14:23 PM

Payne Heals, Helps Others at Freeway Ministries

Sometimes the best way to heal is by helping others. Last summer, Darrell Payne, an Associate Professor in the College of Science and Technology, underwent brain surgery to remove a large, but benign, brain tumor.

Despite the surgery and lengthy recovery, Payne has found time to volunteer with Freeway Ministries Omaha, a local organization that provides a sober living environment for addicts, and men transitioning from incarceration. Located in the heart of South Omaha, Freeway endeavors to equip men with the understanding and life skills needed to live a successful addiction-free lifestyle, while contributing to the community.

Payne first became aware of Freeway Ministries when he came into contact with one of its clients – a man who is now a friend -- Michael Gunter.

“I got to know Michael and he was a person that I had a great deal of respect for, a great deal of trust in,” Payne explained. “I later learned that he's in this home. I just thought "Man, if they can take somebody from where Michael started and help him to where he is today, it's something worth being involved with.’ I was totally impressed.”

Payne started at Bellevue University as a full-time professor in 2002. He teaches a variety of courses at the University focusing on software development and utilizing programming languages such as C/C++, Java, JavaScript, and Perl among others. He first become acquainted with Gunther when Gunther was teaching a Sunday school class at their church, the Omaha Baptist Center (OBC).

Once Gunther introduced him to the Freeway Ministries, Payne has volunteered in places like the Siena/Francis House, a homeless shelter located in north downtown Omaha.

“It’s very uplifting,” Payne said. “You have a certain expectation, but then you go in there and meet the people and you stop and say ‘wait a minute, it’s easy to love these people.’ It just gets in your heart.”

Rick Lechner, who is Director and Co-Founder of Freeway Ministries, said the group’s goal is to provide some structure for those that need a little stability to get themselves restarted in society.

“Our objective is to employ the church to help people who are outcast, who have a difficult time living in a non-structured environment, someone who can't figure out how to hold a job or be successful in society, and someone who hasn't been educated or has a hard time staying out of jail,” he said. “So our mission field is not just the streets. It's also the church. There are thousands of churches with people sitting there wanting to serve, but not knowing how. We try to put these people side by side with those who are trying to succeed in life.”

Payne said often all is required is a friendly face and a willingness to listen. “My goal is more to encourage them,” he said, recounting the hours he’s spent simply sat listening and talking with the Freeway Ministries’ participants. “I don't have all the answers, but I think sometimes it's not the answers they're looking for. It's to be able to sit down and talk to somebody that cares.”

Payne’s experience in the classroom and his love for teaching clearly spills over into his work with Freeway Ministries.

“I've always had love for my students, I've always had that. One of my favorite quotes is ‘I teach because I love it and I grade to get paid,’” he said with a laugh. “What the Freeway Ministries has helped me do is translate that love to those involved in the program.”

Payne explains that, just like the students he teaches, the Freeway Ministries participants are on an important journey. “We are not saying they're all perfect, they're growing. And if you see how far they’ve come from where they started – you can definitely tell that the investment is worth it.”