Welcome to our Paradise

by | May 31, 2006 | Charisma Archive

Eno and Debi Maletic share the gospel with homeless people in Marathon, Florida—where carefree islanders rarely see Christian compassion.
It’s virtually an unwritten rule that any musical group playing in the Florida Keys has to be asked to perform at least one song by Jimmy Buffet, whose lilting tunes have for a quarter century celebrated the islands’ hedonistic reputation as one long party with great sunsets and lots of fishing.

Yet the shouted request for “Coconut Telegraph,” a ditty about local gossip, comes a little unexpectedly as Debi Maletic and a band play for a dozen or so people in an upstairs room in Marathon, halfway down the chain of islands that snakes out from the southern end of Florida 100 miles into the ocean. That’s probably because Maletic is leading worship.

But if the drinking song appeal is unusual in a church service, then so is this midweek congregation, comprised of an assortment of runaways, dropouts, misfits and assorted others down on their luck who will later drift away to their makeshift homes in the woods, under bridges, in cars.

Once living prosperously in New Jersey, Maletic and her husband, Eno, have spent the last few years ministering to some of those who have found the Keys’ promise of paradise to be an illusion.

Through their HigherLove Mission Outreach, the pair run a drop-in center, provide hot meals, refer those looking to change to rehabilitation programs, help reunite others with their families and doggedly preach that anything is possible with God.

“We are missionaries to those that are the most unloved and sometimes the most ungrateful,” she says. “We need to give them the opportunity to come to Christ because it’s the only answer. Without Jesus they don’t stand a chance.

“The most important thing we can give them is an opportunity for Jesus to touch the woundedness that nothing else, no one else can, not even the best psychiatrists,” she continues. “There’s a place for that, and for medical help, but nothing will touch that woundedness but Jesus.”

After funding the ministry themselves for several years largely through Eno’s landscaping business, the Maletics have recently been given money by the city for their programs. “Nobody else is doing what they do, and they do it with a lot of love,” says John Bartus, Marathon’s vice mayor. “I’m impressed by the services they are providing to the homeless community.”

Judy Bell credits HigherLove with giving her new life after being homeless. “If it wasn’t for them, I’d still be on the streets, I’d still be drinking and smoking,” says Bell, now a volunteer at the ministry. “They helped me feel good, believe in God. … I’m going to help them as much as I can.”

Stanley Green, who in his 70s sleeps under a tree, likes being able to visit the HigherLove center “to sit down and relax, wash up. It’s very peaceful, quiet.”

He enjoys the services, too. “They don’t preach like most people; they don’t preach fire and brimstone. They have done a whole world of good to me, shown me there’s a better way of living. I used to be so angry at people; now I say a prayer to Him every day and night.”

HigherLove isn’t what the Maletics had in mind, though, when the former bouncer and cocktail waitress moved down to Florida to join the staff of a church, eager to be in full-time ministry after coming to Christ.

Things didn’t work out, and they ended up forming a small home fellowship under the oversight of their old pastor from New Jersey. Then a homeless person came into one of their services. “You could smell him 50 feet away,” Eno recalls. “He was filthy, hadn’t showered in a month.”

But he enjoyed the service, and the Maletics discovered hidden homeless camps in the surrounding mangrove plots when they offered to give the visitor a ride. In subsequent weeks he returned, bringing homeless friends, and as more of them came along, fewer of the regulars did.

“We didn’t take on a homeless ministry; we just got to know one homeless person as a human being, ” says Eno, who describes himself as having been a typical “conservative Republican” with the opinion that “there’s no reason anybody should be homeless in the U.S. if they just got a job and made some money.”

But he discovered it isn’t always that easy in the Keys, where service jobs don’t pay well and the cost of living is among the highest in the country.

“Our understanding of what is the church has been turned upside down,” he admits. “My original conception was you went there to experience God twice a week. Now I know there are no limits, it’s full time, 100 percent.”

For Debi a turning point came early on in a service when she asked if anyone wanted prayer and a woman with a bloodied head raised her hand. “She said she’d been hurt and I thought she’d ask God to heal her, but she said she would like Jesus to help her forgive the person that had done this to her,” Debi remembers. “I couldn’t even talk. … The selflessness of that just made such an impact on me.”

Although untrained, the Maletics have learned through experience and the leading of the Holy Spirit how to deal with people fighting addictions or other life-controlling problems. “They’ll bait you to see if you are for real,” Debi says. “You have to be in constant prayer, or your human nature kicks in. You need to keep seeing them with the eyes of Jesus.”

The street smarts she learned as a teenage dancer on Broadway and young bit-part player in movies stand her in good stead in the homeless world. And she believes God used even her lifelong love for animals—she used to work as a veterinarian technician—to prepare her for ministry in the Keys.

“I seemed to have this uncanny ability to come across animals in need and distress. One time I remember God telling me, ‘I’m going to teach you how to love people the way you love animals.'”

Not everyone is supportive of their work. They lost one ministry location when the owners became unhappy about all the homeless people attending and had to hold services on the beach until they found another home above a furniture store’s storage facility.

Success stories are bittersweet, for they usually end with those the couple have helped moving away, back home or into rehab programs, and “so the more successful we are, the more friends we lose,” Eno says.

Debi recalls reuniting Willie, the woman who asked for prayer to forgive her attacker, with her family in Louisiana. An alcoholic, Willie died a few months later at age 42.

“But she didn’t die in the woods,” Debi says. “She died at home, reunited with her daughters.”

Andy Butcher is the editor of Christian Retailing magazine and former senior writer for Charisma.


Stay up-to-date with current issues, Christian teachings, entertainment news, videos & more.

The latest breaking Christian news you need to know about as soon as it happens.

Prophetic messages from respected leaders & news of how God is moving throughout the world. 


Raise Your Praise!

Raise Your Praise!

These are the days that may leave you feeling defeated. You may be wondering when these present trials will end or how can you strengthen your faith for the battle as you wrestle against powers and principalities that come against you, in addition to the challenges...

7 Elements Needed for Revival That Will Usher in Reformation

7 Elements Needed for Revival That Will Usher in Reformation

Read Time: 1 Minute 9 Seconds What will turn the nations around? What will restore the world to sanity? There have been revivals from Old Testament times up through the year 2000. Today we need both a revival and a reformation. Here are 7 elements needed to usher in...

Messianic Rabbi: The Blessing of Esau Brings Freedom

Messianic Rabbi: The Blessing of Esau Brings Freedom

Read Time: 4 Minutes 55 Seconds Growing up in synagogue, I was taught about the heroes of the Bible: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and Samson. When I became a believer in Yeshua, the writings of the New Testament new heroes were added to the...

Mario Murillo: An Era of Mass Soul Winning Has Begun

Mario Murillo: An Era of Mass Soul Winning Has Begun

Read Time: 4 Minutes, 27 Seconds From the very first tent stake we drove into California soil, until now, there has only been one dream. And, after two years, that dream came true in Roseville. Roseville is the victory we have yearned for. It confirms that an era of...

God’s Strategy for His End-Times Church

God’s Strategy for His End-Times Church

Read Time: 2 Minutes 23 Seconds In this webinar, Grant Berry discussed the strategy the Lord is releasing for His end-time plans to reform His Ekklesia/church. God is revealing different focuses of this strategy to various parts of the body, especially as it relates...

How You Can Flow in the River of Living Water

How You Can Flow in the River of Living Water

Read Time: 5 Minutes, 2 Seconds A river is a source of life. As it is in the natural, so it is in the spiritual. Jesus told His disciples that if we believe in Him, "rivers of living water" will flow out from within us, from our hearts. "Anyone who believes in me may...


Chris Reed Shares Prophetic Word on the Future of China’s Xi Jinping

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BEKEaNqZydk Read Time: 1 minute 20 seconds Unprecedented mass protests are unfolding right now across China. The country is seeing the largest pushback in decades,...
Cindy Jacobs Prophesies: Trust That He is There

Cindy Jacobs Prophesies: Trust That He is There

Read Time: 2 Minutes 42 Seconds It’s very interesting how the Holy Spirit will use things that you’re going through to not only prophesy to you, but also to prophesy over the body of Christ. In listening to other people and hearing what’s been coming out of their...

Have We Departed From the  Simplicity of Christ?

Have We Departed From the Simplicity of Christ?

Recently I heard a pastor say the following: "When I was pastoring and saw little fruit, I began to call those with potential to reach others for Christ to our home and to mentor them one on one. That's where massive growth happened in the people." Local pastors and...

Joyce Meyer: Becoming a Prisoner of Hope

Joyce Meyer: Becoming a Prisoner of Hope

Read Time: 3 Minutes 56 Seconds God is good. And He has a good plan for each of our lives. No matter what may be going on right now, God’s plan is unfolding. In the meantime, Romans 12:12 tells us to “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer,”...

Pin It on Pinterest