Building Bridges in Lufkin, Texas
By: Sherri Gragg
Keltys UMC Lufkin takes a creative approach to sharing God’s love with the children in their community.
Last Christmas, the officer in charge of the Lufkin Police Department’s “Blue Santa” program called Pastor Cindy Doran of Keltys UMC Lufkin with an unusual request.
“They had Blue Santa gifts for a family in my neighborhood and they wanted to know if I would be willing to take them to the children in their place,” Doran said. “They had just escorted the mother to jail the day before, and they didn’t want to further traumatize the children.”
The incident is one example of the church’s commitment to building bridges in their community- Bridges between law enforcement and residents. Bridges between church members and a community that no longer reflects their membership. Bridges between God’s truth and the hard questions local teens are facing.
An Open Door
Historically, Keltys UMC Lufkin has reflected its predominantly white, middle-class neighborhood, but the world around them has changed. Today, the church is surrounded by a diverse community, many of them immigrants. Parents are often working multiple jobs to keep their families afloat, leaving children to care for themselves in their absence. As a member of the community, Doran saw a need and responded. “I just opened the door of communication with the kids,” Doran said. “They come talk to me.”
Doran’s outreach to neighborhood children lay the foundation for further ministry. When church members realized children were going hungry because they were home alone for long periods of time, they began cooking classes for them. As many as forty children have descended upon the church to learn how to make simple meals from common pantry items.
Filling in the Gaps
Keltys UMC is acutely aware that another way they can serve these children is to continue to facilitate positive connections between them and law enforcement. The church hosts neighborhood block parties in which law enforcement and firefighters are invited to join the community for good food and live music.
The church is also an active presence in the neighborhood elementary school. Members read with students and help them with their schoolwork. When school administrators realize a child is in need, they turn to Keltys UMC to provide food, clothing, and blankets for struggling families.
They church is committed to not only meeting the physical needs of the children in their neighborhood. They minister to their souls as well. Doran walks the halls of the school, silently praying over the students and teachers. In moments of struggle and grief, she is on hand to provide comfort and support. “God has a plan,” Doran said, “and He knows when He is going to need us to be His servant and fill in gaps.”
One way Doran has been intentional to “fill the gaps” is to provide the teens in her youth group with an unusual summer camp experience designed to firmly root them in the Word of God. Doran took the teens to Dallas where they toured various museums, as well as the 5th Court of Appeals. On each stop, the teens took their Bibles along and Doran presented tough questions for discussion. At the JFK Museum, the group asked “Where is God when terrible things happen?” After touring the Holocaust Museum, the group explored the concept of the origins of evil.
Thanks to the faithful ministry of Keltys UMC, the gaps for neighborhood children are narrowing. Increasingly, the children want to be at the church, a place where they feel welcomed, loved, and safe.
When Doran dreams of her church’s future, she envisions a great harvest of reconciliation. “I want my church to be a bridge,” she said. “There are a lot of holes in society. In my neighborhood, they show up in a big way. Through discipleship, the members of my church can fill those holes if we do it right.”