Happy Birthday to You—The River at Tampa Bay

From The Heart

Publish date: 12/02/2007

Happy Birthday to You—The River at Tampa Bay

Today we celebrate a birthday! Eleven years ago on Sunday, December 2, 1996, we held the first service of The River at Tampa Bay in the gymnasium of the Sun Dome on the campus of the University of South Florida.

Also, in two weeks, we celebrate the 20th anniversary of our family’s arrival in the United States of America!  God called us to this great nation and we love this country with a passion. Twenty years ago, when we arrived in the USA, we flew from South Africa to Orlando via Miami. We love Florida and would bring our children to Orlando every year from that first Christmas in 1987, usually at Christmas time, but we had never been to Tampa, even though it was so close. We saw the Tampa signs every time we drove on I-4 and there was something that we felt when we looked at that name, but the timing was not right.    

In January of 1993, our ministry was still based in Louisville, Kentucky, when we came to Springhill, Florida, for a month of meetings, followed by a month in Lakeland, which turned into a total of 13 weeks of meetings that year. When we had tried to look at homes or property in Kentucky, we felt a very strong and definite check, in our spirits, from the Lord. When we came to Lakeland, all the houses and apartments for rent and the long-term hotels were full, because of spring-training, so we rented a furnished house in Tampa. Before long we found ourselves looking at houses again, but this time the Lord said to us, “Go ahead and build your house.” He also told us, “For 14 years, you have built My house—I am going to build yours!” We were ecstatic! We were so happy to be in Florida—we really love this state. Florida is a state full of the world—people from every state and every nation!

In 1994 we moved into our home and in 1995, we moved our offices down to Tampa. We continued to travel, but in October, 1996, the Lord spoke to us to start a church in Tampa. We had no desire to pastor before that time, but when God speaks, you obey; when God ordains something, He prepares you and He prepares your way. On Sunday, December 2nd, 1996, we started The River at Tampa Bay with 575 brand new people. We had spent nearly four years sowing revival into Central Florida. Hundreds of thousands of people were touched and changed. People were saved, people were set on fire, and many were called to full-time ministry in that time. It really was a revival!

When God spoke to us to start the church, we went to see every pastor we had a relationship with to tell them what God had told us. Our desire was definitely not to take people from any other local church, but to gather the people who had been touched by the revival who were not attending anywhere else. We knew there were many of them, because we would meet them every where we went in Tampa. God told us, “Go get your babies!” We did not want religious, church-hoppers—we wanted people who were hungry for God. We told our staff that it was not mandatory for them to attend our services if they were committed to another church. We even took every one off our mailing list that we knew attended local churches. We have also worked with local churches and sent our people to help them to win souls in their area.

We believe that God does not give a city to a church, but He gives a church to a city! God gives many churches to each city. There are about 2.5 million people in the Bay area—we need every good church we can get. We believe that the people in our church are not “our people”—they are God’s people! Christians should not be in competition with each other—we should be working together and supporting one another in our cities. We are all in the same business—Kingdom business!

Our vision for this church has not changed—only intensified. What we love about pastoring The River at Tampa Bay is that it is a family of people that have been brought together, by God, with one purpose, one aim, one goal, and one vision: to see a nation shaken! We believe this is a family of soul-winners, prayer-warriors, and financiers of the end-time harvest, that love Jesus with all their heart, and who are committed to seeing America shaken by the power of God. We believe that the best is yet to come. Continue to press in with us into this New Year. We believe that we will see an explosion of every thing that God has promised —including a Great Awakening in America. Thank you for being a part of our family.

Happy Eleventh Birthday to The River at Tampa Bay!