They helped clients “shop” for groceries at a food pantry. They imagined new ways to do ministry in a coffee shop. And they listened as undocumented women shared how they had fled their homes in Mexico to escape threats of gang violence.
That’s how the Fall 2019 semester began for 17 members of the Perkins community – six staff, eight students and three faculty — in Ministry Dallas, a program that gave participants a hands-on experience with three different outreach ministries for three days in August, just before classes commenced.
At each location — Crossroads Community Services, Union Coffee, and Christ’s Foundry – participants worshipped, tackled service projects, met staff members, and got an inside glimpse of innovative ministry.
“This was an opportunity for students to explore and hear from people who are on the front lines of doing ministry,” said Tracy Anne Allred, Assistant Dean of Student Life and Director of Community Engagement at Perkins. “Students got exposure to different, entrepreneurial models, beyond the traditional types of ministry.”
This year’s group included students from Ghana, Liberia, Korea, Puerto Rico as well as the continental U.S. This is the second year for Ministry Dallas; last year the group visited Dallas Bethlehem Center, Bonton Farms and White Rock United Methodist. One of the 2018 participants, Zack Hughes, will intern at Bethlehem Center, in part because of that experience.
Day 1: Crossroads Community Services
Participants experienced the extremes of hot and cold at Crossroads Community Services. Their first task was to work in the refrigerated section of the warehouse, repackaging ground beef into boxes for distribution. (Coats and gloves were provided by the ministry.) Then they stepped outdoors – into 100+ degree heat — to deposit cardboard boxes into the recycling machine.
During the lunch break, the group heard from the Rev. Jay Cole, Crossroads’ Executive Director and a Perkins alum (M.Div., 2002). Since 2001, Crossroads has distributed food to more than 60 Community Distribution Partners throughout Dallas County. In early 2019, Crossroads began operating the North Texas Food Bank’s Pollock Campus on Cockrell Hill Road, adding 45,000 sq. ft. to its operations. (The Food Bank moved its volunteer and distribution operations to the new Perot Family Campus in Plano.) While the Food Bank had used the location solely as a warehouse, Crossroads now also serves individual walk-in clients who need food.
After lunch, participants helped a few clients “shop” for groceries. The ministry has set up an area with aisles much like a grocery store, with shelves of fresh and frozen meat and produce as well as canned and packaged foods. After completing the intake process, volunteers accompany clients and, working from a list, select and load needed items into grocery carts for them. Clients can then choose a few additional, miscellaneous items as well as pet food, if needed.
“Jay explained that some clients don’t have the privilege of going to a grocery store and choosing items off the shelves, so they’ve tried to make the experience feel more like a grocery store,” Tracy Anne said. “For the students, it was a chance to have conversations and work one-on-one with people who were just trying to feed their families.”
Day 2: Union Coffee
The Rev. Mike Baughman, Community Curator and founding pastor for Union Coffee, opened the day’s program with words from John Wesley: “What should we make of this awful consideration that God is present in all things?”
Then he asked the question: “If we truly believe God is present in all things, then God is already working in the place we want to serve. How might that affect the way we do ministry?” That sparked a lively discussion, and participants quickly got a feel for how things work at Union Coffee: open ended, conversation-oriented and a little bit messy.
With a mission of “cultivating the divine spark in our neighbors for the good of the city and the world it inspires,” Union hosts worship services as well as storytelling nights (on a space called “The Naked Stage.”) The space serves as a kind of skunkworks for a range of ideas for building up the community. Active leaders include Christians, seekers and committed atheists. All are welcome, and anyone can contribute.
As an example, Mike shared the story of Cody, a nursing student who had no interest in faith or spirituality. Cody told him, “I left the church with a middle finger behind me.” But Cody had an idea: he wanted to make capes for the sick kids he sees as part of his job, because to him, they’re already superheroes.
Mike helped him get the project rolling, with Union’s help. Funding was found and people with sewing skills were enlisted to help. Cape 4 Kids DFW was born; to date the ministry has delivered more than 5,000 capes to kids in hospitals.
Day 3: Christ’s Foundry UM Mission
At one time, Christ Foundry’s northwest Dallas neighborhood was home to pilots and flight attendants who worked out of nearby Love Field airport. When that population moved on to other neighborhoods, the area began to change. Today it’s one of the most densely populated areas of Dallas, and it’s mostly Hispanic, including many people who are undocumented.
She added that the neighborhood is “very low income, but not low resource. The people here are some of the hardest working I’ve ever known. They arrive here one day, and the next day, they go to work. If they have to, they’ll go to the gas station at the corner to find day labor.” Most members can’t give much, if any, money to the mission, but they find other ways to contribute: cooking meals for church gatherings, making tamales to raise money at Christmas, or maintaining the church’s landscaping.
The church started in the living room of the Rev. Owen Ross, founding pastor. While nurturing relationships with residents, he developed covenant relationships with other Dallas area churches, which provided financial support. After one couple at Lovers Lane United Methodist donated $500,000 — and 1,000 additional donors chipped in $500 apiece to match the grant – the church’s building, with its distinctive bell tower, opened in 2012. An anonymous donor paid off the church’s loan that same year.
Today, Christ’s Foundry remains a mission, but it’s the largest Spanish speaking UM congregation west of the Mississippi. As children grew up in the church – with English as their first language – the church added a bilingual worship service in 2013.
Participants listened intently as three church members tearfully shared their stories. Two of the women told how gang members in their hometowns in Mexico had demanded protection money, threatened family members and forced them to abandon thriving businesses. One woman’s son was kidnapped by a gang near the border, which demanded money, leaving the family with nothing.
All three said that Christ’s Foundry had provided a vital place of refuge, community and faith, and there were also joys to share. One young woman grew up attending Christ’s Foundry, and told how, thanks to DACA, she was able to earn her college degree. She is now employed at a non-profit that helps children. But she worries that, if her parents are deported, she’ll be the only one who can care for her younger siblings. Another had been diagnosed with a life-threatening liver disorder and was told she’d need a transplant – but as an undocumented person, she couldn’t qualify for a transplant. Later, the liver condition resolved itself – a healing that, she believes, was the result of answered prayer.
“Listening to the stories of our sisters, I think God is right here,” said student participant Frederick Mensah. “Every community should be doing some of this kind of work. Go where the immigrants are, where the poor people are. Through this work, people can have hope.” Frederick, who is from Ghana, added that he hopes to develop a theology of immigration as part of his thesis work.
Another student participant, Rosedanny Ortiz, noted that the model that Christ’s Foundry follows – relying on support from covenant churches – is key. “We need resources to build Hispanic communities,” she said. “Their priority is not to give the tithe, because they are sending all their money back home to their families.”
At the end of the program, participants gathered for a worship service in the sanctuary at Christ’s Foundry and shared how the program had affected them.
What most touched Julius Collins, a student from Liberia, was the story of the woman whose liver disease was healed.
“As Christians, we are supposed to encourage each other and pray and believe that God still creates miracles,” he said.
Richard Anastasi, who also participated last year, said the three-day experience inspired and energized him.
“We are so into ‘what is’ and giving that so much power, and not open to ‘what can be,’” he said. “My takeaway was this: step into what is possible.”
Melissa Nelms said she will always remember Mike Baughman’s words from Union Coffee: Wherever you go to serve, God is already working.
“It’s beautiful to see this happen,” she said. “I am encouraged, inspired and affirmed.”