By Amy Lignor
Special to the Daily Record
Sitting down with Pastor Stephen Deutsch for an hour can turn a gray day into a cheerful one.
Among the reasons: After being in Dexter for 30 years and becoming a friend to the community, Deutsch still very much loves what he does.
Having a preacher for a father caused Deutsch to live in many places, but he grew up mostly in the Midwest. Attending a seminary in Austin, he also married the love of his life, and together they brought three children into the world. His days include being the pastor of two small parishes in Hagerman and Dexter, as well as working with many organizations and groups in the area.
Although not born in New Mexico, coming to the area seemed almost pre-determined for Deutsch. He stated that the parishes were “the opposite of what I was looking for, but everything I both wanted and needed.”
It was a perfect place to put down roots. After all, in small towns as a young pastor, he was able to be a part of everything — from baptisms to marriages, he was a huge part of the community, something he’s still grateful for.
Working with a litany of organizations has led to three decades of service.
Deutsch recently received the Margie Boles Lifetime Achievement Award from the United Way of Chaves County. It was a shock for him.
“I was honestly surprised by the award. I do know that nothing they mentioned I did by myself; I was always part of a larger team. The day I received the award, in that room I could have pointed to a lot of folks who did the same things … they were all very kind to me.”
He said that it was really his honor to have a front-row seat to the experiences he has enjoyed.
Although Deutsch loves all facets of his work, one of his favorite things comes from being a part of the youth programs in Dexter and Hagerman. Even in this time, when church youth programs are declining, small towns have continued to show how important and beneficial it is to have a place — such as a teen center — that offers a safe location for kids.
And the work the youth have done here is phenomenal.
The pastor speaks about this technological age, and how having something like a youth group or a teen center has become a true investment in the community. “Face-to-face contact builds honest relationships without having a layer of technology between you,” he said.
“The Midway Assembly of God has a beautiful youth center,” he said. “The one in Dexter we’ve been working on for 15 years.” Being built thanks to volunteers, donations and good will, the hope is that the building will be open by the end of 2020. The Pecos Valley Teen Center in Dexter (aka “Café Cha-Cha-Cha”) will be set in the old Dexter drugstore — a historical building.
The Presbyterian Church has been hosting it for 10 years now, and it’s easy to see how popular the program has become when experiencing the “5th Quarter” event held there on Friday nights. After a football game or other sporting event, from 9 p.m. until midnight, students can enjoy events at the church. There’s always a donor who sponsors pizza, and the kids can participate in a variety of things, like a volleyball court set up on the grass, the basketball court, ping pong tables, video games and more.
It has become so popular that “on a Friday night, we can easily have 150 to 200 students come to visit with their friends and enjoy,” Deutsch said. (Donations for the teen center project can be made through the Pecos Valley Ministerial Alliance.)
Another aspect of the youth groups involves the mission trips they take. Broken down into three categories, the trips range from camp events to inner-city projects to construction projects — the latter being what Stephen refers to as the “hammer and nails” group, whose skills really shine when it comes to building homes.
Trips have included hiking the Grand Canyon, which offers kids a sense of accomplishment; working in inner-city missions, like Denver or Tulsa, which opens their eyes to issues they haven’t seen before; as well as heading to Mexico and working with Habitat for Humanity to build homes.
“It’s amazing to start with a sandlot, work hard, and come away with a brand new home. All of these trips, by taking kids out of their comfort zone, allows them to rely upon themselves, each other, and their faith,” he says.
Since 1993, Deutsch has been a part of or planned at least 40 such missions. This year in Dexter, junior high participants will be heading to camp where they’ll be joined by kids from all over the country and — being that this is the “inner-city” year for senior high students — they’ll be headed to Tulsa to work with a youth program.
The Hagerman group, since its “construction year,” will be looking at offering Hurricane Harvey relief in Rockport, Texas.
When asked about the future, Deutsch looks forward to being a grandpa one day, and if he’s still doing the 80 different things he does now, he’ll most likely cut the list down to 40.
Deutsch added, “Supporting families and kids is how we keep a nice culture … a good world. Most needs are too big to be accomplished by one person; it’s only by working together that we can address them.”