VIBURNUM, Mo. (BP) — She had a 6-foot-wide hole in her roof and a 55-gallon drum catching rainwater in her living room.
Retired after 35 years in the local school district, she and her son, who is battling cancer, now have a new roof provided by the Love Thy Neighbor home repair outreach of First Baptist Church in Viburnum, Mo.
“I was on that crew and every person except me had her as a teacher,” said Justin Perry, First Baptist’s pastor. “While the crew worked, she cried tears of joy and told story after story about having either them or their parents in class.”
A couple years ago, the team did a partial roof for an elderly couple just outside of Viburnum. The husband, who had been battling cancer for quite some time, told crew members he didn’t think he would make it much longer but was so thankful that his home was taken care of for his wife.
“We concluded our project on a Thursday and then that Sunday morning he passed away,” Perry said. “The timing makes you think that man was staying here to care for his wife, then we came in and did the last thing he thought needed to be done and then the Lord took him.”
This year’s weeklong Love Thy Neighbor initiative will be July 1-5. Volunteers have raised funds and made plans to put on at least three roofs this summer, adding to the nine roofs crews have already put on homes since First Baptist started Love Thy Neighbor four years ago. Along with the roofs, crews have also replaced decks and done exterior renovations.
Every project they take on is 100 percent free of charge to the homeowners.
“The first year we raised $17,000, the next year we raised just over $21,000 and the third year we raised $22,000,” Perry said. “We’ll be well over that $22,000 this year.”
Each year 75 to 100 volunteers help with construction, all meals for the week and each night’s worship service. Perry said it’s a massive undertaking that they’re only able to do because of community and multi-denominational support.
“We have workers from several of our likeminded churches and great support from pretty much all of our area businesses,” the pastor said. “If you consider the number of volunteers we need with the 700 population number on our city limit sign, it’s pretty significant.”
One of the biggest impacts of Love Thy Neighbor is the healed and strengthened relationships among Viburnum’s churches, Perry noted. While many communities end up segmented in their church populations, this project has made it so that the church body as a whole gets to serve together, worship together and be on mission together.
“We are rubbing shoulders with people who go to church two blocks down and swinging hammers with people who go to church across town,” he said. “We all believe in Jesus for salvation and we are committed to sharing the love of Christ with our community.”
But the most important thing Love Thy Neighbor does, Perry said, is provide an answer to the “why question” people have for Christ and for having a relationship with Him — “Why go to church?” “What does Jesus have to do with me?” “What is all this for?”
“[For] a lot of years the local church has answered back with ‘Come to our thing and see,'” Perry said. “With Love Thy Neighbor, we get a chance to show them what this is all about by doing something for someone that they could never do themselves. They ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ This is why: We are doing this because Jesus came, lived a perfect life, died and conquered death. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves. This is the Gospel, and this is why we go to church and seek to share the love He has shown us on the cross.”
For more information on how to start the Love Thy Neighbor project, Perry said he is more than willing to help other churches get it off the ground in their own communities. His e-mail is email@example.com.
“If we can do it, anybody can do it,” he said. “Like many other churches, we are doing as much as we can with as little as possible. This ministry is a great testimony of what can happen when God is in it.”