News Articles

His brush strokes offer faith among million tourists yearly

ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–It’s just beginning to get dark, and Church Street Station in Orlando, Fla., is starting to come alive. Mounted police watch as people begin to drift out of stores and restaurants into the downtown street, which is now closed to auto traffic. Horse-drawn buggies roll by as a kilt-clad bagpipe ensemble plays “Amazing Grace.”
On a corner David Wilson calls “our hallowed spot,” he and Peter O’Driscoll set up an easel and a small public address system, a few yards away from a vendor selling fuzzy puppets.
O’Driscoll pulls his wheelchair up to the easel and dips a brush into a jar of glow-in-the-dark paint. As he paints a grid of numbers, he tells curious passers-by he is going to show them “the law of the square” and then give them “the answer to life’s most important problem.”
The mathematical game — in which onlookers select a series of numbers that always add up to 65 — is an icebreaker. What O’Driscoll really wants to show the crowd is the way to salvation.
A million people come through downtown Orlando each year, O’Driscoll said. The crowd includes busloads of tourists, many from other countries. Church Street Station also is a popular hangout for teenagers.
O’Driscoll sees it as “a literal gold mine for souls.”
For about 10 years, O’Driscoll, currently a pastoral intern at First Baptist Church of Winter Park, has come to Church Street Station with other Christians to witness and distribute tracts. About three years ago, he met Wilson and saw for the first time the evangelist’s easel presentations.
Wilson, a member of First Baptist Church, Stuart, uses the presentations in a ministry that takes him overseas much of the year. Both he and O’Driscoll work under Open Air Campaigners, an interdenominational evangelistic association.
About six months later, O’Driscoll recalled, Wilson said to him, “Perhaps the Lord would lead you to take up the brush and do these presentations.”
O’Driscoll had found his niche.
He and a team of volunteers, who hand out tracts and do one-on-one witnessing, can be found at Church Street Station from 8 til midnight every Saturday night.
“Even if it’s raining, we will come down,” O’Driscoll said, “and give the Lord an opportunity to stop the rain — as he’s done many times.”
During the summer, with the help of about 20 student summer missionaries assigned to Greater Orlando Baptist Association, the team doubled its efforts, doing presentations and street witnessing on both Friday and Saturday nights.
“We probably preach the gospel to over 1,000 unbelievers each month,” O’Driscoll said. In one 10-month period, more than 85 people prayed to receive Christ. Thousands of pieces of gospel literature have been distributed.
“We have gospel tracts in 10 different languages,” O’Driscoll noted.
Some respond to the gospel; others walk away, “but we know the Lord uses even that,” O’Driscoll said.
“We herald the gospel graciously,” he added. “There’s a redemptive tone in our voices. … We don’t compromise truth, but we don’t grab people by the throat.”
O’Driscoll’s disability has proven an asset rather than a liability in the street ministry, Wilson observed. “People know he’s real or he would never be out here.”
Said O’Driscoll, “This wheelchair that I’m sitting in is a love gift from Christ.”
O’Driscoll was saved at age 10, through the influence of Paul Merritts, a pastor in Washington’s Georgetown district whose church was on young O’Driscoll’s paper route. The pastor befriended the boy, who had received little spiritual nurturing at home and led him to Christ.
O’Driscoll’s father left home about the time he was saved, and the young man eventually fell in with the wrong crowd. He used drugs; there was a time he slept on the streets of Washington.
“I’m not proud of it,” he said. “It was wasted time.”
And he knew all along he was straying from the Lord.
In March 1978, he was in an auto accident. Of six people in the car, he was the only one injured. His neck was broken in two places.
When he woke up in the hospital, he knew he would be paralyzed. “I also knew God was giving me one more chance,” he said.
He has never struggled with bitterness over the accident, he said, “but it’s only by the grace of God.”
A year later, he was making A’s and B’s as a pastoral ministry major at Liberty Baptist College in Lynchburg, Va. It was there he met Isabel Driscoll and persuaded her to add an O’ to her last name. The couple now has two daughters, Katie and Michaela.
God sometimes works in mysterious ways. O’Driscoll recalled a conversation he had with Merritts when the pastor’s path crossed once again with the paper boy — now a man — who he had befriended so many years earlier. Merritts, now retired, told O’Driscoll he hadn’t seen a lot of visible results from his ministry at the Washington church.
O’Driscoll wonders what the pastor would think now if he could see what God has done through one little boy.

    About the Author

  • Shari Schubert