On Sundays, along a busy highway near Fair Park, about 20 homeless people gather under a large tent for a church service. They pray with and listen to Raul Mendez.
Mendez is on a mission to help the homeless spiritually. He travels to poor neighborhood in Dallas. He also visits homeless camps that have popped up under highways. He’s there not only to pray but also to offer encouragement.
Many of the people Mendez works with have issues with drug abuse, and they live on the streets, he says. Mendez tells them that even though they’re homeless, they are not hopeless.
“We just try to let them know that they’re not forgotten,” he says. “Maybe society has pushed them away. We don’t do that. We try to embrace them and try to encourage them to keep on living and trusting in God.”
A personal struggle led to helping others
Mendez is 45. He’s a single father of four, lives in Plano and owns a carpet-cleaning business. A few years ago, he went through a financial crisis – and he says he nearly lost his house. That’s when he decided he wanted to help the poor.
“This is not a ministry where we are getting money,” Mendez says. “It’s not our interest, or there’s no gain. It’s just our satisfaction to do something in this life, and do it for someone that cannot repay you. The Bible is very clear that when you do something, do it with no intentions to get it back.”
Mendez packs his van with folding chairs, microphones, speakers and a bible. Twice a week, he heads to southern Dallas to read the Gospel.
He gets help from churches in North Texas. One recent Sunday, members from Semihan, a Korean church in Carrollton, joined Mendez for a church service for the homeless. Members from the Korean church brought 15 trays of food to the service. Afterward, they handed out chicken, noodles, rice and soda to the homeless.
Kevin Lee is a church volunteer, and he's known Mendez since 2013.
“We just basically come here and worship together with the people here,” Lee says. “And also our pastor comes out and preaches the message and we serve a meal as well.”
'I just want to help out'
The homeless appreciate Mendez. Oscar Armando Rivera stopped by for a recent service. He met Mendez a few years ago during a church service under a highway. Rivera says he’s a good person who feeds the homeless.
Mendez hopes his spiritual message inspires people to pull themselves out of homelessness. The message has motivated people like Salvador Lopez. He was living on the streets when he met Mendez.
“I was trying to end my life, and that’s when I met Raul and his church,” Lopez says. “He’s my pastor. He brings me joy and he brings me happiness, you know? He’s the only person that ever told me that I was special.”
Lopez has a job now, and his own place to live. When he’s in Dallas, he volunteers for Mendez. He helps set up chairs for the service and even goes around to the homeless and prays with them. He says Mendez set him on the right path.
“I just want to help out, and help all the people that helped me,” said Lopez. “I work 20-hour days. Literally, trying to make a difference in my life and help my brothers.”
Mendez knows that homelessness in Dallas is not going away, but he believes that his small deeds can make a big impact.
“I have close friends that they’re working right now,” Mendez says. “They’re paying their own bills. Those who were homeless, drug addicts, now are being reincorporated and doing OK. That’s something that encourages us.”
Mendez does not own a church building. He does not have a degree in theology. What he does have is the faith and will to help rebuild lives.