“What we’re taking to that jail is hope for a new life,” Williams said.
Each week, he teaches
inmates at the Hutchins State Jail, about 15 minutes from the church, how to
read. He then studies the Bible with them.
But jailhouse religion isn’t his goal.
“We know the system doesn’t rehabilitate them,” Williams said. “God has to humble you in some sort of way. He breaks you. And then he remakes you.
“But them seeing us there speaks louder than our words sometimes.”
TO EDUCATE A ZIP CODE
The same might be said for the Southern Hills building, which sits along a busy freeway in this area of Dallas. Pawn shops, buy here-pay here car lots and auto salvage yards dot the urban landscape.
Across the freeway,
developers building a new neighborhood put up modest brick homes designed to
lure suburban commuters to the inner city.
With no full-time staff members — minister James Maxwell serves as a vice president at Southwestern Christian College in nearby Terrell — Southern Hills reaches out with a working-class approach that fits its community.
When Texas mandated that public school students pass a standardized test before promotion or graduation, the church launched an after-school program to boost math and reading scores in neighboring elementary schools. Project 75217 — named for the church’s ZIP code — pairs church members with students who need extra help with long division, reading or vocabulary words.
But no one cracks a book or copies multiplication tables until they’ve had a snack and played ball.
“They’re kids, and they gotta wind down a little first,” Chappell said, inching his way through an office filled with math learning tools, filing cabinets and crayons. “By the time they get to us, they’ve been at school all day already and they’ve got to have a little break before they start up again.”
Hundreds of youngsters have gone through the program, which Chappell said has become a model for the Dallas Independent School District’s own after-school study initiative.
“We’ve got competition!” he joked.
Education is serious business, though, at Southern Hills.
Several members teach at public schools, and others serve as professors or administrators at Southwestern Christian. In fact, education-minded church leaders are weighing the idea of sending home report cards for Bible school students, to make sure they learn key concepts.
Joyce Cathey, who works part-time auditing the congregation’s accounts and teaches at Southwestern Christian, said communicating with parents about their children’s education — whether it’s at church or school — is the rationale.
“We’re not teaching children today to be critical thinkers, not in Bible class, not in public education, not at home,” said Cathey, who teaches women’s Bible studies as well as the nursery class. “We’ve got to challenge these children constantly and to ask ourselves the tough question of whether we’re doing a good job of that.”
NO STORE-BOUGHT DESSERTS
Rosa Hannah’s task today is peeling potatoes. Her fingers fly as the leathery skins curl around and around, then onto the counter.
Yes, it’s a lot of work, but everyone says the homemade ones taste better.
No one would fault Hannah if she dished up instant potatoes or served store-bought desserts. But for John and Rosa Hannah, serving the meals that bring this church family together is serving Jesus. So today the menu includes homemade cheesecake with tiny pecans in the crust.
“This comes naturally to me,” said Rosa Hannah, who has worked as a private domestic cook for 38 years. “I love it. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
The Hannahs lead Southern Hills’ hospitality ministry, which oversees meals for fellowships, funerals and other functions. A team of 25 members helps plan menus, shop, prepare food, decorate, serve, set up and clean up.
Some might think setting steaming plates of brisket and vegetables in front of hungry visitors or washing sticky dishes afterward is beneath them. But John Hannah, one of the church’s five deacons, said he’s following Christ’s example.
“Our Lord fed people on two occasions that we know about,” he said, “and we’re told the early church continued daily in prayer and breaking bread. Servanthood and feeding people are very biblical concepts.”
Their reward, they say, comes from those who enjoy their ministry.