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Megachurch pastor plans to live on the streets of Sacramento to raise money for homeless

After he preaches his last sermon Sunday, the Rev. Rick Cole of the Capital Christian Center plans to leave his wallet behind, pick up his sleeping bag and ride light rail to downtown Sacramento.

The dapper leader of one of the region’s largest congregations said he will live like a homeless person, sleeping on the streets and eating in soup kitchens, for up to two weeks or until he raises $100,000 to fund a program that provides winter shelter for the homeless at houses of worship throughout the area.

Cole broke the news to hundreds of worshippers Saturday evening from the megachurch’s broad stage, with its fog machines, colored lights and giant-screen TVs.

“I’m really excited and really freaked out,’’ he said, adding that he’d never ridden light rail before and had stopped shaving two days ago to get ready.

Cole said he thought his quest might have been divinely inspired. It popped into his head a few weeks ago while he was brainstorming with others about how to fund a program that buses about 100 homeless people on winter nights to area churches and synagogues, where they eat and sleep and get help finding work and more-permanent shelter.

The program, called Winter Sanctuary, is led by nonprofit Sacramento Steps Forward, of which Cole is the chairman.

“We’re not supposed to leave (people) out in the rain and cold,” he told his flock.

When Cole mentioned the idea to his board colleagues, he said it immediately sparked excitement.

“There was electricity in the air around that thought,” he told the congregation. “It would be for me to live on the street for a few days, like homelessly.”

Cole’s effort is part of a drive to raise $300,000 for Winter Sanctuary. The pastor hopes donors will go to his website – www.revonthestreet.com – and give so that he can go home sooner rather than later.

“The goal is to get me off the street,” Cole said smiling.

Cole said in an interview he knows he faces some uncomfortable and dangerous times ahead. He’ll be giving up his comfortable suburban home, warm bed and “Monday Night Football.”

But he may have a friend or two to keep him company, he said. Among those he’s invited are Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who has not committed yet, Cole said. Jacoby Shaddix, frontman of rock band Papa Roach and a member of Cole’s 4,000-member congregation, has agreed to join him on the streets for a spell, he said.

Other members of the Capital Christian Center have already said they’ll tag along to protect their pastor and keep up his spirits.

Tom Platina, a former police officer who works for the church’s winter shelter program, said he’s going with Cole. He said he thinks the pastor will learn from the experience, seeing “the hurt” of living on the streets firsthand. It will allow him to better continue his role as a leader in providing services to the homeless of the Sacramento region, Platina said.

Cliff Humphries, who has been homeless, thought the pastor’s plan was “a little crazy,” but said “if it’s a God appointment it will work.”

“We believe in the Holy Spirit and angelic protection,” Humphries said. “It’s a learning situation, that’s for sure.”

At Saturday’s services, Cole told those gathered that they were the first to hear of his plans except for a few confidants. The worshippers applauded.

The announcement was part of a sermon urging people to be positive and joyful rather than always looking down on others, and to find meaning in life by helping the downtrodden.

“We like to point out the weak and tell them to get it together,” Cole preached. “Maybe (God is) calling us to help them.”

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