Mayoral Connections, New Programs; Ignite Life Center Pastor Tells on Himself at Sermon

Mayoral Connections, New Programs; Ignite Life Center Pastor Tells on Himself at Sermon

The full section of the sermon reported in this article is available on Youtube channel Gainesville Public Meetings.

Edited July 15 | Added further clarification on Ignite’s partnership with Urban Strategies.

On June 23, Ignite Life Center (ILC) held one of their biweekly sermons. ILC has been continuing to hold sermons twice a week despite ongoing investigations by independent parties, as well as now possibly the Department of Children and Families (DCF) for their coverup of sexual abuse against children. 

Roughly forty minutes into the sermon, ILC head pastor Mark Vega took the stage. He introduces himself, saying, “‘M’ as in mighty, oh, ‘M’ as in Mark, can somebody say amen to that?” 

He then becomes more open about his recent trip to Barueri, Brazil, for an Evangelical Youth Conference. 

After GnvInfo uploaded an article about his trip and promoted it on Instagram, Vega turned his Instagram account from a public account into a private account. However, he proceeded to state his plans on a public live stream, indicating that he did not think this through. 

Vega said exactly what his intentions were in Brazil. “Brazil does not have a way for young adults to get credentialed with the Assemblies of God. If you’re called [or] anointed by God [and] you wanna be a chaplain, church planter, pastor, [or] minister, you have to depend on the local church. Most local churches are not resourced like this church are. This church is a compilation of churches in a region.”

Vega was referencing the Florida Multicultural District (FMD) of the Assemblies of God, formerly and otherwise known as the Spanish District. Vega said FMD has 200 churches.

Vega also said “some” of FMD’s churches are called “Ignite” giving confirmation that Vega is associated with other churches under the Ignite banner in FMD. 

Regarding a new program Vega said will be called “Ignite Brazil,” he explained, “How about we train and teach so they can actually go to a School of Ministry, and if they wanna continue their education they can, or if they wanna continue their credential process they can.” 

This is contrary to an anonymous whistleblower’s interview in which he said that he wasn’t able to get a high school diploma due to attending the Ignite School of Ministry, who then told him he had to get a GED to attend. 

Vega said Ignite Brazil will be launched in January 2025.

Vega then said that in the fall of 2025, ILC will be opening an “Ignite Advocacy Center.” 

Vega said, “Students are going to come and continue in the School of Ministry format, but the mathematics are gonna change. Instead of getting 80% theology and 20% anything else. We’re gonna focus on advocacy [and] making a difference on working and fighting against the injustices. How do you write a bill? How do you get into public policy? What is political science? Because, we believe that territorial demon spirits [are] controlling the city, but they usually do so because they’re angered by public policy. We’re believing that God is going to continue launching young people, not only through traditional ecclesiastical measures, but he’s gonna do it through a diverse method. A lot of that’s connecting with schools, connecting with programs, and seeing interns come and give God all the glory and all the honor for that. Can we give it up for that?”

A new law in Florida permits school districts to allow chaplins in public schools to counsel students. Florida House Bill 1317 went into effect on July 1 and does not include training requirements. Vega may have spotted an opportunity.

Vega made comments indicating this “advocacy center” will be held in co-alignment with or under the banter of the Ignite School of Ministry. 

For clarification, The Ignite School of Ministry primarily serves young adults from the ages of 18 through the mid-20s. Comments from whistleblowers indicate it may also serve seventeen- and sixteen-year-olds as well. 

The Ignite Summer Internship was held under the banter of the Ignite School of Ministry, serving younger kids and teenagers. It has received public attention because Gabriel Hemenz took advantage of the program to sexually molest multiple children and one or more adults. He was sentenced to five years in prison in March. The survivors have filed lawsuits against FMD for negligence and vicarious liability along with ILC for negligence, vicarious liability, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, accusing ILC of covering up Hemenez's abuses.

Vega also talked about the Ignite Urban Strategies, or Ignite Refugio, program. 

The Urban Strategies website is vague about their goals. The site states they want to “equip, resource, and connect faith- and community-based organizations so that all children and families can reach their full potential.”

A 2015 report from Trac Immigration shows that children were transferred from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to Ignite Urban Strategies. It also shows that Ignite Urban Strategies was used as an ICE detention center. Furthermore, the report says that Ignite Urban Strategies was specialized for housing juveniles. 

The report states, “For the most recent 12 months (Oct 2014 - Sep 2015) for which data are available, a total of 21 detainees housed at the Urban Strategies Ignite Life Center-Gainesville left that facility.” The report's data states all 21 left ICE under orders of recognizance or supervision.

The report goes on to state, “For none of [the] detainees [was] Urban Strategies Ignite Life Center-Gainesville the first place they were sent when they were detained by ICE. All had been transferred in from another ICE detention facility.” 

The backside of the report says that during the aforementioned time period, three Guatemalan boys were transferred from Ignite Urban Strategies to Docket Control Offices (DCO) in Miami.

It was originally mistakenly reported that Ignite Refugio and Urban Strategies referred to the same program. In fact, Urban Strategies is its own company that partners with churches to utilize their facilities. Ignite Refugio is the name of the facility Urban Strategies is using.

Further communication with whistleblowers shows Ignite Refugio was not the detention center from this report. Ignite Refugio, which housed kids on church grounds, began in 2021, and in partnership with Urban Strategies. The Ignite Urban Strategies referenced from this report in 2015 housed children in staff member's homes, with staff members commonly being affiliated with the church. It would appear that sometime between 2015 and 2021 the program disbanded and reopened in the Refugio format.

It was also mistakenly reported that Ignite Refugio had shut down. This sermon shows it hasn’t yet and is in the process of shutting down. Vega said, “It will be finishing when the contract is over in the summer…. Those are programs that are contracted [and] actually granted by government funds…. When one door closes, God has like three doors open. How many of you know that? That’s how God works.”

Vega then talked about an email he received from a former Gainesville mayor. 

Vega said, “I worked closely with him in Gainesville, and he stated, ‘listen you guys have championed advocacy from the immigrants [and] unaccompanied minors. I am involved in a program called…’ I don’t know the exact name, but it's ‘greater Gainesville’ [the former Gainesville mayor said] ‘We do the same kind of work, but we do it with families, like families of ten, families from Afghanistan, families from Europe, Asia, South America, Venezuela; different families.’ What we had was [we] were working with unaccompanied minors, but this is now work with the entire family. We said, ‘This is what we do [and have] been doing for ten years. Why don’t you come and meet? We’ll talk.’ We met last week, [the second week of June] and he took a tour and [asked] ‘Is there any way I can move my office here?... This is incredible and phenomenal.’ Their staff is now going to come on Tuesday to take a tour, so soon we believe we’ll be partnering and continuing the same work we’ve been doing with families. We expect our first family of about four from Afghanistan, and they’ll be staying.”

Vega didn’t say which mayor; however, former Mayor Lauren Poe, according to an Alachua Chronicle article, pushed for the resettlement of immigrant families in Alachua County. Poe also works as the executive director of the Greater Gainesville International Center, according to his LinkedIn.

Poe was contacted on LinkedIn and told Gnvinfo has knowledge of possible meetings between him and his staff and Vega, and he was told of the reports of sexual abuse coverups by Vega and his administrators. Poe was contacted recently and likely has not had time to respond yet. This article will be updated if he doesn’t respond or if he releases a statement.

Vega also said he took a trip to Washington, DC. “We were talking to the heads of the Department of Agriculture, and the Lord dropped this in my heart…. We’re going to create a community fruit and vegetable garden for our parishioners and expand it for the community. This is why: hunger is real [and] is going to be the last enemy to be defeated…. Right now in Gainesville, one out of five children, one out of four not five, one out of four children go to bed hungry every night…. God told this church countless times…. We will be a feeding station for the community…. I see God using this church as one of those end-time centers of hope for people…. We’re learning about seeds and testing soil…. That being said, there's a law that passed in California called YIGBY. This law is allowing churches to build lower income houses on their properties. Thank you for your enthusiasm. That means we can build up to five small homes across the street as long as its lower income housing.”

According to whistleblowers, Vega has misused and/or misappropriated funds.

Vega said he took a flight to Washington, DC after his Brazil trip and then took a train back to Gainesville. He said he was working on his third book.

Vega finalized his service of public information, prevaricating that “better days are coming to Gainesville because of this house, and I thank God for that. The Devil knows who he attacks, and he knows who he doesn’t have to attack.”

Jack Walden

Jack Walden

Jack Walden is the creator of Gnvinfo and a 2nd year journalism major at Santa Fe College. From general information, to exposing falsehoods and corruption, Jack seeks to deliver the truth.
Gainesville, FL