From $6 million in debt to a surplus, First Euless turned its dollars outward

EULESS–In 2005, First Baptist Church of Euless shared more in common with its neighbors than many a church member would care to admit.

In the Hurst-Euless-Bedford (HEB) school district, many families struggle to pay the bills. Nearly 50 percent of students receive government-subsidized school lunches because their family income is below the poverty line. The district categorizes about 600 of its schoolchildren as homeless.

Go back five years. The church’s expansive property along Airport Freeway in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex was impressive, but appearances were deceiving: The church was between pastors and was saddled with a $6 million debt.

Rather than creeping along in reducing the burden, interim pastor Bill Anderson, who had led the church years before, issued a challenge: Don’t just observe the tithe, give $20 above it. See what God does.

Anderson asked church members to ask three things: “Lord, is this of you?” “What’s my part?” And, “Lord, bless your people so they may give generously.”

Twenty-eight months later, not only was the debt retired, the church had $1.2 million in the bank.

“It was going to take a miracle, and God did a miracle,” recalled Scott Sheppard, who grew up at First Euless and whose family goes back five generations as charter members.

Then Anderson challenged the church a second time: “What could you do if you could continue to give at this rate? How many water wells could you dig, how many churches could you plant, how many families could you help?”

In 2008, the year John Meador was called as pastor, “we spent over a million dollars from here to China” over and above the church’s giving through the Cooperative Program, a shared funding strategy for the network of Southern Baptist missions and ministries worldwide, Sheppard said.

The church, it seemed, was hooked on giving.

6 Stones Mission Network

Sheppard, a 1980 graduate of Trinity High School, just across the street from the church, has watched Euless transform from middle-class bedroom community to an economically and ethnically diverse city where 60-plus languages and dialects are spoken.

Two years ago, Meador came to Sheppard, then the church’s “Share and Serve” pastor, with a problem and yet another challenge.

“We’re going to fix this,” Meador said, explaining the travails of a woman who had come to the church in dire need following an apartment fire after being turned away by a non-profit because she lived in Euless instead of a sister city nearby. It was one in a series of awakenings about the needs of people in the community.

The two discussed building a coalition of like-minded churches to meet the needs of those falling between the cracks.

When Sheppard asked Meador how he planned to do that, he replied, “I don’t know. Go figure it out.”

Weeks later, Meador was casting a vision during a church missions conference for a separate non-profit social ministry called 6 Stones, named for the memorial of six 700-pound stones on the church’s campus. Each time a million dollars of debt was paid down, a mammoth stone was placed as a sort of Old Testament-style “Ebenezer.”

Before long, God was orchestrating his divine appointments. The city, among other things, had a problem with people living in conditions Sheppard said he wouldn’t let his dog live in.

“I had no idea we had that kind of desperation right under our noses,” he said upon discovering an infirm woman and her mentally handicapped sister who were using space heaters to warm themselves in their dilapidated house while an inch of rainwater stood on the kitchen floor.

Sheppard called a church member with the news: the question wasn’t if the church was going to participate but how much and how soon.

Tillie Burgin, director of Mission Arlington, told Sheppard early on, “You never say no. You just dive in and let God do what he’s going to do.”

Sheppard took that to heart, and God has done more than anyone at First Euless could have imagined through 6 Stones, from housing refurbishments to food and clothing, job training and networking, and evangelism and spiritual mentoring.

Sheppard stepped down from his church position to become executive director of the newly formed non-profit. Meanwhile, the missions committee of the church not only agreed to redirect $200,000 of its budget, but it wanted to do it immediately.

Last June, 500-plus volunteers, mostly from the church, spent two days making 14 dilapidated homes habitable for their residents again. In all, they fixed up 20 homes last year. Tarrant County has a program that provides a city $500,000 in grant money if the city matches it with $125,000. The City of Euless was elated, Sheppard said, because volunteers may be counted as virtual dollars toward reaching the $125,000 matching contribution.

That partnership is continuing this year, and numerous other likeminded churches are participating with 6 Stones. The endeavor has a name, Euless Revitalization, and several hundred pastors, civic and business leaders were on hand on Jan. 27 at the church for a luncheon outlining plans for further work.

The list of corporate and non-profit sponsors for Euless Revitalization numbers more than 80 and includes corporations such as TXU, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Starbucks, and Aetna Insurance, among many others. The list included 11 churches and growing.

In addition, a food and clothing store has opened on First Euless’ West Campus property across from the church, a converted old strip mall. 6 tones’ offices are housed next to Sunday School and conference space. A warehouse in the back overflows with food items, clothing and donated household goods.

A decision to intentionally share the gospel with every person who applied for aid at the 6 Stones offices has born fruit since the new process was implemented last June; nearly 1,200 people have prayed to receive Christ “picking up pinto beans and blue jeans,” Sheppard said.

“When we started sharing the gospel, the whole thing escalated,” he added, noting the flow of people to the ministry has been helped along by its relationship with the HEB school system, which refers families to the ministry because of 6 Stones’ eagerness in helping the schools.

On Aug. 22, a back-to-school outreach involving 600 church and community volunteers strewn across the parking lot at First Euless drew scores of families. The 6 Stones ministry distributed 1,300 backpacks full of school supplies donated by Target, Wal-Mart and 33 other businesses and non-profits. Representatives from the police and fire departments were there to talk with children. John Peter Smith Hospital flew in a helicopter to wow the school kids and medical personnel offered health screenings.

A ministry called Kids’ Beach Club, begun by First Euless member Jack Terrel that operates afterschool programs in 15 of 19 HEB schools, was also there to sign up kids for the program.

“It’s amazing what you can do if you don’t know you shouldn’t do it,” quipped Sheppard.

“I learned that miracles are not the events that occur, they are the chain reactions from the events. You get in line with God’s will and they just keep unfolding.”

Gene Buinger, superintendent of the HEB schools, said 6 Stones has been an asset to the schools because it has created a one-stop, non-profit organization that in one year has involved 20 to 30 churches to refer students and families. Buinger envisions a cadre of churches and community organizations working together to revitalize many of the 100,000 homes in the HEB area that were built in the 1950s and 60s.

“Our children cannot learn if they are hungry or if they are moving every 60 days if they get evicted,” remarked Buinger. “If we can keep this kind of involvement with our schools, we can produce a successful learning environment.”

So positive is the relationship of 6 Stones with the school system that school officials were enthusiastic about allowing a Christmas “Night of Wonder” party at 10 HEB elementary schools in December. The school system provided a list of needy families who wished to attend, and on Dec. 14 and 15, the 6 Stones ministry brought together several churches and provided gifts for 1,170 school children and ended the evening with a gospel presentation.

“We had 518 people pray to receive Christ at 10 Christmas parties,” Sheppard marveled. “It goes bac to those three prayers—if God’s in it, if you’ll be obedient and if he’ll bless his people, it’s crazy what can happen.”

Meador remarked: “We believe God enabled us to be debt-free because of a desire to be used to impact the community and our world. His provision allowed us to do that in a significant way. It’s an amazing thing—the more we invest in the community, the more the doors of ministry open. God is truly giving us favor, and we’re so excited about the fruit of that.”

Most of the people the ministry touches will never attend First Euless or give a dollar to the ministry, and Meador understood that from the outset, Sheppard said. Instead, “this has to be a truly kingdom initiative. That’s what I’m learning.”

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TEXAN Correspondent
Jerry Pierce
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