A few months ago I had a taste of how a game show host must feel. I gave away a house.
I can’t take any glory for this; it was a total God Thing. But it still gave me a good feeling to know I was part of the process. I went around for a couple of days saying to myself, “I just gave somebody a house.”
It wasn’t mine to give away nor did the idea come from me. It was all Larry Pendergrass’ idea. But it was my committee that ran it through the approval process and I got to make the phone call to say “We would like to give you the house we just bought.”
Any time you talk about the First Presbyterian Church of any town you can automatically assume you’re looking for it in the oldest part of town. It was, after all, the first. So even though our gorgeous sanctuary is in great shape, the neighborhood around us was built in the 1930's and has a mixture of houses in good shape and a few houses that are neglected and falling apart.
Lately, the church fathers have quietly been buying property around the church. We bought a nice brick house across the street to use as a manse for the pastor. Then we bought a great house next door to use as an office.
Then we bought the brown house and ran into a problem. The problem with the brown house…..well, OK, the FIRST problem with the brown house in my mind is that it isn't even brown. I’m not sure who named it that. It’s not really any color. Pumpkin might be the best description. It is a cross between pink and orange. But definitely not brown.
And the second problem was that while the manse and office buildings were in perfect condition the brown house had suffered from neglect. The house would need a LOT of work and we didn't have money for that. Some say we really bought the house just to get the land under it for a parking lot. Others looked a the house and saw a ministry of some sort. We quietly approached people about the options of turning it into a half-way house of some sort. We started looking at two options: dismantle the house or bring it back to life and use it for a ministry. And there were people passionate for either option.
I started out as one of the people in favor of the option to rehab the house for ministry. Morgan’s Mercy Mansion drug and alcohol rehab sits across the street in an old nursing home. A large non-denominational church called His House Ministries bought it about eight years ago. It takes up most of the whole block including a couple of old houses next door, a vacant lot on the corner and a huge parking lot in back. They have a tall wooden fence around everything except for the front half of the houses. I tried to call it a "compound" once but the pastor winced and said that made them sound like a cult.
Here’s the thing about my hometown: there are people all over Winnsboro who want to see the Mansion’s ministry succeed. Everyone from the mainline churches all the way to local businesses and individuals.
A lot of time the girls graduate but continue to live in another wing of the building while they get back on their feet. But women with kids can’t live in the graduates’ wing. So they rent the gray house next door. They are still working on the yellow house next to it with the idea to use it just like the gray house.
After we bought the brown house I wanted to show our mission committee what was possible. Our house, after all, was in better shape than the yellow house. So we grabbed the Building and Grounds chair and took both committees on a walk over to see what the rehab had done. As I described which churches and individuals had contributed in terms of labor and money, we realized that we would be swimming upstream. It was easy enough for the non-denominational church sponsoring the rehab to get the Baptists and Methodists to chip in and help. Everyone in town knew the heart of His House Ministries. But we couldn't expect them to be as excited to help the Presbyterians as much, especially when we had no clear idea of what exactly we would do with our house.
We were starting to see a lot of money spent in just tearing the thing down so we could turn it into a parking lot.
After we walked through the gray rent house we stood in the enormous back yard of the compound to gather our thoughts. That’s when the Holy Spirit took over and used Larry Pendergrass’ mouth to announce: “There’s enough room here in this yard for our house.”
And everything changed.
We met with the Mansion people and talked and prayed together and drew up a contract. We gave them the house with the provision that they move it onto their property. They got a free house. We got a bunch of glorious dirt. Everyone had exactly what they wanted.
Last week the house was moved.
The brown house has now become the Mansion’s house. And we are ecstatic to now be able to now refer to “our dirt.” Our magnificent dirt that we get to do anything we want to with it.
It doesn’t look like much now but just wait. Once we take care of the basics, down the road we can level it off. Plant some grass. Give it a little love.
The same could be said for some of the ladies in the program at the Mansion. My dream is to keep the graduates right here in Winnsboro where they have a support system and a much better chance of long-term success. In return we get some great citizens who understand things like redemption and Christ’s unfailing love. We’ve already added four graduates to the crew working at the Brookshires grocery store. Two of them have been promoted to managers.
We’ve taken houses that were unhealthy and worn and we have brought them back to a new life. And the same can be said for the graduates of the Mansion
It may not look like much now but just you wait. I have seen the women who come to the mansion with broken teeth and broken lives. I’ve watched their faces begin to glow and their eyes sparkle. And I expect the same for the houses.
Thanks be to God.