looking around at the Spencer congregation on some Sabbath mornings, Daniel Morikone, the Spencer church pastor, says it is clear that many of the current members are a result of Phil’s barbershop and real estate contacts. “Working for the Lord is Phil’s first mission, and real estate and barbering actually just pay the bills,” Morikone says. “He and Cheryl take a leading role at our church. They are such a blessing. I can’t imagine what our church would be like without such a friendly, loving couple.”
One Sabbath, after the fellowship meal, one of the young people said, “Let’s go to Phil’s. That’s where the action is.” That’s how it has always been with Phil, and he wouldn’t want it any other way. Before he knew Christ, life was a party. Now that he knows Christ, life is a celebration of all that is good in life. And haircuts are part of that.
Phil and Cheryl Balisciano are members of the Spencer (W.Va.) church, Phil preaches regularly at area congregations.