Loving the Broken
Transient residents in one of the most depressed areas of Orlando, Florida, have found a haven for their souls in a nontraditional church started by a lay minister couple who saw a dire community need.
Nine years ago, Paul and Jessie Downey launched One Church Fairvilla, an expression of One Church in Longwood, Florida. The couple owned a business in a neighborhood where hundreds of homeless and low-income residents lived.
“God put it in our hearts to try to start some kind of helps ministry to bolster both their spiritual and physical well-being,” says Downey, who serves on the One Church board. “One Church Fairvilla just grew out of that.”
An unincorporated community that is primarily a commercial district, Fairvilla is notorious because of the presence of a large pornography store.
Brenda Alwine, 56, and her three children, ages 22, 16, and 12, lived in a mobile home park populated by a number of registered sex offenders. Alwine slept days so she could stay awake nights to ensure that no one harmed her kids. Their trailer was in rough shape, with broken windows, doors that wouldn’t lock, a leaky roof, and unsafe electrical outlets.
After some searching, the Downeys located a much nicer mobile home park. With donations from friends, relatives, and congregants, One Church Fairvilla purchased the family a mobile home for $4,600. Volunteers worked together to complete an extreme makeover of the dwelling.
“To say this new home changed this family would be an understatement,” says Jessie Downey, noting that One Church Fairvilla couldn’t exist without committed volunteers.
“I don’t know what would have happened to us if this church hadn’t come along,” Alwine says. “One Church Fairvilla gave us a home, a safe place to live. We are connected for life.”
The church meets on Saturdays, drawing anywhere from 20 to 75 people who are served a hot meal. The Downeys and other lay ministers preach the gospel to adults. The church also conducts a children’s service.
Additionally, One Church Fairvilla holds Thanksgiving and Christmas outreaches for the homeless and their families. Through the years, hundreds have accepted Jesus as Savior or rededicated their lives to Christ as a result of the ministry efforts.
“I would be dead if it wasn’t for this church,” Dave Fahrner says.
“No one has ever treated me like the people of this church,” says Charlotte Gabrielle, 67.
In 2010, the Downeys went to One Church Pastor Ron P. Johnson with the idea of ministering in Fairvilla. Johnson, who has known the couple since 1983, heartily encouraged them.
“Paul and Jessie put their arms around a broken community and lots of people started getting saved,” Johnson says. “They’ve had hard situations. They’ve gotten people out of jail and helped those dealing with addictions. They’ve found jobs for people and kept them on their feet.”
Johnson says the church could use a few more volunteers like Paul and Jessie Downey.
“A lot of people in the inner city have heard the empty promises,” Johnson says. “The miracle is that Paul and Jessie keep showing up. Out of that faithfulness, God keeps showing up.”
PHOTO: Brenda Alwine