Seagoville Residents of Sandbranch in southeast Dallas County have lacked potable water due to contaminated water wells for a startling three decades, but a local church has committed itself to quenching the physical and spiritual thirst of this 138-year-old unincorporated community.
Four years ago, Eugene Keahey became pastor of Mt. Zion Baptist Church and saw an immediate need to serve the tiny, 100-member community of Sandbranch. He decided to expand the services of the 501c3 organization, Project Dreamhaus, that he and his wife, Deanna, founded in 2001. Once focused on providing scholarship and educational opportunities for youth, now Project Dreamhaus also helps to bring basic services to the Mt. Zion community.
The organization operates out of Mt. Zion, last year providing 100,000 gallons of drinking water to the community and distributing 1.7 million pounds of food, fruit and vegetables, Keahey said.
“It all takes place at the church. People come and go shopping each Saturday. They sign their names and give their zip codes and take what they need,” Keahey explained, noting that food bank services extend beyond Sandbranch to southeast Dallas County. “We serve from Wilmer Hutchins all the way up to Balch Springs.”
Much of the food distributed is provided by the North Texas Food Bank, Keahey said.
In 2015, Mt. Zion and Project Dreamhaus also sponsored back-to-school events, free haircuts, a clothes closet and Christmas giveaways, sometimes with corporate sponsors like Ozarka and Baylor Medical Center.
“We have to bring a real Jesus to a real need,” Keahey said. “It’s not enough for me to talk Jesus on Sunday from the pulpit. I have to walk Jesus in the neighborhood.”
Walking Jesus in the neighborhood is exactly what Keahey does. Afternoons often find him playing a board game with Sandbranch children or rocking on the porch with an elderly resident.
In Sandbranch, serving up living water also means providing bottled water.
“For you and me, bottled water is dispensable. If we drink half of it fine,” Keahey elaborated. “But not in this community. [Here] it is life or death, a human necessity. They use it for drinking, cooking, washing, bathing.”
Like the community, Mt. Zion Baptist Church also lacks potable water.
“[Church] water comes from a sandpit,” Keahey said. “One of our members goes to the sandpit and drains water out so we can flush the latrines on Sunday.”
Keahey added that he even sets an alarm on his watch to remind him to wrap up Wednesday night services within one hour because of the absence of working restrooms during the week.
“I didn’t think I’d be using any of my degrees in a third-world country,” Keahey, a former middle school math teacher and youth pastor, laughed.
But until water and basic services come to Sandbranch, the area is essentially a “third-world” territory that Mt. Zion plans to continue to help.
Hope for the community is on the horizon from other sources, too. The Dallas Morning News reported in April that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved infrastructure improvements in Sandbranch, lifting a ban that had been in place for years because the community has a one percent chance of annual flooding from the Trinity River.
“Agencies have come forward to help,” Keahey said, noting that the United States Department of Agriculture has offered assistance to pay for water and repairs to houses and that the Environmental Protection Agency has affirmed the quality of the community’s septic tanks.
The USDA also approved funding for an engineering survey as a preliminary step to bringing water to Sandbranch. The Weatherford engineering firm of Jacob & Martin LLC received the contract to supply water to Sandbranch, Keahey said, adding that the firm presented its findings in a community meeting at the church on July 2.
In the meantime, a Clean Sandbranch Day on June 1 was a great success, Keahey said. “We wanted 300 to show up. But as God does, it was over 500 people. We cleaned the entire community, fellowshipped, ate, had a really good time. People from all walks of life came to see the community and help it. Some came from as far away as Tyler, to help clean up.”
With assistance from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention, another church need was met by the donation of a portable baptistry, Keahey added, praising the efforts of SBTC mobilization director Barry Calhoun in facilitating SBTC involvement and pastor Wm. Dwight McKissic, Sr., of Arlington’s Cornerstone Baptist Church in initially making the needs known to the SBTC.
A special baptismal service was held at the church July 3 and attended by Calhoun.
“It was the first time since I’ve been there that we have actually baptized at the church. Some have waited over two years to be baptized,” Keahey said of the four believers baptized Sunday. Eleven more are awaiting baptism.
“It was an historic service for Mt. Zion Baptist Church in a community lacking the essentials,” Calhoun said. “They could do something every church should be able to do: baptize people who have dedicated their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Our church is small,” Keahey said, explaining that the church had grown from 35 to 100. “We were going to hold the baptisms in a horse trough. Then the SBTC showed up to support us. We are so appreciative. The baptistry is beautiful. And it heats up. We can now baptize in summer and winter. You can’t do that in a horse trough!”