We live in one of the most beautiful places on earth, The Florida Keys. Here, I have driven through beautiful vistas and over bridges that offered a panorama of horizon as far as the eye can see. I have boated around these isles and through the mangrove tunnels that surround them, out to the amazing coral reef that borders the eastern edge of this chain of coral tethered to the mainland and into the back country of shallow bay that is the ocean portion of the Everglades National Park. Additionally, I have been afforded the opportunity, many times, to fly over this anomaly of small land masses and marvel at the artistic nature of their creation and placement, gasp at the hues of color captured in the waters according to depth and sea life and wonder how it all came to be.
Now, with the ordination of calling, I live in this place. The particular Key that we call home is a Key originally cultivated as groves and gardens. It is named from that history – Plantation Key. I live on a small boating canal (without ownership of a boat) one-tenth of a mile from the where the Gulf of Mexico merges waters with Florida Bay. I do not take advantage of my surroundings as much as I should and could. Thankfully, I do have a back porch that I can sit and watch others go out and come in on their boats, kayaks, paddle boards and even airplanes with a landing strip one-block from the house. And, I am NOT complaining. In February of 2012 I wrote this sentence in my prayer journal, “I would like to live in a gorgeous surrounding, on the ocean, that invited creativity and peace. It would be great if it were large enough to be the place where we could plant the Gospel in people and have people over with regularity. I want to love people and care about their souls.”
Guess what? It happened.
But as beautiful as it is at eye level, I recently discovered things about The Keys that are unseen. In a conversation with my Dad’s brother, my Uncle Wayne, who worked in this area decades ago when my paternal family was located in Homestead, Florida, I found out that the Coral rock that are The Keys are five times more dense than concrete. He discovered this supervising the construction of a communications tower made of concrete (to withstand hurricane force winds) and the digging of a foundation to support it.
Since we have lived here there has been a massive effort to connect to a central sewer system to save the near shore waters from inevitable contamination present in a septic tank environment. During this process there has been digging here, there and everywhere into this dense coral. What happens when coral is dug out? D-U-S-T! Fine, gray silt fills the air and settles on everything. Respiratory problems escalate, cleaning cycles elevate and dirt congregates everywhere. The beautiful topside is spoiled by the underlying and unseen sub-surface reality of the real Key substance.
Living here two years has shown us that the spiritual and human parallel is quite alarming. There is an underside to this beautiful environment and, in that dirty reality lie human pain, estrangement and isolation. The level of addiction here amazes me. I have recently discovered, through hosting local substance addiction groups, that there are over 100 weekly support groups for addiction in the Upper Keys alone. Almost half of all families here live under sustainable living income levels (48%). The local high school has an under-supplied food closet to try to help the large percentage of students that go home to kitchens without food. The elementary and middle schools students use the same resource. The number of divorced people here is the second highest in the entire United States. This is not paradise, by a long shot, when it comes to quality of life for the working class.
There is only 13% of the population that claim affiliation with a local non-Catholic congregation and 16% say that they are Catholic. There is an aversion to the idea of church. There is a distance from the person of Jesus. Sherry and I are here in this environment because we are called to be missionaries in this culture. Up until now, with the invitation to come here by an existing, fledgling congregation and their almost immediate abandonment of funding, we have existed on a razor thin margin.
We have come to realize one thing – planting a church is NOT the answer. We cannot hang out a sign, send out postcards, and cater to the already convinced. That will not crack the culture. We need a support team of intercessors, encouragers, financiers, and even visitors and partners on the ground here. We must realign our practices with a missionary focus.
The Jesus followers we have met here are some pretty awesome people. The young adults we are mentoring are seeing and sensing this mission life opportunity and they are dreaming as largely as we are. Some new parent couples are grasping the vision of creating a community of faith to raise their children among rather than a church to take their children to. Empty nesters are wishing this were happening twenty years before, but glad it is better late than never. There is a definite mission here that is pouring from the heart of God.
One of our challenges is funding. We do not have a critical mass to raise the funds for the development of the community we have been given vision for. We are asking you to consider partnering with us in one- or two-year increments. This is not a life-long commitment. On an accompanying sheet, please find our ministry expansion budget and let us know if God gives you a nudge or a wink to help this mission.
Without your help we are handcuffed from releasing others and giving them the support they need.