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Euless Church Tackles Complex Religion
Volunteers Take Ministry to Area Apartment Dwellers

At Concord House's church, the baptismal font is an aluminum horse trough.

There is no altar.

There is, however, a Formica counter that, during Sunday services earlier this month, held a bucket to catch water dripping from a recently revived air conditioner.

The choir, the organ and the sound system are one red-headed, guitar-playing package named Robert Martin, who, when he isn't leading the singing, is leading prayer.

"Father, we thank You for the air conditioning that's working today," Martin prayed with heartfelt enthusiasm on a sweltering August morning.

Church at Concord House — one of more than a dozen area apartment complexes where First Baptist Church of Euless missionaries sing, preach and lead prayers — is no spit-and-shine, dressed-in-your-Sunday-best kind of affair.

Which is precisely why it works.

Which is precisely why Helen Jacksis and her 3-year-old daughter, Kayla, attended services this August day.

"There's people out there who want to go to church, but feel like, 'I'm not worthy, because I've got nothing nice to wear,'" said Jacksis, a single mother of three who attended the service in jeans and a rhinestone-studded T-shirt.

About five years ago, leaders at First Baptist Church of Euless began to realize that many people shared Jacksis' opinion. And, they started seeing evangelists' surveys that said some 90 percent of apartment dwellers aren't active in a church.

The congregation put the two bits of information together and, borrowing from a massive outreach to apartment residents in Arlington, came up with Mission Mid-Cities. Now, First Baptist is the mother ship for 13 satellite churches in Hurst and Euless apartment complexes.

Together, the apartment churches attract 275 to 300 Sunday worshipers, many of whom don't have working cars or who for other reasons "wouldn't darken the doors of First Baptist," as mission director Stan Dobbs put it.

Most of the mission churches are housed in complexes whose glory days have faded, places that are home to people who have few options.

At some of these churches, like Concord House, services are conducted in apartment clubhouses. At other complexes, such as Manchester Court in Euless, the living room or an apartment donated by the property's management serves as a sanctuary.

At Hurst's Whispering Run Apartments, members sit in neat rows of folding chairs beneath whirring ceiling fans while complex resident James Nailing reads Bible verses from behind a lectern. The sanctuary is a living room, this one rented by Mission Mid-Cities.

The seventy-five to eighty men and women who serve as missionaries for the apartment ministry get no formal schooling.

"The training to be a Mission Mid-Cities missionary has traditionally been on the job," said Dobbs, who juggles his education at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary with overseeing the apartment ministry.

In their years as volunteers, Mission Mid-Cities stalwarts Doris Poston and J. B. Betts have seen untold suffering and struggle. Together, they've donated more than a decade to the cause.

Poston and Betts said they have been used by people whose only interest was the food, the clothes, or the rides to doctors' appointments that are part of their mission work. They have seen incidents of Missions being vandalized, such as the one a week ago, when someone broke a window at the Manchester Court church apartment and stole food and soft drinks.

They have been rejected out-right. And they have reached people, only to have them pack up to join the seemingly endless move-in, move-out shuffle of the apartment communities they serve.

But they have savored successes, too, which they measure in lives changed and souls saved.

"Last Sunday morning, I baptized one boy in our church," Betts said recently. "And we've gotten some parents to start going to church, too. That always thrills us."

The day before, volunteers at Whispering Run Apartments in Hurst had baptized several children and adults in the complex pool.

But success is decidedly not counted in additions to First Baptist's membership rolls.

"We want them to have the benefits of church, but we're not saying they have to come join our church," Dobbs said.

The road they hope will lead residents to Christianity always starts with the same steps, said Poston, whose specialty is starting mission churches.

"I go to management and get permission, then I go door to door, introduce myself and build relationships," she said.

"Then we get to know the families, to understand their needs, both physical and spiritual," Poston said. "And we adapt to the situation."

Part of the adaptation means overlooking, at least outwardly and at least for awhile, lifestyles and habits that aren't always up to Baptist snuff. But it doesn't mean compromising beliefs, just refraining from judgment or condemnation, Poston said.

"When people know you love them unconditionally, like Jesus did, they respond," she said. "So we love them, even though this family is living together (without being married) or doing drugs, we love them."

And if the Christian message they bring takes hold, those things clean themselves up. "Their hearts change," Poston said.
Some apartment complex managers merely tolerate the mission's presence. Others encourage it.

"They help us, we help them," said Cindy Brannon, manager of Concord House, which provides the clubhouse for Sunday services and has donated an apartment to the mission's youth group.

"They're getting the kids involved in Bible study and things, which is getting the parents involved," Brannon said. "They're bringing people together to make a community."

Mission Mid-Cities woos apartment managers with practicality, Dobbs said. "We don't go in and say, 'We want to lead all your people to Jesus, will you help us?' We tell them we've seen the benefits of this in the form of resident retention, and the crime rate goes down."

On that point, Hurst Assistant Police Chief Roy Bell is a believer.

"Crime is going to be continually there until a person changes what's in their heart," Bell said. "If they lose desire to commit crimes, that definitely helps us. If churches go in and reach these people, that helps us."

But the frustration, the constant, grinding effort needed for even the smallest success can wear down even the most dedicated missionary. Volunteers said that if they didn't knock on doors each and every Sunday to remind residents of the church services, they might be preaching to empty rooms.

Missionary burnout "is part of the nature of the work," Dobbs said.

Dobbs, who took over leadership of the project twenty months ago, said providing an emotional outlet for the missionaries is something he is working on. He said he hopes that a volunteer retreat scheduled next month will help.

The retreat will come too late for Betts, who was part of the original Mission Mid-Cities team. On the first Sunday of First Baptist's apartment mission, Betts and his wife opened their Manchester Court home to eight or ten neighbors.

"The next Sunday, we had so many knocking on our door we could hardly get them in the house," Betts said. That's when he came up with the idea of having the apartment management donate a vacant unit.

But two weeks ago, most of the eleven children who sat in a circle in that unit's living room didn't seem to want to cooperate. They didn't sing along when he tried to lead them in a chorus of "Oh, oh, oh, what he's done for me."

To Betts, it was a sign that it was time to move on.

"I sat there and cried and told them how much I love them, but I can't take it anymore," he said.

Betts said he has no regrets about the years he has devoted to the mission. Many residents at Manchester Court will remain his friends and a part of his life for a long time, he said. "We have reached a lot of them," Betts said.

One of the first people reached by missionaries at Concord House was Patricia Brown. Brown, who works nights at Sky Chef at Dallas/Fort Worth airport, first came to the Sunday service more than three years ago, when there were no chairs and everyone sat on the floor.

Now, she rarely misses a Sunday. She gets off work just in time to roust Audrey, one of her eight grown children, grab her Bible and head to the clubhouse service. On most Sundays, she rounds up some of her neighbors' children, too.

"Some of these kids, their parents just send 'em so they can rest. But that's OK. Because a lot of them never even hear the Lord's name unless it's taken in vain," she said.

On her first visit to the Concord House Sunday service, Jacksis met Brown, and a lot of others who welcomed her, made a fuss over her young daughter and gave her coffee.

Jacksis, who moved here from Marlin, Tex. in May and hasn't found a job, said she heard about the Sunday service through her boys, ages twelve and thirteen, who had been going to the mission's Bible studies and afternoon activities. "The kids come home so excited, so I figured I had to come and check it out," she said. "I'm impressed."

As a single mother, Jacksis said she is especially grateful for the attention the children get from the missionaries. "I was sent to church as a kid and I didn't think much about church for years. But it stays with you," she said.

"This is good for the children," Jacksis said of the missionaries' work. "Life is hard here."


Karen Auge is staff writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

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November 1996 Edition
Volume 5, Issue 2
November 1996