Matt Wallace ('00) | Dry Bones, Denver, Colo.
Matt and his wife, Nikki, are graduates of ACU and co-founders of Dry Bones ministry to homeless youth in Denver. They recently adopted a baby boy from Ethiopia named Kai. Below is a Q&A with Matt.
In what ways did your experience at ACU prepare you to work with a population that is ignored and even feared by many people?
While I was a student at ACU, I was constantly presented with opportunities to become uncomfortable. Whether that was through leadership on campus or traveling the world or organized mission trips, I gained an appreciation to seek discomfort and adventure. Those places became where I wanted to be more and more. I realized that it was during those "out of the ordinary" experiences that I was encountering and learning about God the most.
At Dry Bones, we often use a saying that I heard from my missionary friend Joel VanDyke. He once told me, "Grace is like water. It always flows downhill and pools up in the low places." I have discovered that in seeking out the bleeding and low places of my city, I will encounter God and his immense grace. The "low places" are a difficult place for anyone to go. However, I now believe that they're where I need to be, where I'd rather be.
Your wife is part of Dry Bones as well. How did you meet her? What role does she play in the ministry?
Nikki and I met while working at Wilderness Trek in Salida, Colo. We both were students at ACU. So, when we returned after our first summer working together, we became best friends back in Abilene and eventually fell in love.
When we moved to Denver, we had just gotten married. Nikki was looking for a job in the business world where she would use her MBA from ACU. We quickly realized that we needed her to work full time for Dry Bones. She was excited about the idea.
She is now our accountant, bookkeeper, administrative guru, and any other way that I can describe all the hard office work of running a non-profit organization. She is also invaluable on the streets and in relationship with street kids. She particularly has a special place among the girls on the streets. While most of the girls have difficulty trusting other girls (for very good and complex reasons), they almost instantly trust Nikki. She has the ability to model for and encourage the girls to become strong, confident, godly women.
What do interns experience while working with Dry Bones?
We tell students that Dry Bones is all about creating "us" environments. We try to create experiences where Dry Bones staff and interns are not loading up life's answers and Jesus on our backs in order to take them down to the "poor street kids." Instead, we are joining God on the streets, in the bleeding places, and joining in on the dance as He introduces us to people of unsurpassable worth that happen to sleep under bridges. He's providing the music, bringing about healing, and loving already. We get to step in and participate. Interns, staff and street kids all lose their titles as we each learn, teach, give and receive. The "us" environments and the "us" attitude allows all of our lives to be changed, not just the lives of houseless youth.
What is a typical day with Dry Bones?
Dry Bones looks very different every day. One morning, I might be sitting next to or even testifying in court with a friend. That afternoon, I may be visiting a friend in jail or meeting another on a street corner to provide a listening ear. Just yesterday, I spent time at the hospital in ICU with a friend who had just been shot (he’s going to be fine).
It’s great when I, or any other staff member, get to spend time with someone during their deepest and darkest nights of the soul. But what I've found is that this thing called Dry Bones is a two-way street and a living organism.The whole takes care of itself. Because of genuine relationships, my houseless friends are there for me during my darkest moments too. Just last year, Nikki and I lost a baby girl. It was my friends on the streets who borrowed phones to call us, bought and wrote sympathy cards, hugged, prayed, visited, listened, and cried with us.
To many that are involved, Dry Bones is where they find their only true friends. Some call it "family," some call it "church," still others refer to Dry Bones as "bowling" or "coffee" (as we host weekly activities designed as places to belong such as bowling, coffee, meals, etc.).
Because we are not a "program," we have the freedom and flexibility to meet all young people on the streets at whatever point they are at in life. We have no funnel that anyone has to squeeze through to get "in." We hold each other accountable, and we all live by some common rules, but you can't fail out of Dry Bones. Dry Bones is an organism that realizes that each part has power. Each part then looks for creative ways to place that power under the others. It works out in a really great way - I believe that it's an expression of the reality of the Kingdom of God.
How do you define success on the streets?
We are constantly trying to take note of "successes." I'm sure we would have quit yesterday if we weren't able to notice life-change happening around Dry Bones. Success for Dry Bones comes in very small and large doses. We certainly get excited when a young person chooses to follow Christ, gets off the streets, remains sober, etc.
We also revel in the success of "Jason" not telling one single lie during a normal conversation. We are equally excited when one of our interns has a life-changing experience, or when one church member stops using "just" statements ("Just get a job. Just stop using drugs").
We are thankful for Mother Teresa’s encouragement, "God does not call us to be successful, only faithful." We will keep showing up and keep trying our best to remain faithful. God can bring on any form of success He chooses.
Taking it to the Streets
- Chris and Stacey Webb Field ('06) Mercy Project
- Ethiopian texts rich source for Biblical research
- Matt Wallace ('00) Dry Bones Ministry
- Wade Huggins ('10) Biblical Text / Music
- Alyse Ritchie ('12) Youth & Family Ministry
- Dr. Jerry Taylor Bible, Missions and Ministry
- Dr. Jeanene Reese Bible, Missions & Ministry
- Gary Green World Wide Witness
- Joel Brown ('09) Bible, Missions & Ministry
- Arielle Shepard ('11) Youth & Family Ministry
- Randy Harris Bible, Missions & Ministry
- Stephen Powell ('10) Jason Boone ('10)
- Tera Harmon ('03, '07) Graduate School of Theology
- Olivia Hodges ('07) Christian Ministry
- Robert Oglesby, ACU Center for Youth and Family Ministry
- Sam Souder ('10) Worship Ministry
- Dr. Stephen Johnson Graduate School of Theology
- Whitney Herrington ('09) Missions / Social Work
- Jessica Schell ('11) Youth & Family Ministry
- Gustavo Villanueva ('00) Ministry/Education