AUSTIN—Life on the streets teaches resourcefulness. Homeless people learn how to survive. So do the ministries that serve them.
Alex moved to Austin a couple of years ago to “do music,” but the prospects proved less promising that he expected. Now, he lives on the streets.
“I’ll be honest. Alcohol played a big part,” he confided.
Alex knows when and where to go each morning to look for an odd job—cutting grass, working in construction or laboring on a demolition team. And he understands how to get hired.
“Hygiene is very important to me. I’m OK if I can get a shower in the morning,” he said. “If you don’t look the part of a homeless person, you have a chance to get work.”
He carries his meager possessions in a backpack and wears an old University of Texas sweatshirt.
“It doesn’t work if you’re carrying around a bunch of stuff. But if it’s in a backpack, they don’t know if you’re a student or what,” he said.
Like many homeless people in Austin, he knows Austin Baptist Chapel provides three private stalls where people who live on the streets can shower and a closet where they can find clean clothes. And any day of the week he’s not on a job site at lunchtime, he knows he can find a hot meal there.
For three decades, Austin Baptist Chapel—southeast of downtown—has provided daily meals to people in need.
“About 80 percent of the people who come here are homeless. The other 20 percent are people who find there is more month than money” after working at minimum-wage jobs, said Frank Deutsch, who founded the ministry in 1986.
Since then, he estimates Austin Baptist Chapel and its Angel House Soup Kitchen have served 3 million meals and recorded between 2,000 and 3,000 faith commitments to Christ.
The ministry provides a light breakfast each morning, and volunteers serve a full midday meal from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., seven days a week, including holidays.
“On a typical day, we’ll serve about 400. We report about 12,000 each month,” Deutsch said. “Sundays are the biggest days. That’s when we serve fried chicken.”
Eight churches include Austin Baptist Chapel and the Angel House Soup Kitchen in their Souper Bowl of Caring emphasis each January. Other than that, the ministry does not participate in any fund-raising events, Deutsch said.
“There have been so many miracles. It’s amazing how God has provided,” he said.
Restaurants, grocery stores and warehouse-style discount centers donate a majority of the food. Funds made available through the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering help make up the difference.
“Money from the hunger offering buys all the milk we serve to children at breakfast in the summer,” as well as filling other voids in the menu any given day, Deutsch said.
God also provides the volunteers who serve the meals, he added. Workers from businesses, churches and civic organizations give their time.
Manchaca Baptist Church in South Austin sends a volunteer team the first Monday each month. The practice predated Jason White’s arrival as pastor about a year and a half ago, but White fully supports it, dishing up soup alongside other volunteers whenever he can.
“Once our people get a taste of what it’s like, getting the chance to serve, it’s contagious,” he said.
After three decades working seven days a week at the ministry, God also provided Deutsch a break. Last year, Mark and Cindy Smith sold their home in Dublin and nearly all their possessions to relocate to Austin to direct the work of Austin Baptist Chapel—although Deutsch continues to work at the ministry on a regular basis.
For more than 17 years, Mark Smith ran a tire store. As time permitted, he worked as a layman in ministries at First Baptist Church in Dublin, but he longed for an opportunity to do more.
“I wanted to spend the second half of my career serving the Lord,” he said.
Working with Austin Baptist Chapel seemed like a perfect fit, his wife added.
“It’s like snapping in the last missing piece of a puzzle,” she said. “It feels complete.”
That’s how Deutsch feels about the ministry he believes God led him to launch. In a newsletter published on the first anniversary of Austin Baptist Chapel, he reported: “We ended our first year with a home, food in the pantry and $1,507.74 to pay bills with. Isn’t God great!”
Three decades later, he still offers the same testimony.
“We’ve never had a lot of money, but we’ve always have what we needed,” Deutsch said. “God provides.”