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Changed lives lead to ‘Ripple Effect’ video as Waco pastor hopes to reach youth

Changed lives lead to ‘Ripple Effect’ video as Waco pastor hopes to reach youth

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It’s a Friday night, and a handful of Waco youths are chatting around a car parked across the street from Mission Waco’s World Cup Cafe. Suddenly, a police car pulls into the lot, and the teens start running as the officer gets out to pursue on foot.

The scene, lit by portable lights across the street, turns heads from people in the neighborhood who think they have just witnessed a police incident.

Then the runners and officer stop as both participants and onlookers, including a couple of cameramen, start to laugh.

It looked real, but it was just part of “Ripple Effect,” a music video for a faith-based ministry that is the result of real-life ripples in the life and work of South Waco pastor and youth worker Gabriel Dominguez, 40, a reformed gunrunner and drug dealer.

Those ripples include young men and adults who have benefited from Dominguez’s work and who were fleshing out the video; Dominguez’s friends, such as Los Angeles director David Urabe, in town to oversee the video shoot; and friends of friends, such as Urabe’s friend Nicky Cruz, an evangelist and former New York City gang leader.

Cruz’s story of a violent gang leader changed by Christianity and an inner-city pastor named David Wilkerson drove the 1962 best-seller “The Cross and the Switchblade” and Cruz’s 1968 autobiography, “Run Baby Run.”

Cruz makes several cameos in “Ripple Effect” and spoke Saturday night at Dominguez’s church, Life Church Waco. His participation left Dominguez shaking his head in wonder.

“It’s crazy affirmation for us,” he said.

Dominguez, who started Life Church Waco several years ago under the aegis of Waco’s First United Methodist Church, is fond of preaching the ripple effect to inner-city young people and adults he is trying to steer from destructive behavior and dangerous lifestyles. It’s a metaphor of how one’s actions affect more than just one person.

The first ripple is oneself, Dominguez said. The second is friends and family, and the third — the one often overlooked by young people — is strangers whose lives are also affected.

Storyline

That’s the storyline of “Ripple Effect,” a music video that Dominguez — Pastor G to those around him — aims to use to reach young people and adults who may see themselves in its story.

Director Urabe, a Los Angeles producer and director behind the DVD “Thousand Pieces: The Nicky Cruz Story (Run Baby Run)” and a friend of Dominguez’s for about 12 years, condensed the story during a break in filming Friday.

A wheelchair-bound mother holding down two jobs to support her 10-year-old son, played by Cesar Chavez Middle School student Marshall Zuniga, longs to leave the gang-dominated neighborhood where they live.

Her son finds a gun left on the scene when a policeman’s appearance caused a local gang to scatter — the scene filmed near World Cup Cafe — and he brings it home. The son is accidentally shot and killed in a drive-by shooting, however, when he’s talking with gang members.

After finding the gun at home, the distraught mother feels his death is because of the gang and angrily confronts its leader, played by professional actor Cisco Reyes, telling him to shoot her and the light of her life has just been extinguished.

The emotional confrontation bothers the leader, who realizes, while he played no direct role in the boy’s death, his actions have consequences for more than his immediate circle — the third ripple.

He finds himself looking for answers in the mother’s church, which is the place Dominguez found himself after his release from prison and where the start to a changed life begins.

The realization of consequences and need to take responsibility have informed the Waco pastor’s work as a high-risk youth director with Mission Waco during the past eight years.

His own experience in trying to rebuild his life after prison also guides his approach. A prison record is an automatic strike for many prospective employers, and issues of past debt, unpaid tickets and fines, and incomplete or missing legal documents add additional hurdles.

“When our people want to change, there are all these external obstacles,” Dominguez said. “It’s harder than just ‘get a job.’ ”

Dominguez and his church members work to support that transition from a life in gangs or crime to a more grounded, responsible one by setting up a discipleship program, in which participants are held accountable to each other and eased, with understanding for occasional relapses, into increasing personal responsibility.

“We’re doing life with them,” he said.

Creating jobs

The “Ripple Effect” video, in fact, ties into plans for Hope Through Everything, an entrepreneurial approach to creating jobs for inner-city adults and youths wanting to turn their lives around.

In addition to subsidiary programs such as Hope Through Lawn Care, Hope Through Music and Hope Through Threads, there is an accompanying curriculum for both participants and sponsors.

Helping Dominguez with this is another person touched by a Pastor G ripple, Baylor University entrepreneurship student Jacob Herbert. The California native transferred to Baylor from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

He connected with Dominguez through Mission Waco and works with him in the high-risk youth program. It’s an improbable pairing, the Hispanic minister with a criminal past and, as Herbert puts it, “a white guy who’s been a surfer dude all his life.”

“He’s been like a second dad to me, a huge mentor to my life,” Herbert said.

Herbert helped set up the framework for the Hope Through Everything incubator programs, which he found was a natural extension of his interest and studies in entrepreneurship.

He also works with two Waco rappers, professionally known as Moe and June, in Hope Through Music, using a makeshift studio at Mission Waco to hone salable skills in music making and mixing.

The two, Moses “Moe” Resendez and Ignacio “June” Guerrero, created the music for part of “Ripple Effect.”

For the 38-year-old Resendez, watching the Friday night film shoot outside the World Cup Cafe, it’s all about working in the right direction.

“I was in music about 10 years, had my own record label but was in prison in 2007 and 2010,” Resendez said. “Then I hooked up with Pastor G. I want to do something different with my life, provide a better life for my wife, my family.”

Those are words from yet another ripple and ones that Dominguez loves to hear, because he has been there.

“I should be dead, but I’m not. I should be doing two life sentences, but I’m not,” Dominguez said. “Hope started with me, but it doesn’t end with me.”

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