Muslim Helps to Reach Hedonistic Neighborhood
by John W. Kennedy
Deep Ellum, a five-block area of downtown Dallas, is filled with tattoo parlors, witchcraft stores, bars and nightclubs. Now it also has a Resurrection Center.
Reaching the Community: Tony and Hanah Fundaro (inset) strive to be relevant in Deep Ellum.
This isn't the safest neighborhood. A van parked around the corner from the church has a message painted on the exterior: "There's nothing inside worth stealing." Crack addicts regularly break into vehicles and homes looking for money and valuables.
"Every pursuit of pleasure is crammed into these five blocks," says Tony Fundaro, 24-year-old Resurrection Center pastor. "The idea of God is a great obstacle to their self gratification. It's a difficult mission field."
But there's no place Fundaro would rather be. He has been raised in a godly home, but rebelled at age 14 and began a four-year plunge into drug addiction, thievery and eventually drug dealing. His desperate parents convinced him to enroll in Teen Challenge in Oklahoma City, where he experienced a dramatic salvation and repented.
After graduating from Teen Challenge he headed to Southwestern Assemblies of God University. Under the mentorship of Trinity Church of Cedar Hill (A/G), he and a handful of students began evangelizing in Deep Ellum, with Fundaro holding a Bible study in his apartment. When the Bible study outgrew the apartment, Fundaro turned to a Muslim friend who owned a tavern. Because the bar didn't operate on Sundays, the owner allowed Fundaro to use it for free for church services. Fundaro picked up cigarette butts, mopped up vomit and took down the Budweiser sign from the stage before services there for six months. In a further effort to reach people where they live, the fledgling church began holding services at a drug paraphernalia shop.
Meanwhile, Fundaro graduated from Southwestern in May 2000 after marrying Hanah, who leads praise and worship at the church. Sensing the need to find a more stable and permanent location, Resurrection Center this May secured the long-term lease of a 7,000-square-foot warehouse. Rick West, a commercial structures and interior designer and a deacon in a local Baptist church, has donated $300, 000 worth of needed renovations.
Initially, mostly Southwestern students attended the church. Now, however, 75 residents of the Deep Ellum community attend, including Douglas Cartmel. The 30-year-old architect decided to start attending as the result of being approached by church members who conduct weekly street evangelism.
"I had gone into the world for a few years and got lost," Cartmel says. "Resurrection Center has been a total blessing. I understand now that it's difficult to make the right choices unless you have biblically based church people encouraging you. If not for their encouragement I would have fallen apart."
In addition to street witnessing, church members conduct door-to-door evangelism; art, music and drama presentations; and group dinners where friends are invited to hear testimonies of salvation.
"If we're going to reach the younger generation we have to go to where they are," Fundaro says. "We need to embrace this harvest or it's going to pass us by."
The church also is leasing a nearby coffee shop, the only place in the neighborhood where teen-agers can legally gather. The for-profit business will be a hangout for runaways, known as squatters.
Resurrection Center became an official home missions church in June. Morris Ivey, assistant superintendent of the North Texas District, is enthused and supportive of Fundaro's efforts.
"We're commissioned to reach the lost wherever they are," Ivey says. "We want to reach everyone with the gospel."
"Reprinted by permission of the Pentecostal Evangel."