FARMERS BRANCH—Royal Haven Baptist Church in Farmers Branch has a vision rooted in Isaiah 58:12—to rebuild, repair and restore its community.
Lofty goals for a congregation that had dwindled from 2,000 in attendance 30 years ago to about 40 five years ago. That’s when Rick and Carol Dorman returned to the church where they grew up, came to faith in Christ and felt God’s call to ministry.
“We heard God calling us back here,” said Rick, who served nearly four decades as a bivocational church planter, most recently in Denton Baptist Association. At ages 60 and 58, the Dormans were the youngest members at Royal Haven.
Inwardly focused and concentrated on survival
As they drove through the neighborhoods where they spent their childhoods, the couple barely recognized the area.
“The demographics had changed. In the process, the church had become inwardly focused,” Rick said.
The congregation, which historically had a rich history of missions involvement, concentrated on its own survival rather than on serving the surrounding community, he added.
Adopting an elementary school
Renewed community involvement began when the Dormans led their church to adopt a local elementary school, helping provide school supplies and uniforms, and then to expand the ministry by adopting a second school.
Through a conversation with the principal of one of those schools, Carol learned about a need that captured her heart.
“The children were going home on the weekend, and there was no food for them to eat until they came back to school on Monday,” she said. The Dormans started making trips to a wholesale discount grocer to buy food to fill backpacks for children in need each Friday. In time, the church decided to tap a fund set up in memory of a missions-minded member to provide for 13 children each weekend.
Even so, Carol was haunted by the thought of the hungry children they could not feed and of the children’s families who lacked food. So, she contacted Jana Jackson, director of family and community ministries at Dallas Baptist Association.
Community Distribution Partners
Jackson, one of the leaders of the faith community action team of the Dallas Coalition for Hunger Solutions, told her about Crossroads Community Services and its Community Distribution Partners network.
Crossroads, which grew out of First United Methodist Church in downtown Dallas, developed the network to empower congregations and other nonprofit organizations too small to serve as a North Texas Food Bank agency.
Crossroads serves as the hub, securing food in bulk from the food bank and maintaining a centralized client database. The 80 churches and organizations in the Community Distribution Partners network serve as the spokes of the wheel, providing food to preregistered families once a month at a site near where they live.
Volunteers pick up food at Crossroads early on the morning of a food-distribution day, transport it to a remote site, package it for pre-approved families and provide it to them.
“I found out we could feed whole families better food for less money,” Carol said.
A center for missions
Royal Haven agreed to become one of the Community Distribution Partners. In the meantime, the congregation sold its old building, secured the property formerly occupied by Brookhaven Baptist Church before that congregation relocated to McKinney, and merged with Valley View Baptist Church.
The building where Valley View Baptist worshipped before the merger became Royal Haven’s missions center—home to a Spanish-language congregation, a Kenyan congregation, a Korean pastor-training center and the once-a-month food distribution site.
Royal Haven provided food to its first 12 families in February 2015. At the October 2016 distribution day, the church served 44 preregistered families and completed the application process for two additional households.
Baptists around the state help support the ministry through their gifts to the Texas Baptist Hunger Offering.
Involving volunteers in service
In addition to providing fresh produce and other food, Royal Haven also allows clients to “shop” for free clothing before they pick up their groceries. Volunteers carefully sort all the donated clothing to make sure everything is lightly used, clean and appropriate.
The food distribution and clothes closet initiative—part of Royal Haven’s i58 ministry, based on Isaiah 58:12—involves at least 40 volunteers on any given Saturday, equal to the number of people who attended the church when the Dormans returned five years ago. Today, about 200 people attend Bible study and worship services at Royal Haven.
Likewise, longtime members of Royal Haven—and members of Valley View Baptist who joined after the two congregations merged—rediscovered their passion to meet needs in their community, share the gospel and extend God’s kingdom, Rick said.
“They have caught the vision of missions they always had deep down but that had been lost,” he said. Volunteers range in age from pre-teens to members in their 90s.
Wesley Pollet, a relatively new member of Royal Haven, worked with i58 for the first time in October, bringing his children along with him.
“I want my kids to learn to be servant leaders,” he said. “This seemed like the perfect opportunity.”
Developing meaningful relationships
Through the food-distribution ministry, Royal Haven is establishing meaningful relationships with families the church likely would not have reached otherwise, the Dormans noted.
“The food is meeting a real need in the lives of these families, but it’s even greater as a tool to enable us to meet” people in the community, Carol said.
“We are building relationships and establishing trust. They come to us with legal issues and with immigration issues, when their 15-year-old daughter becomes pregnant and when their kids have school issues and the parents don’t know how to communicate with the teachers. They all have my cell phone number.”
Thanks to a Spanish-to-English translation app on her phone, Carol is able to respond and help them find the assistance they need. In the process, she is seeing lives changed.
“There was one woman who had dropped off the grid,” she recalled. “She hadn’t been to the mission center for at least two months. Then one day, she called. She said: ‘I just wanted you to know I’m doing great now. You helped me when I was in such need, and I wanted to thank you.’”
In January, Royal Haven hopes to start English-as-Second-Language classes on Sunday mornings for parents to attend while their children attend Sunday school.
“We want to help them be able to obtain better jobs,” Carol said.
Royal Haven also is seeking to intervene early in the next generation by improving the literacy skills of young children. Working in partnership with Literacy Connexus, a ministry of Texas Baptists’ Christian Life Commission, volunteers built 55 bookshelves for children and provided them a basic children’s home library.
Three couples who participated in the bookshelf-building project had no connection to any church, but they learned about the ministry and wanted to help, Rick recalled.
“We spent a lot of time that day talking to them about the Lord,” he said.
Royal Haven has expanded its involvement with the school district to include five neighborhood schools. Principals and teachers have learned to call the church when they hear about families with needs. And the congregation continues to expand the scope of its community ministries.
“The food has served as a launching pad for all kinds of ministries,” Carol said.
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