The 100 residents of the unincorporated Sandbranch community have lacked potable water due to contaminated wells for a startling three decades.
Photo provided by Mt. Zion Baptist Church
A member of the Sandbranch community fills jugs with clean water from a portable water unit.
The 138-year-old community, however, now has a source of quenching for its physical and spiritual thirst: Mt. Zion Baptist Church.
When Eugene Keahey became Mt. Zion’s pastor four years ago, he saw an immediate need to serve the Sandbranch community by expanding the services of Project Dreamhaus, a 501c3 organization he and his wife Deanna founded in 2001. Once focused on scholarships and educational opportunities for youth, Project Dreamhaus now also helps bring basic services to the community.
The organization operates out of Mt. Zion, providing 100,000 gallons of drinking water last year to the community and distributing 1.7 million pounds of food, fruit and vegetables by Keahey’s tally.
“It all takes place at the church. People come to go shopping each Saturday. They sign their names and give their zip codes and take what they need,” Keahey said, adding that the food bank outreach of Mt. Zion and Project Dreamhaus extends beyond Sandbranch to all of southeast Dallas County.
Much of the food distributed is provided by the North Texas Food Bank, said Keahey, a former middle school math teacher and youth pastor.
Photo by Eugene Keahey
Sandbranch community members receive food bank services at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. The church provided 100,000 gallons of drinking water and distributed 1.7 million pounds of food to the community last year.
Mt. Zion and Project Dreamhaus also have sponsored back-to-school events, free haircuts, a clothes closet and Christmas giveaways, sometimes with corporate sponsors like Ozarka spring water and Baylor Medical Center.
“We have to bring a real Jesus to a real need. It’s not enough for me to talk Jesus on Sunday from the pulpit. I have to walk Jesus in the neighborhood,” said Keahey, who often spends afternoons playing board games with Sandbranch children or rocking on the porch with an elderly resident.
In Sandbranch, serving up living water also means providing bottled water.
“For you and me, bottled water is dispensable. If we drink half of it, fine,” Keahey said. “But not in this community. It is life or death, a human necessity. They use it for drinking, cooking, washing, bathing.”
Like the community, Mt. Zion Baptist Church also lacks potable water.
“[Church] water comes from a sandpit,” Keahey said. “One of our members goes to the sandpit and drains water out so we can flush the latrines on Sunday.”
Keahey said he sets an alarm on his watch to remind him to wrap up Wednesday night services within one hour because of the absence of working restrooms on weekdays.
Photo by Barry Calhoun
Pastor Eugene Keahey of Mt. Zion Baptist Church baptizes a man in the portable baptistry provided by the SBTC. Several people have waited two years or more to be baptized.
Mt. Zion has grown from 35 to 100 since Keahey’s arrival. In addition to the church’s initiatives, hope for the community is on the horizon from other sources. “Agencies have come forward to help,” the pastor said.
The Dallas Morning News reported in April that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved infrastructure improvements in Sandbranch, lifting a ban that had been in place for years because the community has a 1 percent chance of annual flooding from the Trinity River.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, meanwhile, has approved an engineering survey as a preliminary step to bringing water to Sandbranch, working with the Texas engineering firm of Jacob & Martin LLC, Keahey said, noting that the firm presented its findings in a community meeting at the church on July 2.
In the meantime, Mt. Zion’s “Clean Sandbranch Day” June 1 was a notable success, Keahey said. “We wanted 300 to show up. But as God does, it was over 500 people. We cleaned the entire community, fellowshipped, ate, had a really good time. People from all walks of life came to see the community and help it. Some came from as far away as Tyler to help clean up.”
One of Mt. Zion’s key needs has been met by the donation of a portable baptistery, with assistance from the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention (SBTC), Keahey said, praising the efforts of SBTC mobilization director Barry Calhoun in facilitating the convention’s involvement and pastor Dwight McKissic of Arlington’s Cornerstone Baptist Church in initially making the needs known to the SBTC.
A baptismal service July 3 “was the first time since I’ve been there that we have actually baptized at the church,” Keahey said. “Some have waited over two years to be baptized,” Keahey said of the four believers who were baptized, with 11 more in waiting.
“We were going to hold the baptisms in a horse trough. Then the SBTC showed up to support us. We are so appreciative,” the pastor said. “The baptistery is beautiful. And it heats up. We can now baptize in summer and winter. You can’t do that in a horse trough!”
For more information and links to the community of Sandbranch, visit projectdreamhaus.com or email Keahey at [email protected].
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jane Rodgers is a correspondent for the Southern Baptist TEXAN, texanonline.net, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.)