Mike and Deb Gilbert founded One City Ministries in 2008 – trusting God when He told them to “go.”
Founded by Mike and Deb Gilbert in 2008, One City Ministries focuses on EMPOWERING everyday Ugandans by creating a sustainable community prototype. All of our work is founded on the message of love and hope represented by Jesus Christ Our Lord and Savior. As One City Co-Founder, Mike Gilbert originally said, “One City Ministries truly believes in the scripture message of “Love thy neighbor as yourself.” In fact, the Gilberts firmly believe that, “We’re all citizens of the same global community.” This is a reality which inspired the name One City Ministries.
In the summer of 2007, Deb was the director of assimilation at Grace Family Church (GFC) in Tampa, FL. In this role, Deb helped new members get connected into small groups or access services offered by GFC. Mike owned a successful Real Estate investment company and also founded and served as an active member of The Christian Emergency Response Force, an organization that trained and organized disaster response teams. While Mike felt called to do missions work in Africa for years, the couple had never been on a mission trip, and Deb had never been interested in the idea.
On July 30, 2007, their 18 year old son, Sean, died from an accidental overdose of oxycodone and alcohol. For weeks after his death, Deb would walk into his room and cry out to God. During one of the daily encounters with God, Deb says God then reminded her that nothing is forever and there was still work for her to do – that they are to go to Africa. Deb says she felt instant peace and a whole new eternal perspective ensued for this would be their new purpose. They sold their possessions and flew to Uganda.
One City Ministries is located in the Mbale region of Uganda and like the rest of the country, the area has suffered from the effects of violent governmental regimes, rebel conflicts and the AIDS epidemic. Despite continual progress, huge issues remain. In fact, 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 Light Village is a 23 acre self-sustaining compound that will feature a medical center, mission team housing, and will be an epicenter for agricultural, theological, medical and environmental education training.
Mike and Deb operate One City Ministries with a “no hand-outs” policy, firmly believing that a hand up will usher in more sustainable life change than a hand out. Over the past 11 years, they have seen Africa crippled by the constant hand-outs of NGO’s and mission organizations. This approach to poverty alleviation creates dependency on the organization and does not allow for the individual family to change their lifestyle to create income and seek out educational opportunities. While this has been a culture shift in the area surrounding Light Village, One City has seen incredible increase in income and opportunity for the families who participate in the programs offered.
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 are teaching.
“Every day I wake up,” says Deb, “and I say, ‘Wow, thank you God, for what we are able to do through you.”