[Hpn] Dallas, TX - Taking Jesus to the homeless and the streets - The Dallas
Morning News - August 10, 2002
Sun, 11 Aug 2002 00:47:50 -0500
Taking Jesus to the streets
These downtown Dallas preachers say their experiences help them
reach the least reachable
By DAVID TARRANT - The Dallas Morning News - August 10, 2002
With a wireless microphone in hand, occasionally referring to
notes on a wooden lectern, he paces back and forth and waves his
hands like a preacher at a Sunday service.
But this is not Sunday, and this is no church service at least
not in the traditional sense. It's Saturday morning, and Steve
Tovar is preaching at his usual spot at the intersection of
Ervay and Corsicana streets in downtown Dallas.
His congregation is a group of homeless people, sitting on the
sidewalk and curb across the street.
"This is my church. These buildings are the walls of that church,
and the sky is the ceiling," he says. "You are the
Mr. Tovar is among several street preachers, including a police
officer and several ex-cons, taking the gospel to the streets of
Their motivations vary.
Some believe they must go where the needs are greatest by
ministering to the homeless and those struggling with drug and
Others who have been in trouble believe their street credentials
can help them reach the homeless where others can't.
These street preachers differ from the fiery sidewalk ranters
with their hand-scrawled signs and apocalyptic visions. Many
dispense food and music along with their sermons.
They often preach from the back of pickup trucks, using
microphones or karaoke boom boxes.
It's 10 a.m., and Steve Tovar has started preaching. Trim and
youthful looking at 36, he's wearing a red T-shirt bearing the
words "Born Again Street Ministry," baggy calf-length jeans and
sneakers. His arms are covered with tattoos dating to his days as
a gang member in Oak Cliff.
"Praise the Lord! It may not be the best place to praise the
Lord, but we're going to have some church this morning!"
Over the next half-hour, he dodges passing cars and trucks as he
preaches from the text of Second Corinthians. ("That's the thing
about street preachers," he says, waving past an older model,
brown Cadillac. "You get to flag traffic.")
Later, a rainstorm interrupts his sermon, forcing him to
hurriedly pull a tarp over the amplifiers in the back of a Chevy
pickup. Cheerfully undeterred, he continues unplugged.
"I can preach in the rain or the sunshine. I'll preach to a dog
if he'll listen to me. That's what God does for an ex-con and a
good-looking Mexican," he adds, grinning widely.
He finishes by huddling with a circle of homeless men and
reciting the Lord's Prayer. Afterward, a half-dozen members of
his ministry help distribute bucket loads of fried chicken.
Mr. Tovar says his experiences help him to relate to street
He dropped out of school in the seventh grade. Born with muscular
dystrophy, he says he joined gangs as a way to prove himself.
As a teenager, he was in trouble with the police for drugs and
theft. Eventually, he became addicted to heroin and spent a dozen
years in prison, he says.
In 1996, he was in jail at Lew Sterrett Justice Center waiting to
be transferred to California on a parole violation."I was scared,
man, that I would never be in society again," Mr. Tovar says. "I
tried everything else. I was scared. I wanted out of this way of
life, and the only thing I knew to do was what I was taught to do
as a child."
He remembered how his mother had brought him to church and taught
him to pray. He decided to pray again.
"That's when I was saved," he says.
During the year that he spent in California serving out the
sentence for his parole violation, he studied the Bible. "I knew
I was going to be a preacher. I didn't watch TV. I just stayed in
my cell pounding my head on the Bible."
After his release, he got married. In 1997, he started coming
downtown occasionally to preach to the homeless through an Oak
When his family moved to Duncanville, he joined the Crossroads of
Life Assembly of God.
Working with other members from the church, Mr. Tovar started
preaching every Saturday.He says he is motivated by the chance to
help pull someone off the streets.
"I think what I get out of it the most is seeing someone
delivered. I've seen people come off drugs and get a decent job
and a house.
The same way I got a chance, I want to give them a chance."
The neighborhood two miles south of downtown shows all the
familiar signs of urban blight, where the sight of prostitutes
and public drinking are as common as security bars on windows.
It is a bleak and grim area and exactly the kind of place in
which the Rev. Karen Dudley wanted to locate a new street
The storefront is next to a nightclub on the corner of Harwood
and Grand streets.
Ms. Dudley is the pastor of the Dallas International Street
Church, the only local church dedicated exclusively to serving
the homeless, and has institutionalized street preaching.
Her church, based at a storefront location on the corner of Young
and South Ervay across from City Hall, has been working with the
homeless downtown since December 1997. The church holds six
services a week, which are followed by hot meals.
Ms. Dudley also organizes outreaches into poor areas to seek out
people in need of ministry, particularly those with addictions.
"This is about taking Jesus to the streets," she says. "The whole
purpose is to see people restored to God."
Beginning in June, the storefront at Harwood and Grand has held
services in the parking lot behind the building, which is being
A band made up of church disciples sings gospel songs to people
from the neighborhood, and Ms. Dudley leads prayers.
It is a far cry from her former job as a marketing director for
the Better Business Bureau in Tyler.
After a series of personal setbacks that included the death of
her husband, she moved to Dallas. She joined Oak Cliff Assembly
of God and worked as the church secretary. In 1995, she earned a
bachelor's degree from Southwestern Assemblies of God University
While serving in a jail ministry, she decided that what was
needed was a church that served the homeless population, many of
whom were ex-cons with nowhere to go.
Those who come to the Street Church can join a discipleship
program. There currently are about a dozen men in the program who
study the Bible and help maintain the ministry. Many are
recovering from drug and alcohol addictions.
"We address the spiritual side of their addiction," a program
that includes daily Bible study and 12-step meetings, Ms. Dudley
said. The disciples hone their preaching skills during daily
services for the homeless.
"These guys are coming from the streets and going back to the
streets," she said. "They're training to be street preachers."
Zoltan Laky also knows the streets. He works as a police
officer in the southeast patrol division of the Dallas Police
But on Sunday mornings for the last three years, he has preached
to the homeless in downtown Dallas.
On a recent Sunday about 7 a.m., he stood at a lectern in the
back of a red Chevy pickup and began to preach to about 100
homeless people, mostly men, on a patchy parking lot a few blocks
south of City Hall.
Instead of a police uniform, Mr. Laky wore a pair of jeans shorts
and a T-shirt. He was joined by about two dozen others from his
church, the Family Cathedral of Praise in Mesquite.
As he talked, several people from the ministry passed out paper
plates, napkins and plastic forks for the meal that would be
served after the service.
"I know a lot of you are here because of some catastrophe in your
life, and you've decided to walk away," Mr. Laky says. "I know
you're not happy. Nobody can be happy on the street. God did not
create you to live on the street, to eat garbage out of a trash
Few of the homeless seem to be paying attention. Many are talking
among themselves or idling away the time sitting on a sidewalk
across the street. One reads the Metro section of the newspaper.
Others cat nap.
"I used to get frustrated," Mr. Laky says. "I wondered if I was
reaching anyone, if I should go into another ministry."
But one day while in uniform, he was standing in a grocery line
when he heard someone call out: "Brother Zoltan!"
It was a man who had heard him preach. The man had started
working for the City of Dallas and gotten his own apartment. "His
name was Lawrence. He prayed to be delivered, and he was
Mr. Laky dates his own deliverance to May 19, 1999. He was
experiencing some marital problems and personal pressures.
A religious adviser visiting his home suggested he read from the
New Testament, Romans Chapter 10. "I read it, and I felt the Holy
Spirit. I looked at my wife, and I said, 'I've been saved.' "
He was looking for a way to express his newfound faith when Leon
Birdd, a former neighbor, suggested he join a street ministry.
To that point, his only contact with the homeless came as a
police officer. He had a "totally preconceived notion" of the
homeless, he said. "I used to think all they wanted to do was get
drunk and high."
He didn't particularly want to minister to the homeless. "I did
it to appease Leon, at first," he says, laughing.
Mr. Laky and other preachers say the police will occasionally
drive by and ask them to keep the noise down. Or a property owner
will ask them to move.
"We've been chased off this parking lot and that one," he says,
pointing across the street. "If they let us know, we just move to
The city this year announced plans to enforce guidelines covering
proper food temperature, transportation, sanitation and
preparation of food distributed to homeless by a variety of
groups. No date has been set for establishing such a change.
Some preachers believe the plan is just another way for the city
to try to push the homeless out of downtown to a place where they
are less visible.
"The city wants to run us off from downtown," says Jimmy Ybarbo,
who preaches to the homeless and distributes food with his
Mesquite-based group on Saturday mornings a few blocks south of
"We leave it in the Lord's hands."
Not all of Dallas' street preachers minister to the homeless. For
years, a street evangelist has shouted his views from a sidewalk
in the West End. Another stakes out a corner at Inwood Road and
Lemmon Avenue. He is known for carrying a bullhorn and a
ventriloquist dummy and shouting at customers who go into a
Another itinerant preacher, Truly Livingston, recently stood on
Reunion Boulevard near the Hyatt Regency Dallas and held a sign
reading "Repent." She declined to talk about herself, however,
only saying that Isaiah Chapter 5 inspired her.
"I'm convinced that God is telling us the same things he told
Isaiah: If you can't sleep at night, there's a good reason.
That's what I'm doing out here. I'm the Lord's servant. I'm an
American citizen," she said.
And then she turned her sign and attention back toward the
Homeless & Housing Daily News
About the Street preachers:
THE REV. KAREN DUDLEY
I've been preaching for: 10 years.
Preaching location: Dallas International Street Church,
at Young and Ervay streets; second location at
intersection of Grand and Harwood streets.
My hero is: Jesus.
My favorite Bible verses: Matthew 25:35-40. (... When I
was hungry, you gave me something to eat, and when I
was thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was
a stranger, you welcomed me, and when I was naked, you
gave me clothes to wear. When I was sick, you took care
of me, and when I was in jail, you visited me. ...)
I wish I could preach like: Jesus.
My biggest obstacle as a preacher: We get caught up in
My biggest asset: The Lord. I couldn't do this on my
Advice to new street preachers: If he's called you to
do it, you've got to do it and not let anything stand
in your way.
Date of birth: April 30, 1961.
Occupation: Dallas Police officer
I've been preaching for: three years.
Preaching location: Parking lot two blocks south of
My hero is: Jesus Christ.
My favorite Bible verses: Romans 10:9-10: (if thou
shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt
believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from
the dead, thou shalt be saved. ...)
I wish I could preach like: W.A. Criswell and Billy
My biggest obstacle as a preacher: Week after week, we
see some of the same faces. I don't let it get to me
anymore as long as I'm doing my part.
My biggest asset: It's my job. I live every day with
the other side (as a police officer).
Advice to new street preachers: Do it. It opens your
eyes. It gives you an appreciation of your life when
you see someone carrying all their worldly belongings
in a Wal-Mart bag on their wrist.
Date of birth: Sept. 15, 1965.
I've been preaching for: six years.
Preaching location: Corsicana and Ervay streets.
My heroes are: Billy Graham, Benny Hinn, Dr. Gaylan
Claunch (my pastor at Crossroads of Life in
Duncanville), Jesus Christ and the Apostles Peter and
My favorite Bible verse: Galatians 2:10. (... we should
remember the poor ...) That's why I'm out there.
I wish I could preach like: The Apostle Paul.
My biggest obstacle as a preacher: My muscular
dystrophy. I want to be strong, but there is muscle
pain. But when I preach, I feel the strength of a
My biggest asset: My family (wife Joanna; children
Roxanne, 10; Stephen, 4; Aaron, 2).
Advice to new street preachers: Make sure the Holy
Spirit has called you for that job, because it is the
hardest deal. You want to see results, and sometimes
it's very hard to see results.