When Gustavo Cabrera arrived at the Loving Hands Ministries campus in Dade City, he had no idea about the kind of impact it would have on his life.
His path to the ministry began while he was in Miami.
He had taken up with bad company there and was implicated in a robbery.
After the incident, he began a spiritual quest to get his life in order and came across a pamphlet about Loving Hands Ministries – a program that relies on the study of Scripture, to help men get their lives back on track.
After his two-year stay on the Dade City campus, he went on to graduate from Southeastern University and is now a minister helping to build churches.
Loving Hands Ministries has two campuses. One is in Dade City and the other is in Palmetto.
Marshall Walker is program director for the Dade City campus.
He, too, went through the ministry’s two-year program.
“The reason it’s become successful for me — and I believe for all the men — is that it’s a spiritual regeneration,” Walker said.
The program requires the men to spend several hours each day studying the Bible.
Walker described himself as a struggling drug addict when he moved onto the Dade City campus.
Building a relationship with Jesus and getting away from worldly distractions changed him, Walker said.
“Sin is fun for a season, but then after a while, it’s not fun anymore,” Walker said.
Loving Hands Ministries was founded in the 1980s by Pastor Wendell Wilson and his wife, Nancy, who wanted to help men like Cabrera and Walker.
Pastor Wilson had led a number of different churches throughout Florida, but after ministering to men on the street and in jails, he felt compelled to do more, said Kim Dodson, his daughter and current president of the organization.
In 1982, the Wilsons opened their Bradenton home to men who were struggling with addiction or other issues — and encouraged them to redirect their lives.
The Wilsons opened the first campus of Loving Hands Ministries in 1984 in Bradenton. That ministry later relocated to Palmetto.
The Dade City campus opened in 1992. It now has five buildings for living quarters, a dining area, a gym and a food storage area. There’s also a recreational facility and a basketball court.
And, the foundation has been laid there for a new chapel. It will provide the men more room for their spiritual work.
Men come to the ministry in different ways.
Some are court-ordered; others join voluntarily.
Some travel from different parts of Florida. Others, from different states.
Some learn about the program when they’re in the hospital, or in jail, or at a church.
The two-year program keeps the men productive — with cooking, daily chores and several hours of Bible study daily.
Through such responsibilities, the men can discover their gifts, Dodson said.
She put it like this: “We teach these men that their life matters and they’re created by God for his purposes, and to be used daily to serve someone else.”
During the second year of the program, the men begin to learn how to minister to each other on campus.
They also visit churches to share their testimonies — hoping to reach others who can benefit from the ministry.
Occasionally, they get away, too, for deep sea fishing, to watch the Tampa Bay Rays, or to enjoy other outings.
Those who graduate from the program, like Walker, have the chance to build careers at their respective campuses.
Some have gone on to higher education. Some are now businessmen, or ministers.
Loving Hands Ministries relies on individual, community and church donations, and occasional fundraisers, such as yard sales, golf tournaments and banquets.
In fact, it is planning to celebrate its 35th anniversary with a banquet on Nov. 21, at the First Church of the Nazarene in Zephyrhills. David West, of Making a Difference Inc., will be the keynote speaker.
Dodson noted: “All these years we’ve never charged a man or their family.”
As her late father used to say: “You can’t put a price on a life.”
Even though her parents have passed away, Dodson wants to continue their vision, with plans to branch out to South Florida.
“Overall, we’re just so blessed with the success rate,” Dodson remarked.
“In the end, it’s the change that takes place in a man’s heart that really changes him,” she said.
To find out more about the organization, or the banquet, visit LovingHands.net or call Marshall Walker at (352) 523-1399.
Loving Hands Ministries banquet
When: Nov. 21 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: First Church of the Nazarene, 6155 12th St., Zephyrhills
Cost: Free admission, suggested minimum donation of $200 for a party of eight
Details: The organization is celebrating its 35th anniversary, with a fundraiser to support its work.
Info: To RSVP and donate online, visit LovingHands.net, or call Marshall Walker at (352) 523-1399.
Published October 30, 2019