U.S. Federal Agents Kick Out Church Relief Agencies.
U.S. Federal Law Enforcement Agents told them to leave or go to jail and be fined $500.00Ocala National Forest March 15, 2001
Church relief agencies were told to shutdown during a two week gathering in February by U.S. federal agencies in an effort to stop all humanitarian aid to a gathering of hippies known as the Rainbow Family of Light. Several Christian ministries have been feeding the poor, homeless and Vietnam veterans of the Ocala National Forest in Central Florida for more than five years.
Church ministers met with law enforcement officials and showed them their annual camping passes for each vehicle in attendance, but law enforcement officers told them they had 24 hours to get out or go to jail and face a $500 fine.
Law enforcement officers from as far away as Tennessee working on behalf of the National Forest Service told church officials that if they gave out any more humanitarian aid to help the poor and homeless in the Ocala Forest they would violate a Federal law against supporting an illegal assembly.
The religious agencies bringing blankets, water, food, clothing and medicine to more than 3,000 homeless people who annually gather in the Ocala National Forest. The ministries have also sponsored hygiene programs, local produce gleaning projects, Thanksgiving dinners, education for food dehydration methods and medical clinics.
Pastor Chris Ward of Logos Christian Fellowship said they minister to the poor and homeless of the Ocala National Forest year round and have never been raided by local National Forest personnel before. He argues that this action is in direct opposition of President's Bush's desire to help local church relief agencies meet the needs of the poor.
"We cannot believe it," said Ward who is a Vietnam veteran. "We have helped the veterans, poor, homeless and hippies in this forest for years."
Ministers had a campsite and food station located near an annual gathering of poor and homeless campers mostly part of the Rainbow Family. The food station was informed that they were too close to "these people" and that if they did not move out immediately, they would be arrested.
Since the church relief agencies are not part of the Rainbow People and only minister to the needy in the National Forest, they relocated immediately as ordered.
The Christian relief agencies decided not to break the law and stopped bringing water, bread, and canned food to the forest and sought further legal assistance. Church officials asked Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL) to investigate on their behalf.
Church relief officials are asking Christians to get the word out, to write their Representatives and to pray.
"St. Francis Assisi said, 'Preach the Gospel at all times, if necessary, use words. We just want to love people," said Ward. "We won't break the law. We are Christians. But since when is it illegal to feed the poor and homeless?"