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‘You can’t find the need before you find the people’


Serving those living on the street, G.W. Rolle of Missio Dei is concerned how the coronavirus is impacting the most vulnerable

July 7, 2020

G. W. Rolle of The Mission Dei community in St. Petersburg, Florida, is pictured during a recent community dinner. (Contributed photograph)

G.W. Rolle, pastor of justice ministries at The Missio Dei, a new worshiping community in the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, was in his second week of a self-imposed quarantine.

Ministering to those who live on the streets, Rolle was concerned about being exposed to COVID-19. He was trying to rest, thinking about not only his own health — he is high-risk with congestive heart failure and COPD — but also about those he serves.

“You can’t get tested anywhere,” he said. “I talked with someone at the homeless leadership alliance. All of the shelters have either been shut down or altered, so people are left on their own.”

Rolle was homeless for seven years in St. Petersburg, Florida, before finding housing stability. He knows people living on the streets don’t hear the information about the coronavirus like others do.

“They don’t have TVs to tell them everything is closed,” he said. “And most of the places where they could go for public meals are shut down.”

Missio Dei is one of the few places left in the community providing meals. On Saturday mornings, volunteers still give out breakfast burritos. While they’re not gathering people anymore for meals, they are handing out food in bags and abiding by the 10-people maximum and 6-feet-apart rules of social distancing.

Missio Dei recently moved its worship from a social services parking lot to a fellowship hall at an evangelical church, which also gave the worshiping community access to a kitchen.

“I’d like to say as long as people from the street come, we will worship,” Rolle said. “But I can’t say for sure anymore.”

As an advocate for those experiencing homelessness, Rolle invites people to stay in his home.

But now Rolle, who never thought he’d be a leader — he was orphaned at the age of 3 and had lived in numerous foster homes by the time he was 12 — is trying to self-quarantine.

“But people have needs, you know. They’re calling on me,” he said, “and I am never going to turn my back on them or pretend I don’t hear them.”

With time to reflect on his life and on how COVID-19 might affect those on the streets, Rolle has advice for others who want to help.

“You can’t find the need before you find the people,” he said. “When I was homeless, I couldn’t find services anywhere — but God let me out of the prison of homelessness and then sent me back to help.”

The Missio Dei  has received support from Mission Program Grants. Available through the Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, the grants support the transforming work of new worshiping communities and mid councils.

In 2012, the 220th General Assembly declared a commitment to a churchwide movement that results in the creation of 1001 worshiping communities by 2022.  At a grassroots level, more than 600 diverse new worshiping communities have formed across the nation.

 Paul Seebeck, Communications Strategist, Mission Communications, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Today’s Focus:  Impact on Homelessness from the Coronavirus

Let us join in prayer for: 

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff

Jimmie Hawkins, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Kari Hay, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray:

Sovereign Lord, we thank you profoundly that you do not send away anyone who comes to you. Grant us no rest in our ministries until we reach out to all peoples with the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

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