For 20 years now, Florida residents have been seeing messages of hope way up in the skies, and it’s all thanks to a nonprofit that was started by local resident Gerald Stevens after Jesus told him to use his skills as a pilot and paved the way for him to start his Holy Smokes Ministry.
Today, Stevens is still flying, and the plane, the funds for the jet fuel, the training for skywriting and the messages themselves are a credit to Jesus, said Stevens, who flies every clear day he can.
Flying out of the Winter Haven airport in his Grumman Ag-Cat crop duster, Stevens said it is oil injected into the exhaust that makes the skywriting visible. Each day before he flies, he checks the weather and the wind. He typically flies at 10,000 feet to start his words, which can be up to 7 miles high and 3/4 of a mile wide and can be seen from 50 miles around.
Stevens was an entrepreneur in the furniture industry before he moved to Florida from Ohio and settled in Boca Raton. With a supportive wife, four kids and eight grandchildren, it was while walking out of his church one morning 20 years ago, that he got the message from Jesus to skywrite.
Eventually, he moved to Auburndale where he and his wife currently live and his writing can often be seen over Disney World, Universal, The Villages, Sarasota, Riverview, Valrico and Tampa Bay.
“I started flying when I was 16 years old and got bored with it, and then, coming out of church one day, Jesus says, ‘You have a talent and should put it to good use,’ so we’ve been doing it for 20 years,” described Stevens. “It’s really not about me or the airplane but about how God loves us so much. It’s like a post-it note and it’s what God’s doing in the sky he created and he wants people to be happy and he’s sending me messages for them.”
One of the very first messages that Stevens was led to write was: “U + GOD = Smiley face.” Some other messages that can be seen include “Jesus 4Gives Ask Now,” “Jesus Loves U,” and “Trust Jesus.”
“Before every flight, I say a prayer and I ask Jesus to fly the plane and to guide my senses and the letters come out perfect,” said Stevens.
“The thing with this is that he strategically places the message for the person he wants to reach. So if you saw that message on that given day, it was not a coincidence, he placed it there for you,” he added.
For funding, Stevens said, “Jesus sends us funds and they might last for a long time, but Jesus has been supporting this ministry for twenty years.”
Each flight has an estimated cost of about $500 for fuel and oil. Stevens volunteers his time and doesn’t get paid. Stevens said he draws out the message he is going to write on paper and then writes it upside down from what we see on the ground as he flies about 120 miles per hour.
He added, “If I wasn’t doing the skywriting, I wouldn’t fly anymore at all. I enjoy putting up the message to the people that need to be reached so they can see the message that ‘Jesus Loves U.’”
Holy Smokes is a ministry and a 501(c)(3). It doesn’t have social media or a website. To reach Stevens, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.