Ministry Today – Serving and empowering church leaders

Two thousand years ago Jesus reached out to what was then society's most stigmatized people group: lepers. Today South Florida pastor Richard Witherow is mimicking Christ by providing a group of modern-day lepers—sex offenders—healing and a place to live. It's not a popular move.

In January, Witherow created Miracle Park, a 24-acre village of one-story houses that sits three miles outside the small farming community of Pahokee, Fla. Having served in prison ministry for more than 30 years, Witherow began not only inviting but actually recruiting those who have been convicted for various sex-related crimes. He preached and distributed pamphlets at nearby prisons, advertising the safe-haven community as a potential "answer to your prayers.”

"People get hysterical when you mention sex offenders," Witherow says. "[But] the ticking time bomb here does not exist."

At least 35 sex offenders now live at Miracle Park and pay $500 each in monthly rent. For those who haven't been able to secure jobs, Witherow finds work for them to do around the complex. Yet his higher purposes for them are found in the small on-site church, in which the ministry director offers classes on such life basics as improving relationships and anger management.

"I don't know where I'd be without it, probably living with my family, but that would be tough," says 34-year-old Louis Aponte, who moved into Miracle Park after serving a nine-year sentence for attempted sexual battery. "Society sees us as lepers, like rejects."

While current laws make it challenging for sex offenders to re-integrate into society (one stipulation mandates they must not live within 1,000 feet of anywhere children gather), often it's the social stigmatization that's equally as difficult. Since forming Miracle Park, Witherow has felt the brunt of this as Pahokee residents have voiced both outrage and concern for the well-being of their children. Recent studies indicate that 5 to 30 percent of sex offenders repeat their crimes—with the chances increasing according the severity of the original crime.

Witherow understands the concerns and knows the risk. In fact, Miracle Park is the culmination of several other attempts to establish such a community in other parts of Florida. In each place, local government eventually thwarted any plans for taking in sex offenders. Yet for now, Witherow can rest assured he is making a difference in the lives of those few others want to touch. [AP, 9/25/09]

Leaders are readers! Subscribe now and get 3 magazines for the price of 1. Get Ministry Today, Charisma and SpiritLed Woman all for $24. YES - I'm a leader!

Ministry Today Subscription Special - Subscribe to Ministry Today magazine today and get 12 issues (2 full years) plus Amplified Leadership, a free leadership book for only $24.

Your Turn

Comment Guidelines
  • Discouragement can be a serious struggle.

    Guard Your Spirit Against These 4 Crippling Attacks

    Are you struggling this Valentine's Day with one of these discouraging issues?

  • Some of the toughest lessons reap the greatest rewards.

    10 Tough Lessons Every Pastor Should Remember in Ground-Shaking Trials

    One is that your suffering may turn out to be the highest compliment the Father ever gave you.

  • Why Many Christians Misunderstand This Crucial Leadership Trait

    Great leadership doesn't start with a great education, although that is incredibly valuable. ...

  • Worship leaders, keep your team's attitude in check.

    This Can Quickly Erode a Worship Team's Culture

    God has given us talent and He calls for excellence, but excellence with this is not honoring ...

  • Start a Wildfire of Spiritual Growth in Your Church

    Start a Wildfire of Spiritual Growth in Your Church

    Watch how God can take one spark and turn it into a wildfire that impacts your ministry, your community and even future generations.

  • Your Source of Unlimited Kingdom Energy and Power

    Jesus said that we can do greater works than He did and that He will do whatever we ask in His Name.

  • What reasons can you think of that leaders might not choose to delegate authority?

    7 Reasons Some Leaders Dump Delegation

    These could have a lot to do with stalled growth and low team morale.

  • These seven responses can get you on the right track.

    Responding Like Jesus When Your Church Kicks You Out

    It's a pain that many in the ministry have felt at least once and maybe more.

  • A 'What's in it for me?' mentality could bring your church down.

    The Mentality That May Be Killing Your Church

    And we wonder why so many congregations are stagnated, plateaued or declining.

Use Desktop Layout
Ministry Today Magazine — Serving and empowering church leaders