In 1996, members of Faith Bible Church in South Omaha, Neb., decided they wanted to do more to reach the community in their urban neighborhood of Columbus Park.
“The church agreed to start a brand-new program that would be more than just an outreach arm of the church, but it would be a stand-alone ministry very closely connected to the church,” says Stephen Stout, who served as director of that program for 19 years.
Good Neighbor Ministries (GNM) was launched to provide practical services for vulnerable residents in Columbus Park, as well as to spread the gospel—and it has pursued that mandate for more than two decades.
Poverty in Columbus Park
The population of South Omaha is 44 percent Hispanic or Latino, reports the Office of Latino/Latin American Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). In 2015, a report from UNO’s Center for Public Affairs Research found that the poverty rate for Omaha’s Hispanic population had been increasing steadily since 2000, rising about 10 percent.
According to an article in the Omaha World-Herald in January 2015, experts posited theories for the increase that included everything from the lingering effects of the Great Recession, to decreasing pay for traditionally low-wage jobs, to an increase in single-parent homes.
Living in the Columbus Park neighborhood, Stout and his family have seen firsthand the desperation of some living in poverty. He estimates they experienced 12 major thefts in the span of about 10 years.
“My wife has such a good heart,” Stout says. “After our car was stolen for like the fourth time, she put a bag of cookies and a gospel tract in the car and a little note.”
To Stout, poverty sometimes looks different than one might imagine.
“Not having a voice, I think, is pretty significant,” Stout says. “Or feeling like their voice isn’t really that significant. Like, ‘I might have an opinion, but because I’m poor and don’t have any kind of position, it probably will be outvoted.’ I think that often can be a significant part of poverty that is kind of overlooked.”
Much of Stout’s work with GNM involved coordinating volunteers to help with service projects and traveling to churches throughout the Central District Conference to raise awareness and funds.
Stout is now the lead pastor at Faith Bible Church and has handed the reins of Good Neighbor Ministries to Paul Dyke. Dyke, an Omaha native, was attending seminary and looking to get back into ministry when he came across the job opening at GNM. He began as director in 2017.
While FBC and GNM are separate entities, collaboration has been the idea from the beginning. In recent months, this has included helping with flood relief and sponsoring kids attending Bible camp this summer.
Dyke’s investment in the community reaches beyond GNM, as he is also president of the Columbus Park Neighborhood Association. The association recently received a grant from the Omaha Community Foundation that will be used to host Columbus Park Day in August, a community BBQ and party to foster stronger connections, invite fresh engagement in the neighborhood association, as well as build bridges between residents and neighborhood social services.
While the event will be put on by the neighborhood association, Dyke also sees it as a means to increase the presence and awareness of GNM in Columbus Park.
Given his years of ministry with GNM, it comes as no surprise that Stout encourages his congregation to engage with the neighborhood. About twice a year, church members connect with their neighbors by going door to door, introducing themselves and offering prayer and a small gift. This summer, the church will help facilitate three Good News Club gatherings, a ministry of Child Evangelism Fellowship.
Meanwhile, Dyke would like to see GNM move in the direction of offering more mentorship and education.
“Education gives options,” Dyke says. “Education provides employment that provides income which brings stability, which means practical needs are being met.”
Dyke meets weekly with a child in a local elementary school through a program called TeamMates, and he is working to recruit other mentors.
“One of my hopes and prayers is to broaden and add to the ministry, providing some really practical tools and trainings and developmental opportunities for people that are in poverty to grow out of poverty,” he says.
Combating poverty is a never ending task, says Dyke, pointing to Jesus’ words in Matthew 26:11, “The poor you will always have with you.” But Dyke believes that his mission is reaching his neighbors, wherever they land on the wealth or education spectrums, so they may be transformed by knowing Jesus.