The street-corner preacher of Ybor City
Whatever happened to ...
By RODNEY THRASH
Published April 1, 2007
"The hostile congregation"; Feb. 16, 2006; links.tampabay.com
THE STORY: Every Friday and Saturday night, street preachers position themselves on the sidewalk at E Seventh Avenue and N 16th Street, the hub of Ybor City's entertainment district. As drunken revelers curse at them, spit at them and physically assault them, the evangelists pass out pamphlets on Christianity, recite passages from the Bible and deliver fiery orations about sin and Jesus Christ.
FROM THE STORY: Preaching on Seventh Avenue, evangelists say, is a commandment from God. To do otherwise is to disobey him.
"The Bible tells us to share the Gospel with every living creature," says Larry Keffer, whose Tampa-based Biblical Research Center ministry has been preaching in Ybor for the last year. "If we're supposed to do that, we're supposed to go where the people are."
And the people - the ones who are starving spiritually, they say - are here.
"What's being promoted is sex, drugs, rock 'n' roll, the exploiting of women," Larry Craft (another street preacher) says.
He doesn't expect a Benny Hinn televangelism moment, with the wicked, sick and lame falling backward, claiming that they are healed and saved. If it happens, great. If it doesn't, that's fine, too. His only job is to spread the Gospel. He leaves the saving part to a higher power.
THE REST OF THE STORY: Since the St. Petersburg Times' story, a group of atheists started coming to the same corner where the street preachers evangelize.
"They have their own signs," Keffer says. "Jesus isn't coming."
Keffer gave up his half of a detective agency to become a full-time preacher. He has taken his pulpit beyond Seventh Avenue to other venues: the Mons Venus in Tampa, Bike Week in Daytona Beach and Mardi Gras in New Orleans. He's currently in Utah preaching the Gospel at a Mormon celebration.
"I've never worked as hard or traveled as much since I've started street preaching as a full-time ministry," he says. "I can't see myself doing anything else."
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT: Keffer will return to Seventh Avenue on Friday. And what will his message to the people be?
"It'll be a terrible day to stand before the throne without the savior."
[Last modified April 1, 2007, 12:04:41]
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