'Park Pastor' Helps Homeless Community
Jose Antonio Feo, a lay minister in Southern California, started an Assemblies of God church for homeless people in a city park, Arte Community Church, and now feeds hundreds of people twice a month with the support of the city and local food banks. His wife, Mylene Lacau Zuloaga Feo, assists him.
“As the mayor of the city of Baldwin Park, I want to take this opportunity to thank our pastor, Jose Feo, for being here, and his wife, who have for the past two months distributed food here,” Manuel Lozano, mayor of the city since 1999, said at a recent gathering. “They have contributed thousands of different groceries and boxes. Thank you, pastor. I’m going to work with you so we send a message so the whole community can be here together and pray. That’s important for all of us.”
Feo, who works a day job as a home inspector, has been the “pastor” of the park for three years. When he started, drug addicts, gang members, alcoholics, and frequent fighting marred the area. Today, due to increased efforts by the city and to the ministry of the Feos, there are far fewer homeless people there.
Sunday morning services begin with a time of worship, aided by YouTube videos piped through a sound system. Families with children feel safe to enjoy the park, along with people exercising, men playing dominoes and chess, and others who listen as Feo leads a service in the amphitheater. A dozen homeless people, who regularly attend Arte Community Church, gather. After a gospel message, Feo ends services with prayers for healing and salvation.
On a recent Sunday, a woman came forward for prayer and wept as Feo prayed for her in Spanish. Arte Community Church is part of the AG’s Southern Pacific District.
Feo, 57, was not a Christian when he fled Venezuela 18 years ago. He says he had been targeted by the government for his involvement in efforts to peacefully remove strongman Hugo Chavez from office.
“That created a lot of problems for me,” Feo says. “They persecuted me, wrote graffiti on my property, followed me wherever I went. A couple of times, people with a gun stepped in front of my car and said, ‘We’re watching you.’ I thought they might kill me or my family.”
Feo worked in a five-star hotel as the food and beverage manager, but left the country to move to Los Angeles. A cousin picked him up at the airport and promptly announced — over Feo’s protests — that they would attend a Tuesday night Bible study at the church he attended, Iglesia Cristiana Faro de Vida in Bellflower. During the teaching, pastor Felix Brito stopped halfway through and addressed Feo.
“He started talking about my life — what happened with my wife, family, why I came here, what I did in the past,” Feo recalls. “I asked my cousin, ‘How do they know about my life?’ My cousin said, ‘The Holy Spirit talked to him.’”
Feo wept, gave his life to Jesus Christ, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and started speaking in tongues.
“That moment changed my life,” he says.
Within months, he began helping with the church’s men’s ministry, then met a man who recruited him to assist with outreaches to homeless communities in parks. Feo served as his translator, and on his first day, 40 people accepted Christ as Savior. Years later, when Feo first ministered in Baldwin Park, he says he sensed God directing him to stay.
“So I started ministering at the park,” Feo says. “I had no connection to the city before then.”
The Feos offered free breakfast and coffee before outdoor services began. Week by week, more came. In three years, nearly 300 people have received Jesus as Savior there, Feo says.
Few have any money. The church receives around $50 in offerings every Sunday, but Feo says God provides. Indeed, a donated bus carries chairs, a sound system, and food. Family members and volunteers set up and tear down equipment.
The city also gave the church permission to distribute food twice a month on Saturday mornings. The mayor is often there to hand out boxes, which contain enough food to feed a family of four for a week. Between the city’s efforts and the Feos’ ministry, the homeless population at the park has decreased from around 1,000 to around 130.
“The park was dirty, now it’s clean,” Feo says. “Gang member persecution is out. Prostitution and drug business is out.”
He also leads a weekday Bible study with 20 people in the same amphitheater.