Mike and Deb Gilbert founded One City Ministries in 2008 – trusting God as, they say, when He told them to “go.” With a global impact in mind OCM is focused on creating a sustainable community prototype in Uganda while sharing the message of God’s love and His restorative powers. “We’re all citizens of the same global community,” said Mike, a reality inspiring the name One City Ministries.
In the summer of 2007, Deb was the director of assimilation at Grace Family Church in Tampa, FL. Her job was to help new members connect with others in the growing community. Mike owned a Real Estate investment company and also was founder of The Christian Emergency Response Force which trained and organized disaster response teams. While he’d felt called to do missions work in Africa for years, the couple had never been on a missions trip, and Deb had never been interested in the idea.
On July 30 that same summer, their son Sean died from an overdose of oxycodone and alcohol. Deb would walk into Sean’s room every day after his death, and remembers one day crying out to God saying, “this is all I have left of my son, just a box of ashes”… and she says God then reminded her that’s all that is ever left, nothing on the Earth is forever, and there was still work for her to do – that they are to go to Africa. Deb says she felt an instant peace and a whole new eternal perspective ensued for this would be their new purpose. They sold their possessions, and flew to Uganda.
Uganda has suffered under a string of violent regimes such as Idi Amin’s. Civil war, rebel conflicts and the AIDS epidemic have hurt the region tremendously. Mbale, OCM’s chosen African base still faces huge issues – the main causes of death are preventable waterborne illnesses and respiratory infections caused by smoke inhalation. Charcoal is the main fuel used by nearly half of the world population for cooking, which leads to health issues, say the Gilberts.
OCM’s main focus is on a 23 acre compound currently being constructed – the Light Village. The self-sustaining model community will feature a church, school, and orphanage. Food production will be bolstered through the tilapia farm, and waste will create cleaner burning alternative fuels. Hydroponic produce is a significant component.
An OCM economic development program called Africa TrAID pays Ugandan artisans fair rates for handmade items which are sold through OCM’s website and at various retail locations. These wages have paid for homes, medical care, new businesses, and training for Ugandans – some of whom are literally touching money for the first time. A central aspect of the program, the Gilberts say, is that resources and training is being provided – not handouts. Proceeds from Africa TrAID go straight back into OCM work on the ground in Uganda.
Eventually, Mike and Deb’s goal is to replicate the Light Village model in nations across Africa. The sustainable community plan, basic health principles, and commerce opportunities are a much-needed boon to the continent.
The Gilberts say the pain of Sean’s death could either ruin them or motivate them to do something good for the world. They’ve found fulfillment in Uganda, in helping a people in need, and learning as much as they’re teaching.
“Every day I wake up,” says Deb, “and I say, ‘Wow, thank you God, for what we are able to do through you.”