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Tampa minister saves souls by saving the planet

Jon Dengler finds Eden at 908 E Lake Ave.

It's a junky old place, really, in a not-so-nice neighborhood that's just stumbling distance from Tampa's Nebraska Avenue.

But it's where he lives out his calling, helping people in need with the most basic necessities: food and shelter.

As minister to the poor for the Tampa Underground church network, Dengler, 30, provides meals and assistance to the homeless. His "Lake House" works like a Christian hostel, welcoming those wanting food, a shower, washing machine or even rest.

"I'm effectively broke," he said. "But I have so much. I feel a conviction to share those things."

The yard is his paradise, where he tends to fledging fig trees, experiments with sustainable agriculture and prays with others. A statue of St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of the animals and environment, protects a plot of cabbage and carrots.

Dengler and his wife, Natalia, one day envision a garden bursting with fruits and vegetables for anyone who wants them. They consider food a key part of man's security on Earth. Have it and communities can flourish. Don't have it and they will languish and die.

An eco-Christian of sorts, Dengler recently started a 30-day diet, eating only food grown within 100 miles. It's been difficult (potatoes taste terrible with no salt) but insightful.

"I realized how trained we are to seek excitement in food," he said. Before now, he never really had to pray for food.

Dengler knows not everyone would walk in his shoes. Serving the invisible comes with risks and disappointments. The Lake House was broken into four times in a single month, he said, probably by those offered help.

Dengler prays for their souls.

The house hosts dinner and a Bible study every Wednesday night. They gather in the small living room filled with couches or on the backyard deck in sun-scorched chairs set up in a circle.

The group gives thanks for their blessings and studies the ways of Jesus. They strive to live the words of Francis of Assisi: "start by doing what is necessary, then do what is possible and suddenly you are doing the impossible."

Dengler calls it a front-row seat to life.

The Lake House

To follow Jon Dengler and his ministry, visit or Dinner and Bible study starts at 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday at the Lake House, 908 E Lake Ave., Tampa.

Tampa minister saves souls by saving the planet 04/21/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 1:32pm]
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