Walk with God
The local arm of the international movement known as God Belongs in My City celebrates its 5th anniversary.
By: John Sotomayor
A youth group riding the subway in New York City on chilly Nov. 2, 2009, was taken aback by billboards carrying the atheist message, “One million New Yorkers are OK without God; Are you?” They asked their youth pastor what could be done about the message devaluing their faith. They prayed, and heard within themselves: “God Belongs in My City.” They put that on a t-shirt, and organized a mass walk less than two weeks later. On November 14th, in New York City’s Times Square, 1,400 people walked in solidarity. In Grand Central Station, they knelt in prayer. It was meant to last one day, but it turned into a movement.
The Walk went viral and flourished. Thousands turned into millions. In a short time, God Belongs in My City, or the Walk, became an international movement. In 2011, Pastor Luis de Jesus of Ocala, along with 30 people comprised of youth and families from his church, attended the Walk in Jacksonville.
“I saw the impact the Walk had in the city (of Jacksonville), on the (local) people, and the group I brought with me from Ocala,” Pastor Luis said. “I felt it was something we needed to bring to Ocala.”
Pastor Luis observed that the Walk participants were surprised at the scope of the event’s growth, in awe that people of all denominations of Christianity could be united in one walk in Christ. This initial shock turned into faith. Faith turned into action, as participants began sharing their packed lunches with gathered homeless. He felt the same would occur if someone brought it to Ocala.
The someone would be him.
Gather as One
In early 2012, Pastor Luis contacted the founder of God Belongs in My City, Daniel “Danny” Sanabria, whose agent provided him with the startup packet devised for introducing the Walk to a new city so that interest is rallied in prayer and not protest.
On August 25, 2012, despite the heat, between 3,000 to 4,000 people walked the first Walk in Ocala. Pastor Luis decided to make GBIMC in Ocala an annual event.
“Christians need consistency,” Pastor Luis said, when asked about his motivation. “As long as I am able, I will make sure the Walk continues in Ocala.” The only change he initially made was the time of year–from summer to fall to beat the heat.
Thousands have rallied every year and joined the Walk.
“What struck my heart most with joy was the comradery of all people, regardless of difference in race, creed or socioeconomic background,” school board member Nancy Stacy said. “They all walk as brothers and sisters in Christ.” Stacy has participated in every Ocala Walk.
The growth in popularity and numbers led Pastor Luis to the realization of John 17:20-21: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one.”
To him, that scripture called for leaders of churches to gather as one so that their members follow in unison to receive God’s blessings.
A Higher Calling
This call led to the establishment earlier this year of God in Ocala, Inc., a 501 (c)(3) non-profit with the purpose of building unity among the more than 500 churches of various denominations in Marion County. It is a first of its kind in the area, and something new under the GBIMC umbrella. No other city has taken this initiative thus far. It is Ocala’s contribution to the movement, one Pastor Luis prays will take root.
The non-profit introduced a four-tier ministry as their mission. The first is the annual GBIMC Walk itself to unite the community in solidarity. The second tier is called Boots on the Ground, a collaboration of volunteers, chaplains and organization representatives who connect faith-based ministries to the service providers in Ocala. The third is known as God @ Work, a free monthly breakfast networking fellowship, which helps ministries form lasting partnerships with each other and social services. The fourth is Guest Ministries, established primarily to assist individuals and families out of homelessness and also help them acquire furnishings for their new homes.
Again, Pastor Luis prays that this will eventually extend beyond our city and county.
“I have always had these initiatives in my heart,” Pastor Luis said. “I always knew that our efforts were more than the Walk.”
Efforts are already underway. Under Guest Ministries, God in Ocala, Inc., has helped four families move out of homelessness in only two short months. Pastor Luis credits the success to the joint collaboration of churches, businesses, social service organizations and community leaders.
“It has always been in my heart to share awareness that we have good people in our city – and every city,” Pastor Luis said. “These people are making a difference, some big, some small.”
Indeed, Pastor Luis believes in his heart that all steps matter when we walk with God.