On September 7, 2002, a Saturday morning, two vans with a handful of visionaries navigated through the trailer parks of Orlando’s inner-city picking up nine kids to bring to church. The vision they shared was to reach children living on the fringes of poverty; children who were powerless to meet their own needs. There was a message of hope and Life for these kids, and through the prayers and dedication of a few, Orlando Children’s Church began on that day.
The idea to start this citywide ministry, pioneered by Peter and Isabel O’Driscoll, originated a few months earlier during the summer of the same year. Peter was regularly witnessing to the homeless of downtown Orlando, presenting the gospel to them through a street-ministry program. He remembers speaking to many children, but felt no specific draw to begin a children’s ministry. As God began to reveal to Peter His heart for the broken and lost children living in the Orlando area, He also began to develop a vision in Peter for a church that would serve kids of all ages. There was no definitive experience that Peter could recall as laying the foundation for this ministry. As he remembers it, he would often say to others, ‘I can’t explain it, but God is just breaking my heart for the children of this city.’
Knowing of only two trailer parks off of Orange Blossom Trail, Peter and a friend began to regularly visit these kids. Once a week they would bring a tarp and paint board and artfully present the gospel of Jesus. The time Peter spent with these children was powerful and moving. Most of the kids were barefoot, and wore ragged clothes; the grittiness and hardship of life evident on their dirty, stained faces. But it was this very rawness and realness of their lives that drew Peter to these children more deeply. The summer months were spent investing time and love into the kids, playing games with them, feeding them, teaching them.
I remember the first time I met Pastor O., he was juggling fruit on his head. He told us he was bad in his old days and that when he found God it filled a hole in his heart.”– Alex Kenny, child, OCC five years.
At the end of the summer, Peter began to approach the parents of the trailer park kids about continuing to minister to them by bringing them to church on Saturday mornings. On September 7th, a few volunteers and a handful of children arrived at First Baptist Winter Park for an experimental first day. Peter remembers, “We read to the kids out of the church library, did a board presentation of the gospel, and hugged them.”
The first day I came we sang songs and played hangman. We didn’t really break off into groups. It was just a few of us, and we all fit in a little white van. Then we started growing and growing and growing.. ..”-Torrie, child, OCC five years
The first few months were filled with constant reminders from God that His hand was in this ministry. While there were no formal planning meetings, the vehicles were consistently sent out and God consistently filled them up. Orlando Children’s Church was allowing these kids to be brought out from emotionally, physically, and spiritually devastating environments and offering them constant love and support. After three months, OCC upgraded to using a 24 passenger church van. Volunteer support became more consistent, and though there were challenges and obstacles, slowly, OCC began to grow. It was just a little under a year when one Saturday morning numbers hovering around 30 jumped to 60. Peter remembers locking eyes with Janice Woody, leader and teacher of middle/high school, and sharing this moment of mutual understanding that something special was happening. It became apparent that OCC needed a larger vehicle, a school bus, and the first of many was purchased at an auction a few days later. As Peter began to drive through the broken and poorest areas of Orlando, mingling with kids and telling them about Saturday church, numbers continued to increase. Ministry was happening…life-changing ministry.
A few weeks into it, Peter said, ‘You know what, I have a dream. There’s gonna be a fleet of buses with kids coming in.’ And you know, I was kinda like, ‘Ya… ok, Peter. We got like nine kids and we’re gonna have a fleet of buses… ok.’ I kinda chuckled thinking…Peter’s the visionary… he always dreams big…” -Janice Woody, leader, OCC since day 1
My feeling was that there was a part of me that was fed up with organized church that was concerned at the root with self-service rather than service to the lost. If we were not going to get serious about going out and reaching people than I was going to get serious about going to get them, bringing them into the church, and placing them face to face with the churched-world. God began to break the hearts of people as we put broken kids in front of them; kids whose eyes you could look into and see the emptiness, what they were wearing and what they weren’t wearing-the things that made them all the more endearing to me.” -Peter O’Driscoll, founder OCC
As God continued to build up Orlando Children’s Church, He provided ways for the ministry to reach people with physical and social needs. We began to have regular Back To School drives. Churches and individuals donated hundreds of school supplies and backpacks for each child to have at the start of the new school year. In December of 2004, OCC had its first Christmas party. A photo of each OCC child was placed on The Angel Tree with a special wish list they’d made. Individuals and families chose a child and/or family to adopt for the Christmas season, and made the holiday a special experience through gifts and Christmas dinner. As the years have gone on, the OCC annual Christmas party has evolved into a massive event, hosting over 700 people and partnering with many community businesses and individuals for food donations, activities and crafts, and stockings filled with presents and treats for each child. OCC’s provision for social needs such as food, clothing, and emergency funds for utilities and rent are met on a regular basis through the generous support of volunteers and families.
On August 15, 2006, OCC transitioned to First Baptist Maitland with four school buses and about 150 kids. In just two years since that time OCC has grown into a ministry that serves hundreds of families and has ten school buses that pick up over 350 children to attend Saturday church every week. Our bus routes reach pockets stretching throughout Orlando, including the areas of Apopka, Bithlo, Conway, Orla Vista, Downtown Orlando, Taft, Union Park and beyond. It is the desire of Orlando Children’s Church to continue to grow as a faith-based mentoring ministry that is able to embrace hurting and broken kids on a one on one basis, bring them to Christ, and see them become successful. We want to equip each child with the knowledge and tools to become world changers; to inspire the people they encounter, and to duplicate what has happened in their lives in the lives of others.
Now here we are, with a fleet of buses and kids coming and giving testimony to how God is changing their lives. How they’re saying no to drugs when people stop them on the street, and how they’re giving back money when someone gives them too much change in a store. You know, those are things that nobody would ever know and yet they do because God makes a difference to them in their lives. It’s nothing that I’ve done or even Peter. It’s seeing God work in these kids lives today. And God gives us the opportunity to be a part of OCC and be a part of the church that He has developed… and it is so cool….so cool.” – Janice Woody