Jonathan Fechner spent much of his time growing up serving in the inner city neighborhood of Bonton, where his dad, Mike, led a ministry called H.I.S. BridgeBuilders to close the gap between the affluence of North Dallas and the needs of the poorest of the poor in South Dallas.
Mike was on staff at Prestonwood Baptist Church as Minister of Spiritual Development when he co-founded BridgeBuilders, and many of his earliest recruits and supporters were members of the church.
Jonathan Fechner and BridgeBuilders staff members welcome a volunteer group at Turner Courts in Bonton.
Now, after serving for two years as the Assistant to the President of Dallas Baptist University for Dr. Adam Wright, Jonathan, 24, has assumed roles similar to his father, as Executive Director of H.I.S. BridgeBuilders and Associate Minister of Missions at Prestonwood.
“The people of Prestonwood have always been involved with BridgeBuilders,” Jonathan said. “so I was saddened when the past leadership of the ministry, after my dad died, distanced BridgeBuilders from Prestonwood.
“I came back to BridgeBuilders two months ago, and it seemed right to me for Prestonwood to be involved,” he said. “I think BridgeBuilders is at its best when it is involved with the local church. We love partnering with them and working with them and we’re excited about this new season together.”
Teaching Pastor Jarrett Stephens recalls meeting Mike in 2000, soon after Jarrett arrived as an intern.
Mike Fechner ministers to “the least of these” in Bonton in 2008.
“He took me downtown and just showed me the ministry,” Jarrett said. “BridgeBuilders, of course, that was his heart. Mike was an unbelievable man, one of a kind.
“And under Mike, Prestonwood had a great involvement in Bonton — rallying people, community fellowships, service days. Mike had the biggest heart.”
Anyone who knows him says Jonathan is much like his father in that regard.
“I think Jonathan has his dad’s heart for that community,” said Eddie Caldwell, a longtime lay leader at Prestonwood and faithful volunteer and supporter of BridgeBuilders. “He grew up in that community in effect. And here’s what I’ve learned about Bonton: It’s all about relationships, and if the perception ever gets out that the wealthy individual has come down to save the day, that’s a problem.
“But if you go down there with the understanding that I’m just a guy, the community responds.
“I think Jonathan is thriving at that.”
Jonathan’s oldest brother, Michael, and his wife, Caitlin, are deeply involved in Bonton as well, Eddie said.
“Caitlin has served with the BridgeBuilders after-school program for a long time now,” he said. “The Fechner name is powerful down there. And Jonathan has already stepped into the relationships.”
“I’ve always had a heart for this ministry,” said Jonathan, a graduate of Prestonwood Christian Academy and Dallas Baptist University. “I think it’s something where my dad and my heart really aligned. It’s humbling to be a part of it now and a real honor.”
His goal now is to reconnect the Prestonwood family with BridgeBuilders, and to build a bridge between people from the north and south, to minister to residents and help transform lives in Bonton.
Jonathan Fechner participates with his family in a neighborhood cleanup at Bonton in 2007.
“Growing up around the ministry, I always thought I’d want to come back,” Jonathan said. “I just didn’t think it would be this soon. But God has plans beyond ours.”
And people such as Eddie Caldwell, who have volunteered in Bonton for years, see real opportunities to help provide better lives for the people who live there.
“It’s amazing how God has put all this back together,” he said. “The cooperation between BridgeBuilders and Bonton Farms is everything you could have hoped for, including Prestonwood coming back to the table through its relationship with Jonathan Fechner.
“You couldn’t have scripted it any better.”
Still, there is much to overcome, Eddie said.
Prestonwood members helped build a Habitat for Humanity home in Bonton in 2007.
“I think it’s very promising, but it hits me every now and then that this is impossible. You’re talking about generational poverty and the destruction of the family,” he said. “You could count the number of families with a mom, dad and kids on five fingers.
“The task is overwhelming,” Eddie said. “But they’re doing something down there now that is beyond human comprehension. Put God in the middle and look what happens!”
Perhaps the best example began with a very small group that has worked faithfully to improve lives in Bonton.
BridgeBuilders has been a part of Bonton for almost 25 years, Jonathan said, and there has been significant progress in improving the lives of people living there.
“In regard to crime and thefts and murder rates, those have gone down drastically,” he said. “The heavy gang activity has gone down. You see that the city has given Bonton a lot of attention and better housing.
“There’s a renewed focus on Bonton and the people are really excited about it.”
And the people of Prestonwood who love Bonton, “the core of people who are down there every Wednesday night for what they call family time, sharing time and a Bible study” will continue making their weekly drives to help, Eddie said.
“We’re not down there as Prestonwood,” he said. “If we had gone down as ‘Here comes Prestonwood!’ it wouldn’t have happened.”
Instead, it’s all about people and relationships. Jonathan understands that well.
Prestonwood Women’s Ministry hosts an event for women at Turner Courts.
He looks forward to seeing collaborative efforts among organizations and churches coming together in a unified front to serve Bonton and to build relationships.
He said that with a relationship with God and relationship with others, real transformation can occur.
Jonathan and his other brother, Daniel, who works at Ernst & Young, live in Bonton together.
They have a love for the community and in order to really reach the people and gain their respect, they decided to live there.
“You gain so much credibility by living here, rather than saying you’re here to help and then heading north to live your life. We felt that to make an impact that would be the best thing. Before his passing, my dad was constantly talking about moving to Bonton, but that’s when his health took a downward spiral. It’s great to be able to do something that he always wanted to do.”
Mike Fechner engages with the residents of Bonton.
Jonathan said many people were involved with his dad’s ministry over the years and many remained faithful.
“A lot of people loved my dad. We’re just picking up the mantle and carrying on.
“Great things are happening,” Jonathan said. “But there are a lot of needs. All the needs that were there in the beginning are still there. It’s a long process, but we rest in the redemptive of hope we have in salvation. ”