From the Prison Yard to the Pulpit
June 1, 2018
As a young man, Gabriel Dominguez gravitated to the hustling lifestyle on the back streets of Waco. He did everything from dealing drugs to traffic weapons. By age 23, he landed in federal prison.
Dominguez found God shortly after he was released from prison, but was still uncertain of his future. “I was in a very bad place,” he explains. “I knew I only had a short window of time before I might begin making poor choices again. I was trying to find a way, a reason to be in church somehow.”
He applied for a janitorial position at First United Methodist Church in Waco, but left in the middle of the interview out of frustration. On the way out of the church, he grabbed a pamphlet by the doorway. When he got home and looked at it, he liked what he read.
Dominguez called FUMC Waco Senior Pastor Steve Ramsdell to ask if they could talk.
“I didn’t know if he would even meet with me, but he said yes, and we went to a coffee shop,” says Dominguez. “I was very honest. I told him, ‘Look, I don’t know why I’m here, but I’m here. And I don’t know what’s ahead. But if you’d like to take a walk with me, I’d like to share some of my background and ideas with you. I’d like to share with you why I think I’m here.’ I really believe that God meant for us to meet each other.”
The meeting wasn’t easy for either man. It took courage to take that walk and have that conversation. It also required faith, trust, and a willingness to be open in thinking about who the Church can reach, and how it can make a deep and lasting positive impact on their lives.
Eight years later, Life Church, a campus ministry of First United Methodist, is on the leading edge of discovering new and innovative ways to work with members of a community that struggles with poverty, addiction, and having too many of its young people end up in the criminal justice system. The church offers programs and support for everything from job training to parenting skills.
Dominguez credits TMF’s Ministry with the Poor Learning Community with helping him find effective solutions to the unique challenges of his congregation and community, even as he was initially uncertain about joining the group.
“When the TMF group first started, I thought, ‘Those of us who work in ministries with people who are very poor, and are subject to all of the daily struggles that come with living in poverty, don’t have couple of days just to hang out and talk,” says Dominguez.
“But during that first meeting, I suddenly understood that we were all trying to accomplish the same thing,” he explains. “These people knew exactly what I go through every day. At that point, I became enlightened. I knew I could learn a lot, and bring what I learned back to my people.”
Today, men and women who were in terrible circumstances prior to joining Life Church have turned their lives around. And more impressive to Dominguez, many of them have stepped up to lead and coach others who want to find their own path to a better life.
“We have 24 leaders in our church who are ex-criminals, ex-gang members or ex-drug dealers,” Dominguez explains. “Accountability is key. The heart of our discipleship system is accountability. If someone proves that they want to change their life, we will do whatever we can to help them succeed.”
“I’m so blessed to have witnessed the transformation of so many of my church brothers and sisters. I’m thankful God allowed me to ride this wave.”