An unwavering passion guides Ocala street preacher
Editor’s Note: Sadie Fitzpatrick uses this space to explore the character and quirks that make Ocala uniquely wonderful and occasionally irksome.
You may pass him on your way to work or taking the kids to school. He’s almost always in a folding chair with a tattered Bible on his lap. He has probably smiled and waved while you sat at a red light, his megaphone preachings dimmed by the screech of brakes and the blaring of horns.
From his perch in front of Walgreens on Southwest 17th Street in Ocala, Joseph Strachan has been winning souls for Jesus for 30 years, inspiring some with his unwavering devotion to his ministry and, in all likelihood, causing some to question his sanity.
Dewy dawn to hazy dusk, drenching rain or blistering heat, Joseph mans his post seven days a week. He pulls a small grocery cart with the necessities he will need for the day’s work: his black folding chair, his megaphone, his Bible, small stones to hold down the Bible’s thin pages when a breeze kicks up and a half-empty bottle of olive oil, which he uses to anoint those who seek his counsel. He is prepared for the elements with a striped umbrella if a stray thunderstorm should arise and a small, hand-held fan for relief from the unrelenting Florida sun.
On a recent Tuesday, Joseph carefully unpacks each item, placing them within arm’s reach of his chair. The last item he puts out is his offering box where visitors can donate to his cause if they feel moved to do so.
Settled in, he begins to read into his megaphone the words that the Lord has put on his heart that day. He doesn’t prepare a sermon or pick out verses in advance, instead trusting that God will give him the words that will draw people to him, and eventually, to God.
“Jesus leads the people here. If it were up to men, two people would show up, but Jesus sends who needs to be here. I see 10-20 people a day,” he explained.
As he reads into his megaphone, his voice swells with passion about what he’s preaching. In between readings, he closes his eyes tightly, raises his hands to the sky and shakes his head back and forth, wordlessly praising Jesus.
Joseph says he draws the curious, the impervious and the downtrodden to his humble patch of grass. Some approach him out of curiosity, others come to sneer at his unwavering faith.
When his faith is questioned, he turns back to the Bible, saying, “It’s all in there. I just read what the Lord says, and the answers are all there. I lead the people to the Word.”
Joseph draws all kinds of people. He claims to have cured people of medical conditions such as AIDS and cancer and has counseled others who have had suicidal thoughts. His ardent supporters stop by weekly to pray with him. Those desperately seeking one-time relief through prayer rarely return. He hopes they found what they needed from him.
“I love people. They are my work. I’m here to tell them about Jesus. I live by and for the Lord,” he said.
Joseph’s journey began on August 20, 1975 in Nassau, The Bahamas, when he says God came to him in a vision and told him to go out and spread the Word of the Lord.
“I asked, ‘How can I do this, Lord? Who will fight my battle? How will I be provided for?’ And the Lord said, ‘I will take care of all of it. Just go.’ And He has. He’s taken care of everything, praise God,” Joseph said.
This street ministry is Joseph’s full-time occupation. He says he plans to continue preaching until his last day on earth. He relies on the kindness of both strangers and supporters to provide “tithes and offerings,” which allow him to purchase food and maintain his residence at the Palms Motel on Pine Street.
Joseph’s ministry isn’t traditional in any sense. There are no pews or stained glass windows, no Holy Communion or wearing your Sunday best yet hundreds of people in Ocala have looked to Joseph for spiritual fulfillment throughout the years.
“The glory is to God. I give the people what they are looking for. Everyone is looking for peace, for redemption. When they come to me, they learn about Jesus and what He alone can provide.”
It would appear those that are part of Joseph’s flock have seemingly better lives than he does — with sufficient financial stability, transportation and housing. However, they seek words of redemption from a man whose earthly needs are barely met.
Joseph believes wholeheartedly that there is no need to worry as God has promised to protect him, holding tight to the words of Psalm 91: “I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Perhaps it is Joseph, a man of meager financial means and few earthly possessions, who has become the fortress for those in Ocala seeking salvation and hope. Next time you’re at that red light on 17th Street, roll down your window and listen to the verses that filter through the air above the traffic noise. It just might be what you needed to hear that day.
Have your own observations about Ocala? Share them with Sadie at firstname.lastname@example.org.