How a seven-year-old boy found keys to a church van is anyone’s guess. They belong to one of two vans at Way of Truth church in Dallas, and now, the child is in the driver’s seat turning on the ignition. The van lurches into oncoming traffic and stays in no particular lane as it careens down the street. It bounces back and forth, hitting cars on both sides of the road until it comes to a complete stop. The boy is somehow unharmed, but the van is totaled, and the joyride has damaged nine other vehicles.
This would be a mere setback for many church communities, but for Way of Truth, the van is a devastating loss. The church serves four of the most economically unstable zip codes in Dallas County, and the tithes and offerings brought in by parishioners are not enough to cover the cost of a new van and pay the church’s bills.
But for 20 years, Pastor Michael Hodge has managed to keep Way of Truth afloat. “With our parishioners, they’re not making a lot of money,” he says. “I do what needs to be done to keep the lights on.” His tenacity and influence in this part of Dallas is one of the reasons Gateway is building a partnership with Way of Truth to reach this area of the Metroplex.
For many years, paying the bills was Michael’s priority. He was constantly looking for ways he could help the members and make their lives better. He wanted to reach out to the community, but it was secondary. How could he help others when he was struggling to help his own members? Although rare, Michael remembers some impactful outreach opportunities. Once, a woman came to the church and told him about another woman who was so poor, the only thing she could afford to eat was cat food.
Michael went to her apartment and, sure enough, there were cat food tins lying around. He bought her groceries right on the spot and continued to take care of her until she passed away years later. Her story isn’t unique to the people living near Way of Truth, but there is one narrative that’s even more common for those born in the area.
“It starts out in elementary school,” says Michael. “They get to selling drugs because they want new shoes, a haircut, or a way to clean their clothes. The father is probably in prison and the mother’s doing the best she can on subsidized assistance. She gets a check once a month for $600 or $700, and she might have seven or eight kids.”
Michael describes this state of being as “survival mode.” “They come to the mindset of, I’m not doing well anyway so I might as well steal, hustle, and pray that nothing happens to me,” he says. Even for the people who make it out of this environment alive, there’s an allure to come back. Michael found himself in this situation.
When he was young, he was so talented at one par- ticular thing that everyone knew he had a ticket out. That thing was basketball. He was so good that when his friends began dealing drugs, they would shield him from that lifestyle. It was like having accountability 24 hours a day from everyone in your neighborhood. He couldn’t get into trouble if he wanted to. He ended up getting a scholarship to a junior college—JuCo, as it’s known in basketball circles. Then, one night a recruiter from a big university rolled up in a limousine. Michael’s friend, who was already on the team and who Michael looked up to, was also in the limo. Michael knew this was the opportunity he had been waiting for, but something unexpected happened that changed the trajectory of his life.
The recruiter pulled out a small mirror and began cutting lines of cocaine for the three of them. Michael sheepishly thought that drugs were part of the college recruitment experience, so he joined in. However, he was instantly hooked.
He made the team and enrolled in the university, but basketball took a backseat to his addiction to cocaine. Within one semester, he lost his scholarship, dropped out of college, and returned home. In the years that followed, he got married, had children, and spent lots of time at the liquor store, often waiting for it to open at 10 am. But things got really bad when he would go on crack binges. His wife would lock him out of the house and call the police.
One time during a particularly bad binge when he was 24 years old, Michael burglarized his mom and dad’s home while they were on a trip. He sold their television and VCR to buy more crack. When his parents returned a few days later, he went on the run. He drove until his car ran out of gas. He didn’t make it far and his car sputtered to a stop as he circled the Loop 12 interchange onto I-30 at 3 am. Having nowhere else to turn, he waited, listening to the sounds of the cars and big rigs zooming by on the overpass above.
Then a car stopped in front of him. “You need a ride?” a man called out from inside the car. “I need to go home, but my wife is going to call the police if I show up there,” said Michael. Strangely, the man replied, “No, she won’t.” When he eventually got into the car, he could see Scriptures posted all around the interior. “Are you some kind of preacher?” he asked the man. “Something like that,” he replied.
Michael got home and his wife opened the door to let him in. She said the Lord had been dealing with her about him and she didn’t call the police. When Sunday morning came around, his wife and kids got ready for church, just like they did every weekend. Michael never went with them, but something was different about this morning. As the family pulled away from the house, he chased them down and got in the car to head to his first church service. “From that moment on, my life changed.”
Life wasn’t perfect after that. Michael lost his way a few more times and his first wife passed away from cancer, but he was following God and his life was heading in a new direction. The first thing he did was get more involved in church. “At first I was in the choir,” he says. “Then I became an usher, a trial deacon, and a minister. And then, I became a pastor.”
That was more than 20 years ago, and in that time not much has changed at Way of Truth. However, the biggest shift came in 2018 when Michael saw Pastor Robert preaching on television. A few days later, his family was on their way to Main Event in Grapevine when Michael asked his wife, Kelicia, to drop him off at the Gateway offices nearby. On a whim he thought he could connect with someone there, and he turned out to be right. He met with Pastor Troy Wierman who saw an opportunity for Gateway to reach an unreached community in Dallas.
Troy invited Michael to come to the 2018 Gateway Conference and connected him with Kim Sawler at Food For the Soul, a faith-based nonprofit organization (and Gateway ministry partner) that fights childhood hunger. Together, they organized a community outreach, providing a big meal for athletes at Kimball High School.
It was a huge leap of faith for Michael who had always wanted to do something like this but lacked the resources to make it happen. “I was community-minded but it was only talk—there was no action,” he says. “But when I went to Gateway Conference, the Holy Spirit convicted me to get with the program.”
That meal was a huge success, and it had some unexpected side effects. “My congregation was excited about an opportunity to give back to their own community,” he says. “And when I saw they were excited, I got excited.”
But an even bigger outreach preceded that one. Gateway partnered with Way of Truth for a school backpack drive. Michael was able to hand out more than 200 backpacks full of school supplies. Now, Way of Truth does community outreach on a regular basis, including a fuzzy sock drive for a nursing home and a turkey drive for Thanksgiving. The goal for next year’s backpack drive is to gift 600 backpacks!
So with this change of focus to an outreach mentality, is the church having trouble keeping the lights on? Not at all. More parishioners want to get involved in what’s happening at Way of Truth. They see the outreach opportunities as a way to reach an underserved community and put their faith in action.
This change has given Michael a shot of energy. Instead of maintaining the status quo, he is excited about a bright future in ministry and a bigger impact on the community than he thought possible. “2018 was a pilot year for me,” he says. “My spirit has been lifted into something I wished I would have been doing a long time ago. I don’t want to be known as a good preacher—I want to be known as a pastor who did something for his community.”
Partnering with and empowering strong ministries like Way of Truth gives Gateway the opportunity to make a bigger impact on the kingdom of God than we would on our own. This is why the first fruits—the first 15% of Gateway’s tithe—goes back to the kingdom by supporting local, national, and international outreach initiatives. To learn more, visit outreach.gatewaypeople.com.