My eyes looked on with disbelief that dark Friday night in West Dallas, 1962. The utter desolation was shocking. A sense of hopelessness filled the air. My many years of ministry began there. I was a young university student and in a chapel service, Rev. David Wilkerson and Nicky Cruz of Teen Challenge fame, addressed us. David had written the best-seller, “The Cross and the Switchblade”, which detailed the amazing story of God’s grace transforming gang members in NYC, including Nicky Cruz. I was deeply challenged by the Holy Spirit to give my life in service to inner city America. These early experiences as a Director of Teen Challenge shaped my life and world view.
Fast forward to 2002, my wife Theresa and I returned to Dallas after a stint with Global Ministry Teams, which had done some remarkable work in Southeast Asia. The city seemed to have changed little. Oh, the city was growing into world class status, with an overlay of glitz and glamour – one of the most resourceful cities in America. However, as I looked things over, I was appalled to learn that Dallas has the highest poverty rate of any city with a population over one million people. I learned that over 90 percent of families in South Dallas do not have a father figure in the home and that youth in the Southern sector struggle emotionally, spiritually and physically. Many go hungry and only eat at school. Less than 10 percent are college ready. Dallas is also the 4th most divided city in America – both racially and economically – and that thousands of churches were not coming together to meet the needs of the city.
These deep divisions troubled me. They seemed to me to be unconscionable and inexcusable. South Dallas is a huge geographical area populated mostly by African Americans, and increasingly Hispanics – many in both groups extremely poor. The disparity between rich and poor is a great gulf. Things happen differently in the Southern part of Dallas. Crime is higher, police response is slower, disease has ravaged more people, but few doctors practice there. South Dallas is a food desert. Not a place you’ll find a Starbucks on every corner as you would in North Dallas. Unemployment is higher, but there are fewer jobs available – less money to afford good, safe housing and to buy cars to get to work centers in other areas. Single mothers struggle as child care takes a lot of their earnings. Great grandmothers and grandmothers are left to parent the children. Then consider the school system – an antiquated district full of over-worked teachers, too full classrooms and test scores some of the lowest in the nation. Many of the children have never worn a new pair of shoes and there is a scarcity of warm coats in the winter. Worst of all – homeless students – living on the streets or in a car if one is available. I met a beautiful young high schooler living in her mother’s car while remaining an honors student!
The challenges seemed daunting, if not insurmountable, as I sensed God calling me to enter the fray. My heart was broken even though I knew no one who lived “down there.” I prayed, “God, if this is really your calling, I will follow. I will do this if you guide me and empower me. I have seen you do the seemingly impossible, so I go in Hope.”
I began to meet, dine and pray with African American pastors and leaders. Their acceptance of me was both loving and heartwarming. I felt at home. I began to be mentored by the most amazing people! Many are now my family. In return, I promised them they could trust me implicitly. I had no agenda, pastored no church, needed no salary, was in it with them for the “long haul.” I simply wanted to help. It was out of these relationships that The Greater Dallas Coalition was born.
The hope of our mission is to reawaken the latent Apostolic imagination displayed in the book of Acts – at the heart of the biblical faith – and to exhort God’s people to courageous missional engagement for our time, living out the Gospel within its cultural context. In response to the needs of the poor (Matthew 25) and the ecumenical imperative (John 17) and knowing we cannot be the body of Christ without working as “one” body, we began to ask all those with compassionate hearts to unite with us in this transformative vision. Now thousands of the greatest people partner with us. They come from churches, non-profits, businesses, as well as individuals – the idea of “From Many…One” is now a strong foundation built on loving, trusting relationships we’ve established.
We work together in the city, to inspire, inform, equip and provide resources to our partners. Thru their efforts, thousands are fed and clothed each month. The four pillars of the Coalition are prayer, unity, partnership and community. The mission is carried out thru our programs and projects, using our relational, grassroots, neighborhood-oriented approach.
We are compelled to lovingly challenge the church to face the future with imagination and courage – thru the selfsame revolution that was precipitated through the world-shattering life and ministry of Jesus and the early Christian movement.
I am deeply indebted to so many who have helped TGDC become a major force in our city. It is not possible to credit all of those who are a part, but a special note of gratitude is in order, to you all. You know who you are. Lastly, these dear ones listed here have always been there for me. We have engaged, prayed, laughed, cried, struggled, planned and wept over our city as our Master did in Jerusalem two thousand years ago. And now, thru it all, we are surprised by the hope that is within us, and a determination to never give up!
My wife Theresa
Pastor Donald R. Parish Sr. & Deborah Parish
Pastor Chris Simmons
Pastor Karen Dudley
Pastor Karen Belknap
Carrie Boren Headington & Greg Headington
Bishop J. Lee Slater & Pastor Donna Slater
Coach Ken Heupel & Cindy Heupel
Nick & Amy Repac
Tracy and Debra Adams
Dr. Kwesi Kamau-Pastor and Chairman of the Board
Stephanie Hodgkins Sumner
Bishop George Sumner/Episcopal Diocese of Dallas, who recently paid me one of the greatest compliments ever: “You, Ron, are the Tom Brady of Social Ministry in the city.”
I am a “debtor” to you all. I love you!