PUBLISHED THURSDAY NOVEMBER 20, 1997
Copyright 1997 The Pensacola News Journal. All rights
Revival benefits: Fact or fiction?
Area agencies tapped out trying to help worshipers
By Kimberly Blair and J. Lowe Davis
News Journal staff writers
PENSACOLA - Brownsville leaders say the revival
has done wonders for the Pensacola economy.
They boast that it has performed miracles for the afflicted
and the addicted.
They do not highlight the burden the revival is placing
on the community.
They do not provide medical verification of the healing
The News Journal 's four-month investigation into Brownsville
claims has found that the revival 's benefits have been overstated and
the negative effects have been overlooked or understated.
The revival is bringing in thousands of visitors, and
many of them spend some money here but how many and how much? Nobody could
provide the News Journal with data that could gauge whether the influx
is an economic boon.
The Pensacola Convention and Visitors Center, which is
connected to the Pensacola Area Chamber of Commerce, has kept no figures
on revival visitors and could not provide an assessment of the revival
's economic impact.
Fast-food and buffet-style restaurants say they have enjoyed
patronage, ranging from 5 to 20 percent, since the revival started 2 years
A number of motels have had more business because of the
revival, but most are ones with rooms in the moderate-price and budget
range. Some of the motel managers complain that revival visitors keep a
tight rein on spending by crowding a number of people into one room.
And then there are the revival visitors who spend nothing
at all because they have nothing. Those are the ones the community 's charities
and service agencies are seeing in quantity.
Those are the people who are driving beat-up cars, hitchhiking,
or hopping on buses with a one-way ticket in hand.
They have heard that the Pensacola Brownsville Revival
is the answer to all their emotional, financial and spiritual needs.
They have heard that God is moving nightly inside Brownsville
Assembly of God.
They have heard that God will work a miracle for them,
if they can just get into the church and get saved.
They have heard once they arrive, "God will provide."
But when the revival services end for the night, a number
of those people find themselves without a place to sleep or anything to
They seek help from the church.
They are turned away.
"A lot will come and want gas money to get back home.
We are not set up for that," said Rose Compton, Brownsville Assembly of
God business administrator.
"We have such a tremendous expense with employees and
products we use. We don 't have the money for their personal needs."
The revival is taking in about $3 million a year, according
to the church 's estimate of $12,500 a night. The church 's 1996 total
budget was $6.6 million and its revenue was $6.5 million.
Receiving no assistance from the church, the needy visitors
find their way to public agencies and charities, which are not set up or
sufficiently funded to handle the influx.
Loaves and Fishes has housed two families and about 10
to 15 individuals who said they came here for the revival, said Rick Humphreys,
executive director. But Loaves and Fishes is mainly a soup kitchen with
a few emergency shelter beds.
Humphreys is happy to help, he said. Brownsville is one
of about 20 churches that donates money to the charity. Humphreys would
not say how much any of the churches give.
The Jesus Care Center, a soup kitchen at Northridge Church,
has fed many revival visitors from many states as well as from overseas.
One man, in a wheelchair, was from England, said Steve Hauck, who operates
"A lot come in and say they came to stay to go to revival.
They try to find work," he said.
Brownsville gave a one-time donation to the center, he
said. Neither he nor the church would say how much.
Lon Roberts, pastor of Circle Baptist Church and board
member of the Escambia Coalition on the Homeless, has helped several out-of-town
families of revival visitors plus four individuals who were stranded when
their money ran out.
"At least one felt like he was getting so much from the
revival he wanted to stay and get more." But he had no money, Roberts said.
"He was not prepared."
"The revival has brought more needy to the community than
the social services can deal with."
Many agencies say they are just now beginning to realize
the extent of the negative impact the revival is having on local resources.
Several agency officials fear the burden will worsen as
the revival goes on. They note that the revival urges the visitor to "get
here as often as you can."
One agency, which relies in part on public funding, has
almost gone broke assisting the revival poor, according to its spokesman.
He asked that the agency not be identified. Reason: He wants to protect
client confidentiality and because he and other officials there don 't
want local donors to know they have nearly depleted the agency 's resources
The Escambia Coalition on the Homeless has not asked Brownsville
Assembly of God to start helping, Roberts said, because a Brownsville member
told him the church had a homeless program called Hope Outreach Ministry.
However, the News Journal has found that Hope Outreach
Ministry is not a program for the homeless nor is it church-funded. It
is part of Brownsville Revival Blessing Outreach, created and run by volunteers
with donations from local businesses and individuals.
Social service agencies are not the only ones bearing
the burden of providing for the revival 's poor.
Sue Williams, who operates Elegant Junk, a second-hand
furniture and clothing store on Mobile Highway near the church, said she
has spoken with at least a dozen revival visitors who ended up broke and
stranded after attending revival.
"I see homeless sleeping on church grounds, convinced
that church is the answer to everything," she said.
Williams does what she can by giving them clothes. She
also gives them phone numbers of agencies that might help. She keeps a
list posted on a bulletin board behind her counter.
Sybil Folsom sees those people as well. She operates Sybil
's Kitchen, a small cafe on Mobile Highway, two blocks west of the church.
"I give them a sandwich and a cup of coffee," said Folsom,
who says she is a Christian and does not mind feeding the homeless.
She also does not mind lending an ear.
Folsom said that they all say the same thing: "God told
me to come to Pensacola. God said, 'Don 't worry about money. ' God will
Jean Rey, director of the Pensacola Bay Baptist Association
benevolence program, said that many of the revival visitors are not only
poor, they lack good judgment.
"They 've heard there are miracles and God will perform
that miracle for them. I wish I could invent a pill to give people good
"Brownsville needs a benevolent program just like some
of the other churches have.
"Brownsville should shoulder a greater responsibility
for those who come for revival. They can take a percentage of the nightly
offering to fund it," Rey said.
Roberts, the Circle Baptist pastor, said he would advise
revival visitors to use common sense.
Rey believes people can find what they are seeking at
"I would want to tell them, 'Stay home and find a local
church,' " Rey said. "God does not live just in Pensacola."