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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Intercultural Ministries: Finding Freedom in the Forest

By James Meredith
July 01, 2012

Silver Springs, Fla., is the kind of town you’d find on a postcard. Located at the edge of Ocala National Forest, the stunning natural beauty of its rivers, parks and springs has drawn tourists for over a century.

Unseen by visitors, however, exists profound human need. The unemployment rate eclipses state and national averages. Poverty is pervasive, with some homes lacking basic services like electricity and running water. Too often, these tangible needs are accompanied by domestic violence, substance abuse and dysfunction.

And for nearly two decades, Assemblies of God U.S. Missionary David Houck has been there, confronting the needs in big ways.

Houck knows well the harsh realities of poverty in the Forest. When he was 8, his father was injured on the job and the family moved to the area. Money was scarce. Houck recalls wearing shoes held together by duct tape and glue.

Two years later, Forest Assembly of God in Silver Springs began picking up Houck for Sunday School. It marked a turning point in his life.

“Church allowed us to escape and feel like we were part of bigger things,” Houck recalls.

Only later would the full scope of those “bigger things” be seen. Though God called him into ministry at age 14, Houck strayed from the Lord and entered a lifestyle of drugs and alcohol. Yet when he was 20, he recommitted his life to Christ and began preparing for ministry. He opened his first food bank in 1993.

Today that food bank, Help Agency of the Forest, feeds 6,000 every month. Together with wife, Tammy, Houck is impacting families generation by generation, meeting tangible needs in creative ways. Much of their outreach targets kids in need.

Turning Point Academy, for example, is an after-school program with three locations around the area. There, kids find food, school supplies, tutoring — and a safe environment for those whose family life is in turmoil.

Lisa Haynes has seen the impact of Turning Point firsthand. Last year, one of her sons was struggling in school when he began attending the academy. It wasn’t long before his grades were on the rise.

Today Haynes’ four sons, ages 8-12, all attend Turning Point. She says the academies are making a difference throughout the area.

“This ministry is really what the community needed,” says Haynes. “Many of the parents are working or don’t take care of their children as they should. So the kids are able to get what they need.”

Last year the ministry expanded further, through the acquisition of Camp SoZo (meaning “rescue”). This 70-acre summer camp provides a place where kids can enjoy swimming, canoeing, fishing and Christian love in ways they may have otherwise never experienced.

The camp itself is a product of God’s miraculous provision. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice contemplated closing the facility, then called Camp E-Kel-Et, amid budget cuts. Instead, God provided the circumstances by which Houck was able to secure it free of charge.

“We were given the facilities at literally no charge,” Houck explains. “The camp is valued at $3 million. It was a miracle gift from God.”

Today Camp SoZo is a place of hope for the whole family. A culinary arts school has begun in the camp kitchen. Adults can also take advantage of basic computer and budgeting classes. “These outreaches enable us to witness in ways that might not be possible in a church setting,” Houck explains.

This passion to minister to the whole person with the love of Jesus Christ has been a hallmark of Houck’s ministry from the beginning. Few can attest to their impact more than Rob Johns.

Johns grew up in a home filled with drugs and violence. When he was 15, Houck, who was youth pastor at Forest Assembly at the time, invited Johns to a “Hallelujah Party” one Halloween. The Houcks soon became a central part of his life. Later, when Houck assumed a youth pastorate in another town, Johns and his two brothers went to visit them and never left. The Houcks essentially raised Johns and his brothers as their own children.

Today Johns is a graduate of Southeastern University (AG) in Lakeland, Fla., and ministers as a worship leader across the nation. Yet he hasn’t forgotten the impact of Christ’s love shining through the Houcks on his life and the lives of many others in the Forest.

“A big part of what they do is provide a change of mindset,” Johns notes. “There might be a girl whose mom got pregnant at 14, so she’s going to get pregnant at 14, too. They help change that mindset, telling her, ‘You don’t have to be what your parents are. You can have a good education, a good life. And you can serve Christ.’”

The Houcks’ commitment to the Forest continues. A new church plant, Salt Life Church in Salt Springs, celebrated one year of ministry last Easter. Today the congregation of about 100 — many previously unchurched — is delivering the gospel through love and compassion.

Life in the Forest has come full circle for Houck. The same freedom he found years ago — freedom from need, fear and hopelessness — he now delivers to those confronted with all-too-similar circumstances. And, like Houck, they’re ultimately finding the greatest freedom of all: freedom in Christ.

JAMES MEREDITH is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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