Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Joseph was a carpenter...

Something I just completed for Touched By Service:

Joseph was a carpenter; on this fact there is no dispute. We are less certain if Jesus was also a carpenter, but one can image that when in his youth he might have worked alongside his father helping to build a table or two.

I’ve always liked woodworking. I’m not skilled at the craft by any means, but I like to be around people who are. There is nothing quite like the smell of fresh cedar shavings just fallen from the planer or the way mahogany reacts to a good hand-rubbing of furniture wax.

My grandfather was a carpenter, and when I was a child he was also my hero. He could build anything from a stack of wood. He framed houses, built kitchen cabinets and created the finest heart of pine dining tables you’ve ever seen. The one in my home is over forty years old and I still give it a good coating of orange oil every now and then, just like he told me to. I count one of his hammers and handsaws among my most valued possessions.

Perhaps it is because of my love for my grandfather that I have so much respect for carpenters. It was with my grandfather in mind that I approached Harvey Anderson to ask him about the Home Repair Ministry.

Greg: Please tell me about the history of the Home Repair Ministry.

Harvey: It goes back to a time when I was working with a group that found homes which had been condemned by public construction projects and then moved them to new foundations and made them available to low-income urban families. Out of that effort grew the awareness of the need for repair work on existing homes in the neighborhoods where we were moving the condemned homes. The Home Repair Ministry (HRM) was founded to meet those and similar home repair needs. The ministry began in 2002 at Perimeter and since then we have formed home repair teams within many of the Unite churches in the northern arc of Atlanta.

Greg: So HRM doesn’t provide the labor to complete the repairs, but identifies the need, coordinates teams to meet those needs, and supervises the more complicated repair projects?

Harvey: Yes. A good example is a home in Roswell that was significantly damaged by a tornado. A number of trees had fallen on it and one went through the floor and into the basement. It was owned by a Palestinian Muslim widow from Jerusalem, and she was uninsured. Four church teams converged on her property and three months later we had completely rebuilt her home. In less complicated situations we simply point the nearest church team toward the project we have identified.

Greg: That must have been an interesting dynamic, a Muslim woman being taken care of by a group of Christian volunteers. How did she respond?

Harvey: She was overwhelmed by what we were willing to do for her. In spite of our cultural and religious differences, we had many meaningful exchanges. We were able to help her see why we minister, and that is to bring the Gospel. It was a good exercise for us too because the last thing we want to do is to minister only to Christians. We prayed for her and her family and were willing to take the conversation as far as she would permit it to go.

Greg: How many projects do you have in the works at the same time?

Harvey: Four or five, which sounds like a lot but actually I have to turn down an average of eight requests a week because the homes are in an area where we do not have church teams. That breaks my heart, to have to say no to a family that is inviting Christians to come to their homes. That’s why I spend so much time networking with the ministry leaders of other churches; we want to expand our reach into Atlanta proper.

Greg: And who exactly are you serving?

Harvey: For the most part we work with the poor, elderly and disabled, but if we get a referral from a church we don’t ask any questions. When Meals on Wheels calls and tells us about a home in disrepair, that’s all we need to hear. Having said that, though, we do exercise some discretion. We want to focus on serving the needy. We don’t want to deny our volunteers the opportunity to walk away from a job knowing they helped someone who truly needed to be helped.

Greg: Must one be a skilled craftsman to become a HRM volunteer?

Harvey: There is enough to do on most projects that we can keep unskilled people very busy. It also gives our skilled volunteers a chance to teach someone the trade and they enjoy doing that. We do, however, always have a need for volunteer electrical, heating and air, and plumbing professionals.

Greg: What about materials?

Harvey: We need both relationships with vendors who will give us the necessary materials and donors who will bless us with the money to acquire what hasn’t been donated. We do not have warehouse space so we don’t keep inventory; we have to get materials as we need them. What we need the most right now is shingles. We are hoping someone will volunteer to contact all the shingle manufacturers to ask if we can have their damaged bundles.

Greg: Tell me about one of the more memorable projects you’ve worked on.

Harvey: There was a family in north Georgia that fostered profoundly disabled children. For eighteen years they cared for a girl who was bedridden and dependent on a respirator. When she became an adult the state was going to place her in a nursing home but this family wouldn’t hear of it. However, the state wouldn’t let the girl stay because they had decided the home needed a fire escape. We became aware of the situation and were able to get several church teams and vendors together to build a second story deck, exit door and ramp so that the girl could be wheeled out if necessary. The state relented and she still lives with the only family she has ever known.

Greg: I’m sure working for HRM is a moving and rewarding experience for your volunteers.

Harvey: We have devotions before beginning work on every project because we want our volunteers to realize it’s not about getting God’s favor, it’s about responding to God’s favor. We are exposing people to need. So often we think there is no need in our nearby communities but when your eyes are opened to it, you want to help where you can. Finally, HRM is a great ministry for people who want to serve with their hands.

Greg: Do you have any prayer requests for HRM?

Harvey: We really want a volunteer in Atlanta to come forward and help us expand HRM into the urban churches. Also, we are going to build eight houses in Griffin in October and we need approximately $15,000 to purchase the lumber for each one. As you can image, this is a difficult time to be raising money. We are asking for God’s favor as we gear up for that large project.

At the end of our conversation and with the recorder turned off, I told Harvey about my grandfather and the dining table I’m so proud of. He smiled and then produced a photograph. It was of a baby bed. “My daughter sent me a picture of a bed and asked if I could make it,” he explained. “It’s for my ninth grandchild.” I looked and saw a beautiful piece of handcrafted furniture, made with love by a skilled craftsman.

There’s one thing I think I can say about all carpenters: when they work with their hands, they are doing something they love. And in the case of HRM volunteers, they are also sharing the love of Jesus Christ, one home at a time.

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