Back in March, visiting preacher and author Bruce Wilkinson spoke at First Baptist Church of Orlando, where he challenged congregants to help the poor, while urging them to give and "sacrifice like you have never sacrificed before." The results of a subsequent offering were astounding.
The congregation brought in a record $5.6 million in pledges -- a figure that perplexed even the church's leaders. But, as the Orlando Sentinel reports, once the initial shock wore off, leaders began to wonder how to best use the funds:
"Immediately afterward, people [in need] started showing up on our doorstep," said the church's senior associate pastor, Danny de Armas. "We didn't want to send people away, but it wasn't appropriate to just start handing out money. Our goal was not to treat the symptoms, but to treat causes."
...But rather than simply dole out the offering to a handful of worthy charities, the church has decided to partner with local nonprofit organizations to address a range of issues, from homeless prevention to food for impoverished elementary-school kids to transitional housing.
Pastor de Armas says that, although the church needs to feed people in the short term, it cannot afford to do so forever. Thus, the church body is committed to forging partnerships that will serve the poor through the non-profit sector.
So far, the church has created eight relationships with outside organizations. These strategic alliances will put the $5.6 million to good use, as the diverse non-profit partners work to help the homeless get legal documentation, secure employment, obtain student mentoring services and gain access to food and nourishment. Robert Stuart, the executive director of Christian Service Center, one of the church's partners, said:
"I believe that what happened at First Baptist is a modern-day miracle."
The church has taken the burden of helping the poor very seriously, as leaders have created a local homelessness outreach within its walls. The ministry, called "Love Orlando," was intended to assist the church in balancing the international ministry trips it was already funding with some domestic, localized aid. Last month, Pastor de Armas explained the "Love Orlando" initiative in detail and highlighted the ministry's mission:
In addressing how the aid project has come together, Pastor de Armas says:
"This whole thing caught us by surprise, but it didn't catch God by surprise. A lot of what was happening within the fellowship of the church turned out to be preparation for the offering."
So far, $2.1 million is on hand, with an additional $3.5 million scheduled to flow in by March 2012. The money that has been doled out has already helped prevent homelessness, while assisting families in affording their electric bills and rent. In the fall, the church will expand to provide food pantries in 13 local schools. This will enable children to secure much-needed nourishment for their families.
First Baptist Church of Orlando has made it clear that its ministry will be well thought through and meticulously planned. The overall goal seems to be helping people out of poverty rather than simply providing short-term relief (though projects address both immediate and long-term needs). For more information about "Love Orlando," click here.