WESLEY CHAPEL — Donald Russell, once homeless, now has an apartment, a job and a restored sense of self-esteem thanks to the Lily of the Valley ministry at Victorious Life Church.
"I wandered homeless through 25 states trying to find me," said the 47 year-old Army veteran. "The problem was I brought me with me."
Several months ago, Russell was living in the woods, a drug addict and alcoholic, when the ministry came to the woods and starting feeding the homeless people there and providing them with tents, sleeping bags and blankets.
"They picked us up and took us to church," he said. "They are the most blessed people I've ever known."
Russell was so touched by the help offered by these strangers that he decided to dedicate his life to Jesus Christ, and now he goes to church regularly and is a part of the singles ministry. He works as a handyman and volunteers at the church whenever he is able.
The ministry uses the Scripture from Luke 6:38 to guide them:
"Give to others and God will give to you; you will receive a full measure, a generous helping, poured into your hands — all that you can hold. The measure you use for others is the one God will use for you."
The Lily of the Valley ministry is one of the outreach programs of the 2,500-member Victorious Life Church at 6224 Old Pasco Road in Wesley Chapel. Started more than a year ago by director Anna Grover, it provides assistance and resources to the community.
Volunteers provide transportation to court hearings, doctor visits and hospitals. They write letters for people in the courts and students seeking their GEDs. They even tutor and provide scholarships for GED programs.
They also provide help in finding government assistance so people can obtain food stamps, disability benefits and medical help.
The ministry feeds 3,000 people a month and helps people like Russell find jobs. They have a bread ministry and a bus ministry. They also clean up two or more homes a month to make their community more attractive.
Grover started the ministry when she wanted to clean up and restock the church's food pantry. Through the help of volunteers, it snowballed into a ministry with many tentacles. She said they have even received contributions from former Entertainment Tonight host and new age music artist John Tesh, who has donated tents, boots and sleeping bags for the homeless outreach.
"This ministry is giving hope back to people who are lost," she said.
A truck and trailer was donated to the ministry to haul the lawn equipment around.
"Restoring and rebuilding lives is what I get out of this," said Grover, who gave up a well-paying office manager job to run this ministry without pay.
Both of her daughters — Hope, 22, and Grace, 19 — help with the full-time ministry.
Laurie Tibbs, 39, is another person who has benefited from the ministry. And now she pitches in with the ministry and another church outreach, Hannah's Hands, which provides personal care services to people in need.
"I was in a bad situation, sick with cancer and kicked out of where I lived, and the church welcomed me with open arms. They made me feel like family," said Tibbs. "My daughter and I are now living with a blind woman and taking care of her.
"Life is so good."