ORLANDO, Fla. (BP)–Responding to the needs of the region’s homeless, First Baptist Church in Orlando raised $5.6 million in donations and pledges with an impromptu offering March 12-13.
“We’ve had a stirring in our heart and spirit that God placed the church here for this time because of foreclosures, because of this new homelessness,” senior pastor David Uth said. “We believe we were put here by divine choice and we have got to make a difference.”
Danny de Armas, the Florida church’s senior associate pastor, said he was “completely overwhelmed by what our people have done.”
The outpouring of love was a result of a March 6 story on the CBS news program “60 Minutes” which Liz Butler, the church’s marketing/communications manager, described as a “new” kind of homelessness in Central Florida in which families who lost their jobs are living in motels because they lost their homes to foreclosure.
The news report was seen by millions of viewers across the country – among them, Christian author and teacher Bruce Wilkinson who was already scheduled to speak at First Baptist Orlando during the March 12-13 weekend.
“He saw the story while he was working on his message,” Butler said. “When he saw the interview, he said, ‘Wow. We have to do something.’ He called Pastor Uth and said, ‘Your people are going to bring in $1 million to help these needy families.'”
First Baptist Orlando has had a history of raising large sums following national and international disasters. The church raised hundreds of thousands of dollars following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Haiti earthquake last year.
Uth told Wilkinson, “I don’t know if we can raise that much” but said he he would be the first to admit that he happily underestimated the giving spirit of the church.
Wilkinson, in his messages, laid out the dire need of the people of Central Florida and urged the congregation to contribute whatever they could. The results were individual contributions ranging from one dollar to thousands of dollars and one as a high as $1 million.
“We’ve got to help Orlando and let them know there is help,” Uth said. “We have to say to them, ‘God placed us here for you.’ This church started in 1871 and we believe God started this church here for a reason. I believe He knew this day was coming and He positioned us so we could make a difference.”
“What is really shocking about how much we gave,” de Armas said, “is that our people are really struggling now. I thought there was no way they could give $1 million for the homeless, let alone $5.6 million.”
It is one thing to hear about what happened, de Armas added, but completely another to have been there as it took place.
“Seeing a miracle happen is an amazing thing,” he said. “As the donations and pledges were coming in, I felt as if I had a grandstand seat to see God at work in the hearts and minds of the people.”
The outpouring of giving has been a converging of events.
“We have a local missions task force [which] has been at work for some time,” de Armas explained. “Their number one initiative was for us to deal with homelessness and the ‘new’ kind of homelessness — families in transition. It was a ripe field and Bruce plowed into that field. The fruit it produced has been amazing.”
First Baptist Orlando has had a long partnership with numerous Central Florida Christian organizations, just about all of which will receive funds from the weekend offering.
“These ministries are equipped to help with the issue of homelessness,” de Armas said. “Some of those organizations include the Coalition for the Homeless, Orlando Rescue Mission and Christian Service Center. All of them are really trying to help people who are facing the problems the 60 Minutes story highlighted.”
Besides distributing the money to those who can best get it to those in need, de Armas also wants to see members of the congregation getting involved.
“We’re looking to deploy our people,” he said. “We have an army of them who want to serve and we’re going to give them a way to do it.”
For Uth, current president of the Florida Baptist State Convention, the enormity of the money raised was matched only by the outpouring of love demonstrated by the congregation.
“[Our people] are willing to sacrifice so that others may be blessed,” Uth said. “That’s really what First Baptist Orlando is all about. That’s how we want to be known and how we should be known. Our people were absolutely amazing, unbelievable.”
David Ettinger is a writer for First Baptist Church in Orlando. This article first appeared in the Florida Baptist Witness, on the Web at www.goFBW.com.