Churches That Work: Southern Hills, Dallas
On a Saturdaymorning, Williams sports his blue manager’s uniform with “Whataburger”emblazoned on the chest as he arrives at his church office to tell visitorsabout the prison ministry.
“What we’re taking tothat jail is hope for a new life,” Williams said.
Each week, he teachesinmates at the Hutchins State Jail, about 15 minutes from the church, how toread. He then studies the Bible with them.
But jailhousereligion isn’t his goal.
“We know the systemdoesn’t rehabilitate them,” Williams said. “God has to humble you in some sortof way. He breaks you. And then he remakes you.
“But them seeing usthere speaks louder than our words sometimes.”
TO EDUCATE A ZIP CODE
The same might besaid for the Southern Hills building, which sits along a busy freeway in this area of Dallas. Pawn shops, buyhere-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 tolure suburban commuters to the inner city.
With no full-timestaff members — minister James Maxwell serves as a vice president at Southwestern Christian Collegein nearby Terrell — Southern Hills reaches out with a working-class approachthat fits its community.
When Texas mandated thatpublic school students pass a standardized test before promotion or graduation,the church launched an after-school program to boost math and reading scores inneighboring elementary schools. Project 75217 — named for the church’s ZIP code— pairs church members with students who need extra help with long division, readingor vocabulary words.
But no one cracks abook or copies multiplication tables until they’ve had a snack and played ball.
“They’re kids, andthey gotta wind down a little first,” Chappell said, inching his way through anoffice filled with math learning tools, filing cabinets and crayons. “By thetime they get to us, they’ve been at school all day already and they’ve got tohave a little break before they start up again.”
Hundreds ofyoungsters have gone through the program, which Chappell said has become amodel for the Dallas Independent School District’s own after-school study initiative.
“We’ve gotcompetition!” he joked.
Education is seriousbusiness, though, at Southern Hills.
Several members teachat public schools, and others serve as professors or administrators atSouthwestern Christian. In fact, education-minded church leaders are weighingthe idea of sending home report cards for Bible school students, to make surethey learn key concepts.
Joyce Cathey, whoworks part-time auditing the congregation’s accounts and teaches atSouthwestern Christian, said communicating with parents about their children’seducation — whether it’s at church or school — is the rationale.
“We’re not teachingchildren today to be critical thinkers, not in Bible class, not in publiceducation, not at home,” said Cathey, who teaches women’s Bible studies as wellas the nursery class. “We’ve got to challenge these children constantly and toask ourselves the tough question of whether we’re doing a good job of that.”
Rosa Hannah’s tasktoday is peeling potatoes. Her fingers fly as the leathery skins curl aroundand around, then onto the counter.
Yes, it’s a lot ofwork, but everyone says the homemade ones taste better.
No one would faultHannah if she dished up instant potatoes or served store-bought desserts. Butfor John and Rosa Hannah, serving the meals that bring this church familytogether is serving Jesus. So today the menu includes homemade cheesecake withtiny pecans in the crust.
“This comes naturallyto me,” said Rosa Hannah, who has worked as a private domestic cook for 38years. “I love it. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”
The Hannahs leadSouthern Hills’ hospitality ministry, which oversees meals for fellowships, funeralsand other functions. A team of 25 members helps plan menus, shop, prepare food,decorate, serve, set up and clean up.
Some might thinksetting steaming plates of brisket and vegetables in front of hungry visitorsor washing sticky dishes afterward is beneath them. But John Hannah, one of thechurch’s five deacons, said he’s following Christ’s example.
“Our Lord fed peopleon two occasions that we know about,” he said, “and we’re told the early churchcontinued daily in prayer and breaking bread. Servanthood and feeding peopleare very biblical concepts.”
Their reward, theysay, comes from those who enjoy their ministry.
“Itreally, really brings us together, eating and fellowshipping like we do” RosaHannah said. “So many people want to come because they know they’ll be lovedand fed.”
May 1, 2006
Above: Byron Martin lifts a young friend after Southern Hills’ Homecoming celebration in March.
Below:Joyce Cathey teaches “This Little Light of Mine” to young children inthe nursery during worship. (Erik Tryggestad photos)