Ministering to the Homeless from the Inside Out
Brian J. Seeley is no stranger to the homeless. On several occasions, he has chosen to live on the streets to better understand the mindsets of the homeless.
“The thing that connects me to the homeless I work with is our shared brokenness and desperate need of a Savior,” says Seeley, 35.
Growing up on Long Island, New York, Seeley rebelled against his family’s faith, until he went on a mission trip to New Zealand at the age of 19. There, for the first time, he truly worshipped God.
Soon thereafter, Seeley read the Isaiah 58 passage referring to easing the burdens of the oppressed.
“That’s when I felt God put the homeless on my heart,” Seeley says. Before returning home, he hitchhiked and lived on New Zealand streets, sharing the gospel with the homeless. Seeley says he saw the world from a new perspective as he bonded and forged relationships with those many people would rather forget.
Back in the U.S., he attended Southeastern University in Lakeland, Florida, where he and other students cooked meals for the homeless on Friday nights. He once again chose to forsake the comforts of home and live on the streets.
Eventually, he founded Gospel Inc., a nonprofit organization ministering in the Lakeland area. Gospel Inc. has four full-time and three part-time employees, as well as myriad volunteers.
“Chronically homeless people are on the streets due to drugs, mental illness, or other issues,” Seeley says. “They need constant help and more than just a house; they need a home.”
The cornerstone of Gospel Inc. is helping recipients form a relationship with God and to live in community, Seeley says. Neither religion nor attending church is mandatory to receive help, but Seeley and his team relay the message of God’s love and model Christian living.
With structures in place to help secure their success, those who would otherwise slip through the cracks of society are finding themselves actively giving back to the community. Through an arts and crafts program called RePurpose Art Studio, Gospel Inc. teaches women to sew. Re-store is the men’s counterpart, which trains men in construction work.
By partnering with local businesses, the men and women earn money to support themselves.
Lakeland Mayor Bill Mutz meets regularly and works closely with Seeley and the team at Gospel Inc. to help the homeless.
“While it isn’t the government’s job to provide for the deficits in everyone’s life, we do what helps the most and protect the most vulnerable,” Mutz says. “Life is messy; it’s not a gated community.”
Gospel, Inc. has had a goal of providing adequate housing for the chronically homeless for years, however the vision didn’t become a reality until the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Because of the coronavirus, Polk County awarded Gospel Inc. a $1 million grant to purchase immediate housing for homeless individuals in Lakeland. By pitching his vision for the past three years, Seeley and his team had already raised $400,000, mostly from private donations.
Added to the grant from the county, that proved to be enough to purchase an entire recreational vehicle/mobile home park.
Although most of the existing units on the property are in a deteriorated state, renovations are in progress. When the project is finished, there will be a total of 54 accommodations, 17 more than are currently available.
Along with the maintenance of the village, this remodeling project is one of the enterprises through which the men of the Re-store program are giving back to the community.
Tim W. Blackburn, connections pastor at Victory Church in Lakeland, and says that the city has been impacted by the hope given by Gospel Inc. to the homeless.
“It’s hope that God still has a plan for their lives,” Blackburn says. “The life-giving message they bring is more than just words or a phrase.”
Blackburn has seen firsthand people who Seeley and the Gospel Inc. team have poured into, now pouring themselves into others in the homeless community. Victory Church supports Seeley’s team as one of its local mission projects.
“I’ve seen great transformation in people’s lives because we’ve met a physical need, but only God can change someone,” says Seeley. “We lean into the Spirit for help, and we all need each other.”