- Pastor recalls how young people accomplished amazing results through a program that addressed housing needs.
- Each summer, the youth would spend a week at a local church, helping people in the area.
- Their outreach helped change one person’s understanding of what church is about.
Photo courtesy of the Rev. Mel West.
In the middle of the last century, before most government housing programs, many low-income folks lived in very inadequate housing. This was especially true for the elderly poor and those in ill health.
We developed a program in Missouri that took church youth groups with adult counselors to work on such housing needs during the summer. I found that with proper planning and supervision, it was utterly amazing what such youth could accomplish. Give the youth a challenge and some directions, and they produce.
The youth group went to the community of need on Sunday afternoon, on their church bus, and stayed a week in a local church, providing for themselves. For five days they worked on the housing needs suggested to us by the local social services, and then went home, tired and proud, to report to their church.
The Methodist church and community worker in Springfield directed us to the home of Mr. X and family at the edge of the city.
Mr. X lived with his wife and three children in the home they owned. For several years he had been fighting a battle with cancer, traveling every two weeks to the Ellis Fischel Cancer Hospital in Columbia, some 200 miles away, for treatment. Mrs. X, sensing what was ahead for the family, was in a state of shock.
Their house had been neglected for some years and was a challenge to the youth. For a week, they worked hard and with great enthusiasm and energy. The entire house was scraped and painted with two coats of paint. A new roof was installed on half the house. All windows were caulked again, and rotted sills were replaced. Two inside rooms were painted. A porch was rebuilt. Shrubbery was pruned and cared for.
Our youth developed relationships with the children, who joined them in the work.
Mr. X had remained rather quiet all through the week, but as we were beginning to leave, he came out to my pickup on his crutches and asked, “What kind of religion you folks got? I never knowed of the church to help someone before. They always just wanted my money.”
I explained to him that we were Methodist Christians, and that we, with other Christians called our God, “Father.” And if we all called God “Father,” then we are all of one family on this earth.
“We are here as a part of your family, to do what families do,” I said. “We help each other.”
His response was, “Well, I’ll be damned.”
West is a retired United Methodist pastor living in Columbia, Missouri, and is a cofounder of Mobility Worldwide (PET).
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