Good Samaritan Ministries’ Empty Bowls project doesn’t claim to be a matchmaking ministry.

But for Howard Payne University students Issac Williams and Jessica Catlett, love bloomed after the two volunteered at Empty Bowls in 2017.

The two had previously seen each other around campus, but they’d never spoken.

That changed when Williams and Catlett volunteered at Empty Bowls that year — and talked to each other for the first time. 

They’re graduating from HPU on May 11 — Williams with a degree in Christian education, Catlett with a degree in social work.

And on May 25, they’re getting married.

Williams can’t say conclusively that Empty Bowls was the catalyst that brought them together.

“I don’t know that there’s any one way to pin that down,” Williams said, seated next to his fiancé when the two visited the Bulletin recently. “I do think that the Lord has been faithful for us in everything that has happened in these last couple of years. It’s definitely worked out the way that it’s supposed to have.”

A short time after getting acquainted at Empty Bowls, the two spent time together at HPU’s Resurrection Week leading up to Easter.

“We probably would’ve ended up in the same groups after the (Resurrection Week),” Williams said.

Catlett isn’t that certain. 

“I don’t know if I would’ve felt comfortable talking to you though,” Catlett said. “I might’ve just left.”

Williams explained, “Jessica needs a long runway to build up to things.”

Williams is from May, and both of his parents and a grandparent are HPU graduates. Catlett is from Columbus. Her mother, a teacher, worked with the cousin of an HPU employee .

“She told my mom that I had to come to Howard Payne,” Catlett said. “And I didn’t really want to. But we came, and I instantly loved it. As soon as I got to Howard Payne, I knew that that was the place for me.”

Before the Empty Bowls event in 207, Catlett said, she’d volunteered at Good Samaritan Ministries “off and on, randomly. My intro to social work, we had to volunteer 10 hours, randomly doing things with the (Baptist Student Ministry), volunteering at Good Samaritan.”

Williams said, “Dr. (Gary) Gramling always has a sign-up sheet because he’s one of the contact people for Good Samaritan Ministries at Howard Payne to get people signed up. In one of my ministry classes I signed up for serving there.”

Williams said he’s the college minister at the First Baptist Church in May. When Williams arrived at Empty Bowls as a volunteer in 2017, he was accompanied by a young man who was not an HPU student.

“I recognized Jessica and I tried to introduce him to everybody I knew from Howard Payne or knew of,” Williams said. “I introduced him to Jessica and I started just learning more about (her) at that point.”

Catlett said, “we were stuck there working together for an hour, and he’s really talkative.”

Catlett thought Williams was cute. Williams found her attractive as well, but thought nothing of it, unaware that she had given him any notice. “I didn’t know if she would be on board,” Williams said.

At HPU’s Resurrection Week a short time later, the two “ended up in the same circle of people,” Williams said.

After one of the Resurrection Week events, “we were talking for an hour or two afterward,” Catlett said.

“And then after that, that’s kind of the starter, I would say,” Williams said.

Before Catlett left HPU for the summer, Williams walked with her around the campus. “I kind of told her how I felt,” Williams said. “To me, that’s when we started dating.”

Williams identified May 25, 2017 as the date their relationship became serious.

As he prepares to graduate, Williams said he’s headed for  “mostly ministry type things. I was youth ministry for awhile and then kind of broadened that to Christian ed.”

Catlett, who is interning at Senior Care of Brownwood, is in the process of applying to Tarleton State University to obtain a master’s degree in social work. 

The two will be working as volunteers at this year’s Empty Bowls.

“We will always remember the beginnings of our relationship and recall that first conversation at Good Samaritan,” Williams said.

Leesa Stephens, executive director at Good Samaritan Ministries, loves their story.

“I just think that is adorable,” Stephens said.  We love sharing that. Maybe in 50 years they can come back for the 60th anniversary.”