Despite her petite stature and calm speech, Tomasa “Tommie” Mendez — director of Joy Fellowship Center — is no shy wallflower. In the words of a co-worker, Tommie’s “tough love” approach in both her leadership style and her community interactions is a trademark feature testifying to her deep-seated commitment towards training others in responsibility, ownership and sustainable self-provision. “We’re here to tell you about the Lord, not just to give you food,” Tommie noted. “I never want to spoil our community with things that are too easy or too much. Instead, I want to teach them and help them to take care of their own families themselves.”
Originally from a small town outside of San Antonio, Tommie first felt the calling towards a lifetime of ministry when she was 18. Her parents, however, had different plans for their youngest daughter and so Tommie invested the first major portion of her life providing for her family in a characteristically hard-working and servant-like fashion. Once both of her parents passed away in the mid-70s, Tommie then stepped into the next season of service — one that she has remained faithful in for over the past 35 years.
After finishing seminary in 1976 (a remarkable accomplishment for someone without a high school degree), the spunky Tommie spent the following decade exploring summer missions, working as a relief house parent with Buckner Benevolences and getting married to a fellow seminary grad. “I was going downstairs to buy a Coke when I was on vacation,” Tommie reminisced with a bit of mischief in her eye when I pressed her on further details regarding her marriage to an equally hard-working, cheerful and godly man from Panama. “Roy was doing some cleaning or something and after he saw me, he asked a house parent for my address. We wrote letters for the next 2 and a half years and then — we married and it was — how do they say it? Happily ever after. I was 50 years old then, almost 51. God is faithful.”
Tommie came to Houston in 1984 by herself before getting married to Roy in 1987. When I asked her why, she laughed and then responded simply, “Why? Because Jesus brought me here, of course.” The Joy Fellowship director celebrated 28 years of service with Mission Centers of Houston on January 2nd of this year. In addition to her current position at Joy, Tommie also cycled through a variety of responsibilities at both Fletcher and Gano before settling in at our Magnolia Park location in 1995 where she and her husband have remained in faithful service ever since. “I can work with everybody, even if I don’t like them in the beginning,” Tommie shared with me. “I just give them a chance and then… that’s it. We get along.” While Tommie does provide a good deal of direction for the staff and volunteers at Joy as well in supervising the programs the center offers to the community (including food and clothing distribution, senior citizen ministry, after-school programming and tutoring), she emphasizes the personal importance of modeling a servant-like leadership style. “We are all the same. Since we as a body here need to have a head, that’s me. But I always remember what I was before and, you know, nobody is perfect. So I tell them, even though yes, I am the director here — we are all the same. We all work together.” In this way, she is able to constantly keep her favorite verse from 1 John 4:4 before her: little children, you belong to God and have overcome the world, because He Who lives in you is greater than he who is in the world.
When she’s not participating in the daily activities going on at Joy, Tommie can often be found enjoying her favorite dish of refried beans with wheat tortillas or reading.