Beyond church walls

Dek: Area congregations share God’s love through free car washes, furniture refinishing, house painting

BY CHARITY GORDON

Daily Journal

TUPELO – To get to Magdalene Easterling’s house, you have to drive by clusters of suburban mini-mansions. Even the more modest houses on her road seem to lack nothing in the way of upkeep.

Easterling’s house is far from an eyesore: Her yard is neat, her house clean. Yet the 84-year-old widow’s health confines her to the indoors just as her fixed income restricts the help she can hire. Compared to her neighbors’ dwellings, Easterling’s white asbestos-shingle house stood out in its need for attention.

That’s why Russell Smith, youth minister for West Main Church of Christ in Tupelo, noticed Easterling’s place. But instead of passing by, he stopped and asked the 61-year resident if his church could paint her house at no charge.

“It’s real nice of them to do it,” said Easterling. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it otherwise.”

This week the youth groups of the churches of Christ of West Main, Gloster Street, Fulton, Pontotoc-Highway 15 and Winfield, Ala., all pitched in to paint four houses in Lee County. Instead of sleeping in and watching movies all day, 56 young people and a few adults decided to give of their time to help someone else. They even paid a fee for the honor.

Christopher Britt, 19, a Freed-Hardeman University student and summer intern at Fulton Church of Christ, supervised the work at Easterling’s house. He summed up his work crew’s motivation.

“We can show the community Christ’s love through serving others,” he said.

72 Hours of Service’

Another local congregation is gearing up to reach out to its community in down-to-earth ways as well.

Harrisburg Baptist Church in Tupelo will soon begin what one member, Pat Thorn, describes as its mission trip to its hometown. The church calls the event, now in its third year, “72 Hours of Service.” The clock starts ticking Thursday morning.

“We, in very practical ways, go out to the community to show God’s love,” said Thorn.

The congregation will tackle over 60 projects during the three-day span. Last year over 600 church members – about half of Harrisburg’s average Sunday worship attendance – participated in the mission.

During the 72 hours church members will visit laundry mats with bags of quarters and pay for strangers’ wash. Some will paint Tupelo’s free clinic, Good Samaritan’s Health Service, and S.A.F.E., a haven for battered women and children. Others will refinish furniture for the Harden House Adoption Agency in Fulton. Still others will wash the cars of random passersby who care to stop, “just to show God loves them,” says Thorn.

Among the churches of Christ group, Kathleen Reynolds, 13, was out scraping old paint off the trim of Easterling’s front porch Monday, along with 12 other young people. This is the second year the Tupelo congregation has served the community in this way but the first time Reynolds has participated.

Reynolds says if she weren’t out working she’d likely be at home sleeping. She felt gratified to be scraping paint.

“It’s important to serve others and serve God,” she said.

West Main minister Smith says each participant not only gives of her time but also pays a $35 work camp fee, which helps with the needed supplies. Local businesses, like Sherwin-Williams, also donate paint for the cause, and some area restaurants help feed the workers at no charge.

Faith through work

“People think this just benefits the home owner,” said Smith. “The reality is it’s helping the kids immeasurably, growing their faith. When you get out and start doing what you should be doing, God blesses you. We’re getting the greatest blessing of all by doing this.”

But home owner Easterling might argue about that. She remembers working and saving the $3,000 it cost to build the house while her husband served during World War II. A lifetime of memories resides in her home, and she hopes to live in it for the remainder of her days.

Easterling recently put a new roof on the house, which cost more than she’d estimated. It would have been a while before she could have financed painting it.

Smith says he’s glad he came across Easterling. She helped fulfill the purpose of the house painting project: to make a difference to those in true need and in the lives of the young workers.

“We want to glorify God and to impact these kids’ lives,” he said. “By doing that, you end up painting someone’s house.

“If kids don’t practice their faith,” Smith said, “they tend not to understand how great the Christian life is.”

Thorn at Harrisburg Baptist says her church’s upcoming days of service will help her congregation fulfill one of its main purposes as well.

“It’s wonderful to go out to the people,” she said. “That’s what Jesus did, and that’s what we’re trying to do. We want to show the love of Christ, let people know God is here and he loves them.”