Already the world's theme park capital, Orlando is emerging as a spiritual capital—a new Holy Land for Christianity's modern crusaders.
More than a dozen international ministries, evangelical organizations, and seminary branches have sprung up or relocated to central Florida, and more are on the way. This year, two multimillion-dollar complexes are scheduled to open, both designed in part to convert tourists into pilgrims.
"It looks like Orlando will be the third evangelical Jerusalem in the U.S. [after Wheaton, Illinois, and Colorado Springs]," says evangelical media analyst Quentin Schultze of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. "I think you're going to see significant growth in the next ten years."
Wycliffe Bible Translators, a Huntington Beach, California-based organization, is negotiating to purchase a 200-acre site close to Orlando International Airport. Wycliffe will move its 300 headquarters employees to rental facilities in Orlando by July.
Two more evangelical Christian organizations recently announced plans to establish an Orlando presence. Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, will become the second major seminary to establish a permanent branch campus in the area. Geneva College in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania, has signed a contract to purchase the Maitland campus of Reformed Theological Seminary, which is moving to a new facility in nearby Oviedo.
In April, Campus Crusade for Christ will occupy the first phase of its 260,000-square-foot, $42 million complex near Orlando International Airport (CT, Oct. 6, 1997, p. 84). Campus Crusade moved to the area seven years ago from California.
Campus Crusade founder Bill Bright hopes that when the World Center for Discipleship and Evangelism is completed it will attract some of the 37 million tourists who visit the area annually. "We want the people who come here to have a spiritual vacation—a vacation with a purpose," Bright says. "We think we have something to offer that they won't normally get at the theme parks."
Orlando already is a popular site for evangelical gatherings. For instance, the National Association of Evangelicals and Evangelical Press Association will hold annual conventions here this year.
Evangelical organizations are flocking to central Florida for some of the same reasons many businesses come here: low-cost land and labor, good airline connections, and the weather.
Orlando was once best known in the religious world as the home of flamboyant televangelist Benny Hinn. But in addition to Campus Crusade and the evangelical seminaries and colleges, other Christian ministries now in the area include Liberty Counsel, the Timothy Fund, Ligonier Ministries, Zion's Hope, Key Life Network, and Strang Communications.
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