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Tuesday, 29 July 2008 02:44

Preacher Finds Trespasses Not Easily Forgiven

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By Cary McMullen
Ledger Religion Editor
Published: Tuesday, September 2, 2008 at 10:40 p.m.

LAKELAND | A long-haired, tattooed evangelist who travels the country in a vegetable oil-powered bus and ministers to the homeless would stand out in most churches and might not be welcome in many. Last week, he got arrested for trespassing at a church that has gained international attention for holding an ongoing faith-healing revival.

Brandt Russo is a thin, soft-spoken man who might resemble Jesus, if Jesus had unkempt hair, wore second-hand clothes, and had facial piercings and tattoos on his arms, hands and ankles.

Ignited Church in Lakeland is the site of the Florida Outpouring, a Pentecostal revival that began in April under the leadership of Canadian evangelist Todd Bentley and drew as many as 300,000 people from around the world. Bentley left the revival in late July under a cloud of marital troubles, but Ignited's pastor, Stephen Strader, has taken it over, and the revival has continued with smaller crowds.

Although things Tuesday seemed on the mend now between Russo and the leaders of Ignited, the dispute between them about the homeless hanging around the revival points to stark differences between two styles of ministry and the question of how to deal with the homeless.

Giving Up Everything

Russo, 24, has a nonprofit organization called Can't Ignore the Poor, run in cooperation with a West Virginia ministry, and he says for the past couple of years he has traveled the country, deliberately living among the homeless and helping them in small ways - serving them meals, offering them a bunk in his converted school bus or buying them small personal-comfort items.

Russo, who quotes the Bible easily and often, said it's a ministry he fell into after taking seriously Jesus' words to give away all one's possessions and follow him. A native of New Iberia, La., the oldest of six children of a church-going family, Russo said he had trouble finding a position as a minister after graduating from Bible college. Discouraged, he dropped out of church, got a job and got engaged, but he kept reading the Bible and was influenced by the writings of Shane Claiborne, a young evangelical who lives in an urban communal ministry in a poor section of Philadelphia.

"It was clear as day. So many times, Jesus tells us to give up everything, to become part of the problem so we can see it firsthand. I was on the streets for about a year. What I had, I shared. People started to hear my story, and God has continued to give me this really cool platform," he said.

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