By Tiffany Green-Oldacre
The Cullman Times
Growing up in a small farm town in South Florida, Travis Sharpe had few experiences with church. But God had great plans for him and at age 18, after accepting Christ as his personal Lord and Savior, Travis knew God was calling him to preach.
A few short months later, Travis was on his way to Bible college in South Carolina. It was during his second semester of Bible college, Sharpe and a group from school visited the Salvation Army shelter.
“I grew up in a small farming community and felt lost meeting the homeless. It was scary at first.”
But that evening, after that first visit to the shelter, God spoke to Travis.
“That was the night God shaped me and showed me these are real people. They are not scary, they are not monsters. That night I fell in love with homeless people.”
The next week he went back to the shelter and continued to go every week after that.
Within three months of that first visit, Travis had begun a ministry at the Salvation Army.He began collecting and taking items like socks, hygiene products and other small items to be a tangible witness to the men there. This ministry snowballed into an even larger ministry that became known as the City Bus Route. Every Sunday, Travis was able to pick up residents of the shelter, feed them a biscuit on the way to church, take them to Sunday School and worship service, and finish the afternoon with lunch in the Fellowship Hall. Travis worked tirelessly at the ministry throwing his whole heart into it.
“It grew and grew, and by the time I graduated, I knew I was supposed to work with the homeless,” he said.
While his homeless ministry was growing, Travis was falling in love with a fellow church member. Shortly after graduating from Bible college in 1998, Travis married April.
April knew of Travis’ love of the homeless and in April of 2001, the Sharpes opened the Garden City Rescue Mission in Augusta, Georgia.
“We built the mission from scratch. We had no clue what we were doing, but knew we were supposed to be doing this.”
Shortly before opening the mission, the Sharpes welcomed their first child into the world. A son named Hunter.
“Hunter’s first several months of life were spent in a crib at the shelter,” Travis said.
Growing up in a ministry like this has given Hunter a good perspective on life. He shares his dads passion for others and actively works alongside his parents in their calling.
The shelter was running smoothly and there was even some staff hired so the Sharpes didn’t have to spend every night at the shelter. On any given day, there would be 60 men and 10-15 women and children needing a home.
Travis’ mom and stepdad made the move to Augusta and opened a women’s and children’s shelter to work alongside the Sharpes.
Even after all this, Travis felt God was calling his family to do even greater things.
“It has always been a dream of mine to do missions all over the world. It become clear we could do that and God was calling us to move.”
Travis knew the pastor of a fast growing church in Cullman, Temple Baptist. Through faithful prayer, Travis and his family faithfully moved to Cullman. Here they would be helped by Temple Baptist to start up their ministry. So in May of 2009, the Sharpes packed up and headed West to Cullman.
“We were scared and nervous. We had a ton of unanswered questions,” Travis said.
The Sharpes purchased a mobile home and during their time of transition, began traveling more, speaking at churches and doing what they did best, working with the homeless.
During the next year and a half, the Sharpes traveled all over the country.
It was during this time the vision for the new ministry began to take shape.
While having dinner one winter evening with some new found friends, one of whom had spent a few years homeless, the vision of the ministry hit them - Unsheltered International.
"It just came to us and that evening the name and logo were formed.”
By January of 2011, Unsheltered International was formed and it was presented to Pastor Malcolm Carter at Temple Baptist Church. The newly formed ministry would require help from the church to get off the ground.
By March of 2012, paperwork was filed to obtain credentials to be a non-profit agency and they were awarded that status in September.
The group that formed months earlier over dinner was now a standalone charity.Travis’ dreams were coming true and he was faithfully following God.
“It was really cool and a big milestone for us,” he said.
Unsheltered International put together a staff and focused on the goal-continuing to minister to the homeless.
The Sharpes homeschool their children so they can travel freely with them. The family will travel to Honduras this summer on their first family international mission trip.
Working with homeless has led to unique opportunities. Travis said he has experienced all types of people, and especially people at their lowest. Many of the homeless have some type of addiction and many are mentally ill.
“The overwhelming majority of people receive us gladly. They just want a friend and want someone to care.They want to talk, the homeless community is a tight-knit community, but still can be a very cut-throat community. They really appreciate the time you take for them.”
The Sharpes have seen hundreds of lives changed through their ministry.
“It’s a feeling that’s really good, a feeling that really matters.”
A majority of homeless are homeless for only a short period of time.It may be someone that lost their job and because of that lost their home. Someone living day to day can become homeless overnight. Travis said the extreme, chronic homeless are those that have experienced addiction or have mental illness.
“We minister to these people in their worst condition.”
Travis believes it is his responsibility to take care of the vulnerable and poor.
“We minister, not by pity, we let them know God gave us life for all of us, basically sin wrecks all our lives. We are all guilty of sin. If someone is going to get help, it’s because we are going to give him the Gospel.”
Unsheltered International is not a welfare type ministry. Travis wants all people to know they are not bound by their sins.
“You can do this. You can live a life not bound by sin and alcohol.”
The ministry took an unexpected turn on April 27, 2011. After a devastating tornado that ravaged Cullman County, Travis knew he could not just sit and hope others would step up and help. He put his skills together and by the next day, he had his grills and supplies set up at the Cullman High School parking lot. The group had some food left over from an earlier project and knew now what to do with it.
Word of mouth spread quick.
“All of the sudden people started showing up,” he said. “
By that evening, Travis and other volunteers were feeding police officers and the people of Cullman County.
The next morning, hundreds of people were lining up for breakfast. Travis wondered how could they possibly feed all these people?
Food started showing up. Realizing the power may be out for several days, residents and even restaurants started cleaning out deep freezers. Hundreds of people a day were being feed.
After a few days at the high school, the Cullman County Fairgrounds made room. The grills were packed and moved a few miles down the road. By the time the food ministry moved to the fairgrounds, 3,000-4,000 meals a day were being served.
“By this time, we had 10 tractor trailers full of food,” he said. “It was just awesome.”
The Sharpes, along with hundreds of volunteers fed thousands of Cullman County residents over a 14 day period.
“This had made such an impact when it was finally over, we thought, why aren’t we doing this,” he said.
After a short week break, the Sharpes headed to Joplin, MO, where the residents were experiencing the after effects of a tornado, just as Cullman had. They worked alongside a church providing a food ministry.’
“The Lord wants us to have disaster relief in our ministry.”
The Sharpes have traveled to others areas like Maryville, Indiana and Staten Island, New York, after these towns experienced Mother Nature at its worst.
Even though the focus of Unsheltered International is national and international help, Travis enjoys lending his hand close to home.
The homeless relations coordinator, Tim Barbee will soon launch the New Start Program. He will partner with the Link of Cullman County to help provide shelter to the homeless right here in Cullman County.
To find out more about Unsheltered International, find them on Facebook, Facebook.com/unsheltered or visit them at www.unsheltered.org.