ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — It takes a special kind of person to do difficult work.
- Pastor used his life-changing experience to help others do the same
- Every Friday evening a service message is given to anybody who will listen
- PREVIOUS STORY: Recovery Center Pastor Says Fire Left Residents With Nothing
But after changing around his own life, John Tompkins dedicated it to lifting up others around him.
"Those people are husbands, wives, daughters, sons," he said. "They are a part of this community, just like anybody else is."
Tompkins is a pastor in Eustis, working out of a funky and decidedly eclectic space: a former car garage.
Antiques are packed into the front of the building. A rescue parrot squawks in the corner. And in the back of house sits a makeshift stage, steel feeding trough for baptisms and lacquered wooden bar lined with stools.
"It kind of has a club, bar, vibe feel to it. But we don't serve any alcohol," Tompkins explained. "We serve food up at the bar."
This is a place in which Tompkins hopes people from all walks of life feel welcome.
"Regardless of what class they are in society or what the world judges them as. People come in here, haven't showered for a week," he said, continuing, "We can't judge those people. We're here to love them."
Tompkins wasn't always on this path.
As a body piercer in the Daytona Beach bar scene, Tompkins found himself in and out of jail, even as he later worked as a corrections officer in Lake County. He was even contemplating suicide.
"I got caught up in the world. Caught up in the bar scene. I got caught up drinking, with women," he said. "I thought this was the way it was supposed to be. Until 20 years later, someone handed me a bible."
"Every person he meets he's already thinking in his head what do they need, how can I help them," said Heather Wells, a volunteer at the coffee shop within the church.
"He has the biggest heart of anybody I've ever met. He will literally help anybody," she continued.
Every Friday night around 7 p.m., Tompkins rattles the chains to raise the large garage doors out back of One Fire Church.
It's a place where drug addicts, prostitutes and homeless often congregate.
There they are close enough to hear the service message, but don't always choose to come inside.
"If they believe, don't believe, we're here for them," Tompkins said.
"We wanted to create an atmosphere that was just comfortable. Our job is to love. Our job is to offer what we have first," he continued.
From time to time, the space provided temporary shelter for those living without. Open doors — just not enough room.
"I can't bring everybody back to my house," Tompkins said with a chuckle.
On his own dime, Tompkins started a men's recovery center. He helps addicts at One Fire's City of Refuge, which is located along Orange Blossom Trail in Mount Dora, by offering a place to stay, counseling and opportunities for some work.
But the sanctuary needed help of its own, following a June lightning strike and subsequent fire.
Tompkins sprang into action, checking on the men and bringing them coffees and sandwiches.
Since then, donations have poured in.
"People we have no idea who they are have reached out with finances, beds, washers, dryers," he said. "I hope that I don't let things like lightning and fire distract me or discourage me."
While his tattoos and gauges may still give away his wild past, Tompkins gives his life to those around him.
"It's a great example. It's who I want to be," said Wells, adding, "He is doing God's work."