Florida man from dysfunctional background now provides hope to the homeless

Matthew's hope program supported by 50 churches

By Kate Santich

Orlando Sentinel

Published: Sunday, Jan. 6 2013 6:30 a.m. MST

Meeting his future wife at a softball game — where she first struck him out, then hit a line drive to his groin — saved him. She was the divorced mom of an infant daughter, and he knew enough about his own parenting role models to realize he didn't want to duplicate their example. He quit drugs cold turkey.

But it was a chance venture to a church sermon that left him feeling unexpectedly disoriented — and then invigorated. Soon it was all he could think about.

"God turned my life inside out," he said. "I was having conversations with him at night in my sleep. It got to the point where I couldn't help but listen."

A high-school dropout, he worked his way through seminary school before being hired — and fired — by three churches for his habit of challenging congregants to walk the walk. Six years ago, he started the Next Community Church, which has about 100 members.

He earns no salary there, either.

"He has a brilliant business mind," said Cathy Jackson, executive director of the Homeless Services Network of Central Florida, the agency that secures grant funding for charities and helps coordinate their efforts. "If I won the lottery tomorrow, one of the first donations I'd make is to Matthew's Hope because I know their work is outstanding. His view is that they need to consider the whole person for the long term."

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, when the ministry is open for drop-in visits, the place is packed. Yet it operates with surprising precision. There's an intake system for first-timers, where they're queried about where and how they currently live, what they need immediately and what they need to get back to an independent life. They're also asked about drug and alcohol use.

If they want more than a hot meal, shower and laundry, Billue has expectations.

"If you have money for drugs, why am I feeding you or helping you get food stamps?" he explains. "But we won't cut someone off immediately, especially if they have children."

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