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Texas churches reach out in faith and justice

William Ford talks about his internship work with low-income children in the Dallas area during a presentation at "Living Faith, Seeking Justice," an international conference sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.
UMNS photos by Kathy L. Gilbert.

By Kathy L. Gilbert*
Nov. 12, 2007 | FORT WORTH, Texas (UMNS) 

"I love my job. I love my job. I love my job," declared 22-year-old Elspeth Allen of her full-time job that pays $11,100 a year and overloads her with work but generates "blessings beyond measure."

Allen was one of six young people who stood before United Methodists from around the world at a conference on justice ministries and talked about one that has changed her life forever. As part of the "Living Faith, Seeking Justice" conference Nov. 1-4, participants visited churches active in justice ministries in the denomination's North Texas Annual (regional) conference.

Delores Orta puts "sweat equity" into her Habitat for Humanity home in
Fort Worth, Texas.

Allen is an intern at Project Transformation, a nonprofit organization supported by Dallas-area United Methodist churches that matches young people seeking to grow in their spiritual journey with children in low-income neighborhoods.

The ministry started as a summer camp and has grown to include a year-round internship that provides homework assistance, health and nutrition education, a hot meal and extracurricular activities in the after-school program for more than 200 children.

"Some of these children don't have anyone who cares," Allen said. "If not for Project Transformation, my kids wouldn't do well in school. Serving these kids has taught me so much. I see small changes everyday."

"This program makes such an impact on your life when you are in your early 20s," said Nathaniel O'Dell, 22. "This is a hard time in our lives. We are in the middle of many transitions, and they offer us love and support and are building us up as leaders."

Eric Lindh, executive director of the program, said living in community with each other is part of the experience. Volunteers from different churches bring the young interns food each evening, and they attend worship services and other events to help them on their faith journey.

Of the 95 interns participating in the 2007 summer program, 54 percent said they are more likely to pursue a vocation in a ministry-related field; 63 percent said they are more likely to continue to serve the needs of low-income communities; and 98 percent felt better equipped to understand and serve the needs of low-income communities, according to Lindh.

Faith and justice in the world

The site visits to local churches and ministries were held Nov. 2-3 during the conference sponsored by the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, the denomination's social action agency.

The visits included trips to see community reformulation ministries, restorative justice ministries and initiatives working to transform their community through art, culture and leadership development.

Chuck Rives greets Orta at her Habitat home. The single mom hopes to
move in by Christmas.

Before enjoying a homemade Mexican enchilada lunch prepared by La Trinidad's United Methodist Women, the group visited the future home of Delores Orta, a single mother of five. Her new home is being built by Habitat for Humanity, and many United Methodist volunteers have worked on the project.

"I raised five kids in a not-so-very-nice house," she said. "It was a struggle. This is the first house I will ever own."

Orta worked fulltime at a local plastic company for 12 years making $8.50 an hour. She supplements her income by working part time at a day care center. Until she qualified for a Habitat home, Orta said "having a house was impossible. I never could afford the taxes, mortgage and insurance."

Orta and her youngest daughter hope to move into her new 1,600-square-foot house by Christmas.

Cynthia Rives, a United Methodist laywoman from Stephenville, Texas, said the Scriptures, stories and experiences shared at the conference remind her there is work to do in her own community.

"In my community, immigration is an issue, education, health care ... I think that is true not only for my community but for my district and my conference," she said. "Those issues are the same for everyone but we gain strength and courage by coming together."

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.


The Rev. Lloyd Nyarota, Zimbabwe, Africa: "Sharing of experiences give you strength."

Cynthia Rives, Stephenville, Texas: "They speak a story I don't hear in my local church."

Albert Aruna Trye, Sierra Leone, Africa: "It is good to feel accepted and appreciated." 

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Living Faith, Seeking Justice

United Methodist Board of Church and Society

North Texas Annual Conference

Project Transformation

Habitat for Humanity

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