Last week we held a four day spiritual retreat in Orlando, Florida, for special friends of Asbury Seminary. This was the second in a series of four formation periods called Ascent whereby we set aside time to minister and invest in the spiritual growth of those who support the ministries of Asbury Seminary. Because we are committed to Wesleyan holiness we are careful to not allow it to be only a time of withdrawal and reflection. Mr. Wesley believed in “active” waiting on God. We grow spiritually both through bended knees in prayer as well as bended backs in service. Wesley understood that you grow as much sitting in church hearing a sermon as standing in a soup kitchen serving the poor.
So, in keeping with this, we took the entire group to see the ministries of The Summit church in Orlando. The Summit was founded by an Asbury graduate, Isaac Hunter, and a handful of his friends less than a decade ago. They asked the question, “what would happen if we planted a church which, from the start, was dedicated to serving our community rather than focusing on ourselves?” The church now has multiple campuses and over 4,000 members. They are seeking to bring healing and hope to Orlando, Florida, and around the world, with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While at Summit we met another graduate of Asbury Seminary, Rhonda Stapleton. Rhonda shared her life story with us – and we were all deeply moved. Ten years ago Rhonda took a huge step of faith and moved into one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Orlando. It is known as OBT (Orange Blossom Trail). It is the kind of place which is fearful for even law enforcement people to walk around. It is known for homicides, drugs, prostitution and pimps. Even more, it is known for hopelessness. Sex trafficking is rampant. Rhonda has seen pimps waiting at the curb for the women when they are released from prison. Rhonda knows women who live in such agonizing bondage that being arrested and hauled off to jail is almost a relief. Rhonda has seen the living face of sin as much as anyone. She has also seen the living face of grace and the power of the gospel. Jesus is also walking the streets of OBT. He is there in Rhonda Stapleton, delivering new hope to the hopeless.
Rhonda saw the the need for a place in this part of Orlando to help women who are released from prison to get a fresh start, obtain job skills and to be protected from human trafficking during those first six to eight months after they are released from prison when they are particularly vulnerable. Under the leadership of Isaac Hunter, the Summit Church has helped Rhonda to found the first home, known as Samaritan Village, which promises to be a model for many to follow around the country.
Isaac Hunter and Rhonda Stapleton are just two examples of our 9,000 graduates around the world who remind me why I love serving Asbury seminary and why we are committed to training women and men for places of ministry and service in the world. Students do graduate and they do go out and make a difference. I have seen it. I have now personally met nearly 900 of the alumni of Asbury Theological Seminary. I have met them on different continents and serving in different capacities – but all dedicated to “spreading scriptural holiness throughout the world.” The OBT in Orlando is getting a divine in-breaking. The host of hell assails, but Jesus is prepared to walk right into hell. Praise the Lord.
If you want to see it for yourself, check it out here.