Red Suitcase Ministry at a Glance
"Bear one another's burdens thus fulfilling the law of Christ!" Galatians 6:2
Red Suitcase Ministry knows that our strength lies in God's power and His Word that we stand by which most importantly guide the actions of our initiatives.
RSM is a non-profit organization that was created as a result of the amazing outpouring of support toward former homeless veteran, Richard, who was living out of a red suitcase. This outpouring resulted in the purchase of a $20,000 RV for Richard to live in!
See below the news videos on how this single act of listening to the Holy Spirit started a movement!
How it all started...
On Friday July 24th, I finished eating lunch with my family at The Breezeway restaurant in downtown Sanford. I walked along the old storefronts on my way back to my truck.
That’s when I noticed him. He was sitting on top of his walker inside the entry way to a vacant store. I immediately noticed the worn out Bible next to him. He was a well-dressed and well-groomed elderly gentleman. His clothes were clean and pressed with his shirt tucked in. But what caught my eye the most was the big red suitcase next to him. It appeared like he was waiting on a bus or a family member to come pick him up. But that was not to be....
I was immediately prompted by the Holy Spirit to ask him if he needed help. His response was a stern, “No! I have been homeless for over two years! I’m fine.” I then asked him where he sleeps and he said on a park bench at the lake front with only a blanket. I showed him my Sheriff’s badge as I was off-duty but wanted to let him know he could trust me. He went on to tell me that his name was Richard and that he was 80 years old. He said that he recently found a place but they ended up charging him too much.
Richard told me that he only gets a $1500 a month from the VA and was adamant that he will only pay $400 a month for rent. I said to him “Oh, so you are a veteran?” He proudly stated that he served in the US Army from 1963 to 1965 in Field Artillery! He was stationed in Germany as well as Ft. Carson, Colorado.
All this being bad enough in itself but when he replied that he was once a soldier for United States of America, I had seen and heard enough. This forgotten and ignored veteran would not be homeless if I had a say in it! Right then and there, in front of the abandoned storefront, talking to one of the “least’ of these, the Lord laid it on my heart to find him a home and to restore one of America’s heroes to honor and respect! Before I walked away, I laid hands on him and prayed. I got his phone number and told him I would find him a home. As I walked away, I could tell by his response that he did not expect to see me again.
I immediately communicated Richard’s story on Facebook as well as with my Revelation Church family. Unbeknownst to Richard, I had snapped a picture of him and posted it on Facebook and explained the story of “Richard the homeless vet”. My intentions were to find someone willing to give him a room to rent or an apartment for what Richard was willing to pay. But before I knew it, my post on Facebook went crazy with many wanting to donate money for his rent and security deposit. I then decided to create a Facebook fundraiser and set the limit for $1000. To my astonishment, that goal was met within the hour that very afternoon. But the greatest news I received later that day was a message I received from Rina Stuart. She wrote that there was a couple with a ministry called Blessing from Jesus Over the Road Ministry on the outskirts of Sanford. The couple was Tom and Penny Sheipe and they serve the homeless.
Rina went on to say that they recently lost an 80 year old Army vet who they had been taking care of for the past 15 years. The Sheipe’s said that they could put Richard up in his old travel trailer! God was using me to bring them another 80 year old Army vet to replace their loss in a time when they needed to be comforted. I immediately called the Sheipe’s who were so happy to take Richard in and would not take “no” from him. They also stated they are much more than landlords as they would treat him like family by feeding him, driving him where he wanted to go as well as look in on him continually…his personal caretakers! This was almost too good to be true but only if God wasn’t in it then I would have believed that. So once having secured Richard a new home, it was time to find Richard!
On Saturday July 25th, I set out early the next morning with me sister, Tammy Uliano, and my buddy from Revelation Church, Matthew Babbitt, to find him. As we drove around downtown Sanford, Tammy would get out and ask people if they saw an elderly man with a walker and a red suitcase. After half an hour, we started to become discouraged as no one had seen him. But then as if God waited for the right timing, there he was all by himself on the footsteps of the closed Civic Center. He was packing up his measly belongings preparing to head off for his day.
I immediately jumped out of my truck and yelled to Richard. He immediately thought I was someone harassing him and walked quickly in the opposite direction. I caught up to him and told him I was the deputy sheriff that he met the day. It took him several seconds and he then said he remembered. I excitedly told Richard that I found him a home for $500 a month and created a fundraiser to cover the extra $100 a month that he was not willing to pay. I told him that he would be renting a small travel trailer/RV on a large piece of property overlooking a pond. I asked him if he would like to go see it. He agreed as long as it wasn’t an assisted living facility because he stubbornly stated that he has to have his independence!!We soon arrived on the property and met Tom and Penny. What an amazing couple with the loving heart of Jesus. The RV was small and old but huge compared to a park bench. It also had a beautiful view of a pond and wood line.
After much convincing by Tammy and Penny, Richard agreed to stay at least one night. His biggest complaint was it was too far from Downtown Sanford. The Sheipes promised to take him there and drop him off whenever he wanted if he decided to stay.
The next day on July 26th, I picked Richard up for church. I asked him about his first night, praying that he liked it. Richard then stated, “I found my home!” My prayers were answered!
While at church that day, Pastor Joe Manno asked Richard to come to the alter. Pastor Joe prophesied to Richard that his life was not over and God had big plans for him. Little did I know that Richard was a former musician and songwriter who used to write Christian songs. When we got back from church, Richard said that he felt God telling him to write Christian music again.
I saw Richard the very next day and Tom had already given him a guitar. He then showed me the lyrics to a new song. He picked up his guitar and played for me his new Christian song. He had a voice like an elder Johnny Cash.
Meanwhile, the first fundraiser had met its goal within the first day. I then decided to create a second fundraiser due to the huge demand from my Facebook community, church family, and friends to want to donate. By Tuesday July 28th, the total of the second fundraiser was fast approaching $10,000 and I was then given a new motive for the fundraising! Buy Richard his very own newer and bigger travel trailer/RV!
Ultimately, This is how Red Suitcase Ministry came to be. Since then, We have already helped many families through counseling, resources, and most importantly prayer.
Carlton R. Tipton
Founder/President of Red Suitcase Ministry