Wednesday, September 26, 2012


I live in east Orlando in a residential community with a golf course, manicured lawns, and wide, grassy medians meticulously planted and tended by landscaping crews. It's quiet and comfortable here. Attractive people walk their dogs, run, or bike around our safe streets. Most of them, I suspect, have no idea that less than 10 miles away is a little community called Bithlo. Or if they know about it, they don't know about its unsafe drinking water, its poor health conditions, and its low income level. About a quarter of the people in Bithlo live below the poverty line. Many live in rotting trailers. Until recently there was no medical clinic in or near Bithlo. Public buses don't go out to Bithlo. Many residents have no car, so they must ride their bike or walk on East Colonial Drive, a dangerously busy highway, to get to a grocery store or pharmacy.

The Orlando Sentinel once described Bithlo this way:
"Junkyards pile cars several stories high. Drainage ditches aren't maintained well enough to prevent flooding after a hard rain. An old recycling facility that operated as a dump has sat neglected for years and is a suspected source of environmental contamination. Everyone in the community relies on well water, and black tanks at some well sites warn of contamination from an old gasoline leak at a nearby gas station."
Along with others, I used to joke about Bithlo. Not any more. Not since I met Tim McKinney, who gave me a tour of Bithlo and invited me to get involved in his ministry, United Global Outreach. Last year, members of our church helped create an after-school program for the Christian school Tim started, Orange County Academy. I go out each Wednesday afternoon with a team of volunteers. We play with the kids, help them with homework, and basically just try to love on them. I also give the Bible lesson and lead a time of singing. About half of the 42 kids in the school stay for the after-school program, which we've called the VIP Club. Most of them come from broken homes and know little or nothing of the lifestyle most east Orlandoans take for granted. The school is giving them a new start academically, socially, and spiritually.
To look at these kids, you wouldn't guess that they carry a lot of pain, but they do. Their stories speak of a deep need for gospel redemption. Through the work of United Global Outreach and scores of volunteers from churches and civic groups, redemption is coming to Bithlo. Along with many other groups, our church is trying to help that little community experience the love of Christ. If you'd like to contribute, let me know. One way you can help is financial. UPC is trying to raise some money so that United Global Outreach can double the square footage of Orange County Academy. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to UPC, designated for the Bithlo project.

"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:8-9).


Anonymous said...

I'm seriously thinking of helping each week there in Bithlo. This week didn't work. What is the time frame each week? This is Tammy Lanzi =)

Mike said...

Tammy, that would be great. We'd love to have you on the team. We meet at Orange County Academy Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and we're done by 5:45.