Innovative Houston ministry to receive ACU's Christian Service Award

For Immediate Release
Feb. 15, 2000

Abilene Christian University will present one of its highest honors, the Christian Service Award, to Houston's Impact Church of Christ Monday, Feb. 21, at a noon luncheon in the Teague Special Events Center.

The award recognizes the efforts of the church to evangelize and restore spirit to a downtown Houston neighborhood facing multiple hurdles.

Impact church co-founders Charlie Middlebrook, Ron Sellers and Doug Williams have a unique perspective on their work. They say they didn't set out to organize an inner-city ministry when they began their careers. And in a way, that's made their job a bit easier.

"None of us planned to be where we are," says Middlebrook (ACU class of 1968). "We don't have to worry about the expectations. We can just let God be God."

Middlebrook, Sellers (ACU class of 1969), Williams (ACU class of 1964) and a group of others joined together in 1986 to create Impact Houston Church of Christ, a near-downtown congregation serving some of Houston's poorest residents. Paul Woodward, Leslie Rose and others have since joined the effort that has borne remarkable fruit responding to the debilitating power of poverty - financial and spiritual - in the inner-city.

ACU presents the award to the Impact Church of Christ to recognize its service, leadership and commitment to Christ. Among honorees will be the church's ministers and organizers, including Charlie and Molly Middlebrook, Ron and Linda Sellers, Doug and Bethel Williams, Leslie and Yvonne Rose, Paul and Susan Woodward, Steve and Lynette Austin and Alejandro and Lynda Arango.

Over the past 13 years, the Impact church has built a thriving congregation from scratch within the inner city. With growing support from area congregations and fellow Christians in Houston, the church has wrestled with the unique problems plaguing Houston's poorest neighborhoods. The goal - to return the body of Christ to an area blighted by "white flight" and afflicted by substance abuse, illegitimate births, brutal violence and racial discord.

Impact targets the need of young and old. It has developed a vibrant children's ministry, regularly working with 400-500 kids by offering summer reading programs and an eight-week vacation Bible school. Three years ago, Impact spun off the Small Steps Learning Center, a nonprofit daycare program for low-income families.

Community outreach and involvement has consistently been a cornerstone of the Impact model. The church stocks a warehouse of clothing and food. It offers free Sunday lunch to all comers - no questions asked. And over the past 13 years, groups working with Impact have painted 250 houses.

Three years ago, Paul Woodward helped create the Impact Youth Development Center, geared toward teaching basic life skills to teen-agers at risk of remaining in the cycle of violence and cultural despair. And minister Doug Williams leads a twice-weekly Bible study for the homeless, which the Impact group calls "outdoorsmen."

"It has gone way beyond anything we envisioned," Williams says. "We just wanted to start a little ministry down here and it kind of got away from us. There's something going on here every day of the week."

From the beginning, Impact's mission has been unity across economic, social, political and racial lines.

"It has always been a multi-ethnic, multi-class church with an emphasis on the poor," Middlebrook says. Half the church is Hispanic, another quarter is black. A year ago, the church appointed its first elders, which include Middlebrook, Sellers, Williams, Doug Brown and Dimas Velasquez, an El Salvadoran immigrant.

Organizers say they still face the challenge of trying to deal with poor without resorting to soundbite answers and pat solutions.

"We came in here with an amazing ignorance about what the needs were in the inner city," Middlebrook says. "It's just amazing how little we know about urban poverty."


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Last update: Feb. 15, 2000
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