Just six miles south of downtown Dallas is Joppa Community, an area where former slaves gathered to celebrate their first taste of freedom in the 1860s and now is the present-day home of Buffalo Soldiers Cowboy Church.
When the freedmen settled there nearly 150 years ago, they named the area after the biblical city of Joppa, which means "beautiful." They bought property and built homes on the banks of the Trinity River. Though the area is now less than thriving, the residents embrace the rich culture and history and nickname the community of 17 streets "Joppy."
On a recent hot August day, some of those residents put on their cowboy hats and boots and gathered under a large, white tent on 22 acres of land that will expectantly be the breaking ground for the Buffalo Soldiers Cowboy Church building in early 2015.
As president of the Dallas County Buffalo Soldiers, Paul Allen gave a brief history behind the organization. After the Civil War, Congress put together troops called the Buffalo Soldiers to make the country safe again, he said, and the current members are proudly keeping that legacy alive.
When the Buffalo Soldiers were given 22 acres of land in the Joppa Community, Paul and his brother, Sam Allen, also a Buffalo Soldier member, envisioned the land to be used for bettering the community and also to be meeting grounds for a cowboy church. With a couple of phone calls, the Allens discovered their vision lined up perfectly Texas Baptists Western Heritage's desire for an African American cowboy church in southern Dallas.
"It's one of the highest crime areas in Dallas County," said Charles Higgs, director of Western Heritage. The Buffalo Soldiers want to bring peace to the area by having a community garden, teaching young people how to be responsible for horses and having a church option that appeals to the cowboy culture.
Meanwhile, Higgs said it is also a great mission field for other churches to cooperate and help the cowboy church impact the Joppa Community. At the cowboy rallies, for instance, church groups can help provide assistance through serving food and welcoming residents.
"It's a good way for our other churches to have hands on missions," Higgs said, "to go down there and actually do missions in Dallas County."
In November 2013, Charles Howard, who helped start 19 churches with the North American Mission Board in Florida and 13 churches in California, followed the call to be the preacher for Buffalo Soldiers Cowboy Church. Since then, he has been holding Bible studies in the Joppa Community.
At the interest rally held in August, Sam Allen told the congregation the Buffalo Soldiers have a religious history. Before they went fighting or into a village they got on their knees to pray.
"They did not start their day without preaching," he said. "And every time they met someone on the trail way, they talked about what they were doing as a people. They talked about their God."
The Buffalo Soldiers Cowboy Church is important to Joppa Community, he explained, because it will teach Joppa the way Buffalo Soldiers used to be, which is on fire for God.
"If we know our past, we're destined to know our future," he said.
Buffalo Soldiers Cowboy Church is sponsored by High Pointe Baptist Church in Cedar Hill. It is hosting its next interest level cowboy rally on Sunday, Sept. 28 from 5 to 7 p.m. at 8636 Carbondale Rd. in Dallas.
For more information about Western Heritage, visit texasbaptists.org/westernheritage or contact Charles Higgs at firstname.lastname@example.org.