Last week was a typical week for me. Handling some paperwork, getting ready for a sermon, a few meetings and plenty of emails to answer. Then I got THE phone call. My friend Adam Mayfield called to let me know that he was meeting with a guy named Brandt Russo and invited me to join them. My schedule at that moment prohibited me, but I hooked up with them the next day. That’s when God began to rock my world.
You see Brandt had just been arrested in Lakeland for helping homeless people on a piece of land being leased by…wait for it…Ignited Church. Yes, the same Ignited Church that brought us the Todd Bentley circus. Seems a bunch of homeless folks lived in a stand of trees next door to Ignited and the church was having them kicked out…or arrested…when they tried to come into the “revival” meetings. Brandt heard about it and came down here to love on the homeless…worship with them…and help them out. Apparently that kind of ministry goes against the teachings of Ignited because they had Brandt arrested. I figure if Brandt had kicked some of the homeless people in the face to cure cancer, had an affair with a local woman and made wild claims that defied sound Biblical doctrine…Ignited would have been fine with the whole thing. As it was they had Brandt arrested, thrown into jail and are continuing to press the charges for a conviction. Apparently you only get forgiveness by the pastors at Ignited Church if your name is Danny or Todd. Anyway, the whole story made the front page of today’s local paper (be sure to check out the video to the left of the article).
So how do I fit into this story? Adam called me because he was letting Brandt park his bus in Adam’s church office parking lot and lead nightly worship services for the homeless folks there. He just wanted me to get to know Brandt, his ministry and what was happening in Lakeland. What I discovered was…that in my anger at Ignited Church in the complete hateful way in which they have handled this situation…I was no better.
You see those same homeless people that live in the woods next to Ignited…are also located about a mile from Compass Point. On occasion I would see one or two men standing near the Whataburger restaurant with signs asking for food…but I had no clue that dozens of homeless people lived in two camps right across the street. I discovered that most were actually working odd jobs for money, had bicycles for transportation, tents to sleep in and were just trying hard to rebuild their lives. What they didn’t have was a place to wash their clothes, a shower to use on a regular basis…and a church that they could call home. Most were not looking for a handout…they just wanted to find the love and acceptance of a body of Believer’s like everyone else in the world.
I could have easily blamed it all on ignorance…but the fact is…I didn’t really want to know that there are homeless people in my “backyard”. It’s “comfortable” when they are downtown…a dozen or so miles from my place in the world. They are safe down there….because I am safe with them being down there. I can take them food and water “down there”…hang out with them “down there”…feel self righteous when I comfort them “down there”…and then retreat to the safety of my middle class lifestyle when I don’t want to be bothered with them “down there”. But what happens when they stop living “down there”…and start living “up here”?
Meeting Brandt Russo was a revelation of sorts. I have no intention of quitting Compass Point, selling all of my stuff and riding in a veggie-oil powered bus all over the country helping homeless people. That’s not my calling. No, the calling…the vision…that God has placed in my heart was to plant a church that reached the disconnected people of Lakeland with the Gospel of Jesus Christ…particularly those that live in north Lakeland. Those disconnected people now include homeless people that no longer live “down there”…but instead live “up here”.