Ministries such as Lighthouse Ministries are not created overnight. They start with an available spirit, an idea, a vision, a plan, and a step of action. This is the story of how Lighthouse Ministries began, and a story of how Carl Warnock and Jim Welch’s choice to be available to God not only impacted their lives, but also impacted the lives of others.
In the mid 1970s, Carl Warnock, a businessman in Lakeland, was asked to counsel a young man who was interested in starting a homeless shelter. Carl had visited a shelter in the Tampa area and knew that location was a key step in the process. Carl agreed to help the young man. They discovered many locations, but they weren’t the right ones. The locations were too far from the city and the transient population. “You need to be down around where the transients hang out,” Carl told him.
The young man needed to bring a shelter to the people. He needed a location near the train stations and bus terminals. Soon, a former liquor store and bar located on the corner of Kentucky Avenue and Bay Street – the heart of Lakeland’s transient community – was chosen.
Carl had allowed himself to be used by God in helping the young man fulfill his vision for a shelter. Carl spoke with the property owner about purchasing the building, and he agreed. However, he had one condition: Carl had to take responsibility for the building in case the young man was unable to open the shelter. Carl agreed.
Putting his trust in God, Carl informed the young man that he was successful in purchasing the property, but the young man had bad news: He was not going to be able to open the shelter. His church and other supporters had decided not to back him up in his efforts at the time. In a matter of moments, Carl found himself standing outside of a rundown liquor store that he was now the sole owner of.
Standing there at the corner of Kentucky and Bay, Carl immediately called his friend Jim Welch, a judge and practicing lawyer. He asked him to come down and see the building. When Jim got there, Carl explained what happened. Jim looked at Carl and responded, “God’s using you. He knows you’re available.”
“It’s not about ability or inability. It’s about availability.” It didn’t matter if Carl and Jim had the ability or inability to run a shelter. God only asks that people make themselves available to be used as tools to accomplish His will. Carl and Jim were available.
That day, both Carl and Jim stood on the street corner and prayed. They prayed thanking God for the journey they were about to take. They prayed for guidance in the days to come. They prayed to be used by God in a way that would help others.
In 1977, the former liquor store opened as the new Lakeland Lighthouse Rescue Mission. Dedicated to reaching the least, the last, and the lost for Jesus Christ, the ministry grew and later became Lighthouse Ministries, Inc.
Today, Lighthouse Ministries, Inc. continues its fight against homelessness by providing food, clothing, shelter, and various programs to the homeless communities of Central Florida.