SPRING HILL — Pastors, members and youth groups from several churches and ministries will unite June 25 to take a stand against gangs and drugs.
"God Belongs in My City," a silent prayer march that will culminate with an event at Delta Woods Park, will give participants a platform to make their views known to the community.
"Our presence makes a stand," said the Rev. John Grossi, senior pastor at Springs of Life Family Church. ""We're visibly making a declaration that we believe in God and that God should be a part of our community."
The march will begin at 9 a.m. and take four routes through Hernando County, ending at noon at Delta Woods Park, where inspirational speeches and entertainment will run until 5 p.m. Starting points for the march will be announced to participants at a pep rally before the event.
While Spring Hill is the focus of the event, churches and ministries from Brooksville and Ridge Manor will also participate.
The idea originated with the Rev. Luis Leon of Jesus Cares Ministry and his wife, Mayra, when they watched an online video about a similar event three months ago.
"It took place in Manhattan, N.Y.," Leon said. "In 30 days, they rallied 1,500 youth to take a stand against the ills of society and declare that God belongs in my city."
Leon contacted the heads of the New York ministry and adopted a similar idea.
"We'd been wanting to do something like that here in Hernando County," he said. "The video motivated us to move forward."
The Leons have long worked to combat community problems. They began their personal ministry in the 1990s in New Jersey.
"It started as an outreach to the community to meet the needs," Leon said. "We were planning to feed, give out clothing and offer any type of counseling and spiritual support that was needed."
The Leons didn't immediately get the support they needed from local churches there.
"It felt like nobody had time," Leon said. "My wife and I began to pray, 'God, it looks like nobody cares.' Right there we felt like the Lord's answer to both of us was, 'Jesus cares.' So from that date, the ministry was born."
In 1995, the couple took their growing family and moved the ministry to Tampa. Five years ago, they moved to Brooksville.
"One of the things that brought me to Brooksville was a job title of parent male involvement coordinator for Head Start," Leon said. "So my goal right now is to help parents, especially the men, to understand how valuable and how critical their involvement is in the lives of children."
Leon is also the pastor of Jesus Cares Church, which meets at Nativity Lutheran Church in Weeki Wachee at 1:30 p.m. Sundays. He leads a "Mighty Men" character-building workshop, inspired by the Promise Keepers international men's ministry, on Thursdays. His wife has an outreach ministry to women and has authored a book, Root Issues, that deals with issues of the heart and domestic violence.
Leon will speak about drugs at the event at Delta Woods Park. Grossi will speak about faith, and Detective David Kortman of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office will speak about gangs, Leon said.
The event will include free food and entertainment by local hip-hop and rhythm and blues artists.
Leon said the event has a twofold purpose.
"I believe in the power of prayer. We really need a move of God to begin to help and do things in the areas of gangs and drugs," he said. "And we want to build a network among the faith-based organizations and motivate them to play a more active role in dealing with gangs and drugs in Hernando County."
Leon said the march will just be the beginning.
"We hope to create a follow-up event called 'God Belongs in My Church' to bring churches and pastors together and build that unity that I think is very much needed," he said.
To prepare participants for the march, Springs of Life Family Church is hosting a pep rally at 7:30 p.m. Friday. The rally will include prayer and is expected to last about 90 minutes.
Churches and ministries involved in the march thus far include: Jesus Cares Church, Spring Hill; Church of God of Prophecy, Brooksville; Springs of Life Family Church, Spring Hill; The Bridge, Spring Hill; Encouraging Word Ministries, Brooksville; Josephine Street Church of the Living God, Brooksville; Living Word Fellowship, Brooksville; Anchor Church, Ridge Manor; Abundant Life Christian Center, Spring Hill; Behind the Stone Ministries; Silent Servant Ministries, and Courts of Praise Deliverance Ministries.
Grossi explained his church's involvement.
"We like to be involved in anything that's going to benefit the people of our community," he said. "This event is about standing against what we call the evils of our community that hurt people. We believe God can make a difference when people are turned toward him. So we're saying that God belongs in our city."