SUGAR HILL, Ga. (BP)–Miss Mattie, 83, lives alone except for her 4-year-old Chihuahua, Precious. The living room of her Sugar Hill, Ga., home has three sewing machines; her bedroom, a quilting frame. Though blind in one eye and quickly losing sight in the other, Miss Mattie keeps up. She quilts. She sews when someone with better eyesight stops by to thread her bobbin. Her makeup is carefully applied; she is neatly dressed.
Today she strains to read the gas bill. Much too high, she thinks. But men from First Baptist Church, Sugar Hill, are coming to winterize her home. And just in time: At 7 a.m. on this winter day, it’s 32 degrees and the wind is blowing harshly through the loose fittings of the windows.
The men Miss Mattie is waiting for gather at a local restaurant for an early breakfast, 10 of them dressed in jeans, sweatshirts, sweaters. Their trucks beds and car trunks hold flashlights, smoke detector batteries, insulation and plastic sheeting.
They are managers, salesmen, a program analyst, a postmaster, the church choir director. Only one is a builder by profession. They range in age from the 20s to the 50s.
They are First Baptist’s Sawdust Servants, men who made a commitment to give one Saturday a month for at least a year to help anyone who needs them. They are governed by minimal criteria: They will accept no pay for labor or supplies. Anyone who needs help receives it.
“Last month, we made repairs on a church building where the congregation is elderly. Next month, we plan to help Gwinnett Metro Baptist Association repair one of its buildings,” says Charlie Tanksley, the group’s coordinator.
But this month, they’re helping 15 shut-ins. Their checklist includes setting dates for the church youth to do yard work, replacing batteries in smoke detectors, closing crawl space vents, wrapping exposed pipes, weather stripping doors, covering windows with plastic and replacing furnace filters.
The furnace filter turns out to be Miss Mattie’s biggest problem. When Danny Henderson and Tommy Henry crawl under the house and remove the filter, it disintegrates.
They replace the filter, repair a window screen, carry a frozen garden hose onto the carport. Miss Mattie watches from the window. Is she surprised the men would spend their Saturday helping her?
“Not really,” she reflects. “That’s the way people are at First Baptist.”
She bends slowly to take a small bone from Precious’ mouth, but the dog squirms under the sofa in the den that is slowly getting warmer.
Reprinted from MissionsUSA Magazine, March-April 1997