Among the many passions Dr. Tim Bruster brought to first church 18 1/2 years ago was a desire to enable, empower, and encourage outreach in this large downtown church with an already rich history of outreach ministries. These outreach ministries included the First Street Methodist Mission and its many programs and services, the Day Resource Center that offered help to Fort Worth’s growing population of people who are homeless, and Habitat for Humanity that helped build homes with volunteer labor for families in need of shelter.
Tim’s wholehearted support and encouragement of these initiatives inspired staff members and volunteers alike to continue and build upon our church’s long history of outreach. Through programs like Kids Hope, providing adult mentors to children at T.A. Simms elementary school, United Community Centers summer programs support, Boys and Girls Club, and YWCA daycare for children who are homeless, Food 4 Kids to provide healthy snacks and weekend food in backpacks for school aged children, Room in the Inn to offer shelter for people who are homeless on the hottest and coldest nights of each year, Disciple Breakfast and more, our church kept serving people — Fort Worth’s adults and children in need — at the forefront as our truest expression of what we are called to do as Christians.
Tim was in fact so committed to outreach that on June 24, 2011 at 9:00 am he voluntarily (even though he readily admits to more than a little bit of “high anxiety”) went “Over the Edge” for First Church Outreach Ministries, rappelling 26 stories down the side of a downtown Fort Worth “skyscraper” (714 Main Street) in a local fundraiser for non-profit organizations sponsored by Downtown Fort Worth Inc. Tim maintains that it was worth it. The fundraiser exceeded the $50,000 goal.
Through the years these outreach initiatives continued to grow, rising and adapting to meet current needs right here in Fort Worth as our church became aware of them. Under Tim’s leadership, our First Street Methodist Mission became a 501(c)(3) organization under the church’s umbrella in order to enhance fundraising and collaborative efforts. This organizational move was just a start for bigger things to come, including two more 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, Methodist Justice Ministries and Dementia Friendly Fort Worth, similarly organized and now successful non-profit organizations operating under the umbrella of the church.
Methodist Justice Ministries (MJM) was formed in 2006 to provide free legal representation and ongoing support to women, children, and families who have experienced neglect and domestic violence. MJM’s mission is to help ensure that these vulnerable children have a caring and protective caregiver and these abused women can live without fear of violence and abuse. “The legal representation that we offer our clients is life-changing and helps break the generational cycle of abuse so they can go on to live a life of independence and stability for themselves and their children,” says Rev. Brooks Harrington, MJM Founder and Legal Director who is both a highly experienced trial lawyer (formerly worked at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C.) and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.
Dementia Friendly Fort Worth was formed in 2017 in response to the rising need to provide better support for people living with dementia. Following a private bequest that brought in a national expert and launched a series of educational programming led by Linda Abel, a retired nurse and longtime church member who found her passion for this ministry after seeing a display and announcement in the library window. Soon after, Gail Snider arrived as an assistant to help with our Dementia Friendly Ministries and enable the launch of Dementia Friendly Fort Worth (DFFW) in partnership with the City of Fort Worth and other area agencies devoted to the same or parallel causes. Today, after working tirelessly to empower this ministry to flourish under the encouragement and support she received, Gail serves as DFFW’s Executive Director of yet another new outreach ministry that has grown into a vital resource for compassionate care for people with dementia, their families and caregivers, as well as health care professionals, first responders, and local businesses.
Disaster Response to reach beyond the bounds of local outreach, under Tim’s leadership and active role in the Central Texas Conference (CTC) of the United Methodist Church, First Church partnered with the CTC Disaster Response Ministry that helps all the congregations in our conference to prepare for and respond to disaster.
Rev. Chuck Graff led Early Response Training (ERT) at our church, offered by United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and a large group of dedicated volunteers in our congregation was trained and ready field a disaster response team to assist victims of hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters.
In addition to this hands-on response (made even more robust with the donation of a trailer to carry supplies and equipment), our church provided a variety of other disaster assistance from assembling health kits, to providing food, water, clothing, and necessities, to creating “flood buckets” (assembled by our Youth Ministries) to assist with cleanup, to onsite assistance when called upon to tarp blown-off roofs, clear, clean-up, and help communities rebuild after disaster, and provide pastoral care and compassion to victims onsite. Because of our deep commitment to outreach — and Tim’s support of those with a special interest in this specific brand of outreach, our First Church disaster response team is always ready to serve.
Kenya Orphan Endeavor to take our First Church commitment to outreach into an even wider circle, Tim’s leadership brought about Kenya Orphan Endeavor, to help provide education and support for children in Kenya who were orphaned by the AIDS epidemic. Sparked by a pastoral trip to Kenya in 2008, the Kenya Orphan Endeavor ministry was led by Nancy Tully, former director of outreach.
Working closely with Stella Mwiti, a Kenyan woman from whom Tim and Nancy learned more about the dire needs of the orphans (in Kenya children cannot attend school without a uniform, shoes, backpacks, and school supplies), they designed a program in which First Church would provide school uniforms, shoes, backpacks and supplies for 250 orphans through their graduation from high school. In addition to providing these necessary items, First Church agreed to field mission teams each summer (as travel restrictions allowed) to serve those same children with enrichment including Vacation Bible School and music camp.
Because of our church’s extended commitment to provide real help in time of need for these children, most of these 250 children have now graduated from high school, receiving a full education that will equip them for a better life than they otherwise could have imagined. The church’s commitment to these kids remains in place until they have all graduated or aged out of the program.
“The Kenya Orphan Endeavor connected our church with 250 children who really needed help,” Tim relates, “It built relationships and helped raise world awareness of the Methodist church in Kenya and enabled us to participate in those ministries. As with any mission trip, it is building relationships and connecting people that is the value. We can send money, but that doesn’t connect people. Those who are on the trip connect with one another AND each of them in turn makes very special connections with other people in other cultures whose circumstances are very different from ours.”
Tim says that after learning on his 2008 trip to Kenya how the Methodist church of Kenya was trying to handle the orphan crisis, the need was clear. “They couldn’t handle it with just an orphanage—the numbers were too great,” he relates. “The local Kenyan church members took these children in, but that was really all they could do. We took on sponsoring 250 children originally, providing school uniforms, shoes, backpacks so they could attend school. Stella helped coordinate that along with the Bishop, with whom I connected on that first trip, and other leaders in the Kagaa Synod of the United Methodist church in Kenya.”
First Church sent a mission team to Kenya three times to deliver uniforms and supplies (and host a week of VBS in which they really got to know these kids). In addition, Mark Burrows led two additional mission teams to offer a music camp in which he helped them form a choir that was ultimately invited to sing at noteworthy local events including the bishop’s installation ceremony. During this camp Mark also taught the children and teens about composing music and playing whatever instruments they had or could fashion.
Costa Rica Mission extended our global outreach in yet a new direction in 2005 as First Church launched a completely different kind of outreach initiative into the lush, but impoverished area of northern Costa Rica near the Nicaraguan border. Begun and led initially by Rev. Chuck Graff, our church fielded a team of enthusiastic volunteers for a week each summer for 15 years, up until 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic prohibited international travel.
Working with other United Methodist Churches, this team worked tirelessly in the hot tropical humidity, performing back-breaking construction work, completing over the years sanctuary/children’s worship center, a medical clinic, Sunday School classrooms, a new parsonage, and helped with local rural church buildings. At 3:00 pm each day, the manual labor ended and everyone would load into busses and travel past pineapple and banana fields to various rural churches to lead Vacation Bible School program for the children of the village.
“Our Costa Rica Ministry is blessed to be part of a larger movement of Christianity and Methodism that is spreading across Central America,” said Chuck Graff, who initiated this project with Tim’s full support and encouragement, following the 2016 trip. “The congregation and building projects that we support are now empowering this local congregation to reach out to others beyond themselves,” Chuck relates. “They have housed flood victims and are starting a new satellite church in a small, impoverished rural area near Puerto Viejo where they are reaching out to families (especially ministry with children) with food, hygiene classes, and worship. They are also traveling into Nicaragua during the year to take sack lunches to children, to provide ministry with families still dealing with leprosy and other diseases, to help families living in a large city garbage dump by teaching the men to make shoes to sell and the women to sew items to sell to have an income, and other outreach by faith.” Adding that the connection and relationships formed with people is also the reason our Costa Rica team remains so committed to this ministry, Chuck describes the Costa Rica Mission Ministry as a “transformative partnership.”
In 2017, our Costa Rica ministry expanded to include a 10-member medical team, organized by longtime church member Dr. Wes Alderete, comprised of doctors, nurses, dentists, and other medical personnel. Rev. Phyllis Barren took the reins to lead the existing 18-member Adult Costa Rica Mission Team (VBS and Construction), and Chuck led our new medical team at the same time to host our first Medical Mission Fair at the new medical clinic our church and this team helped to build.
In following Tim’s example and “over the edge” passion for outreach at home and around the world, our church has created lasting impact whose effects continue to ripple. Kenyan young adults now able to support themselves, compose and perform music, and raise their families under the example of hard work, compassion and commitment to serving others. Small rural churches starting growing and flourishing in Central America that would not exist without the support provided by our Costa Rica mission teams. Women and children are now safe in healthy homes and relationships. Children and adults in our community and beyond now know what God’s love looks like in action, and countless others whom we may never know have been touched and transformed by the outreach ministries of our church.