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LifeWay helps ‘Extreme Makeover’ with house for widow, kids

DEWEY, Okla. (BP)–On March 12, America was introduced to the White family, courtesy of ABC’s hit show “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” and a brand new house. And LifeWay Christian Resources was there behind the scenes to help make it happen.

John White, a second-generation pastor in Dewey, Okla., was known as a tender pastor with a big heart and a big family. John, his wife, Danna, and their five children filled the parsonage of Bluestem Baptist Church and were known throughout the small community 45 minutes north of Tulsa as selfless people who exemplified the two greatest commandments: They loved the Lord and their neighbors.

In April 2005, joy turned to tragedy when John’s earthly life ended with a massive heart attack on the day of his 19th wedding anniversary. Instead of a celebration, Danna was made a widow, and Sarah, 17, Esther, 16, Zeb, 15, Rebekah, 14, and Ruth, 13, lost their father.

With John’s meager life insurance and some community fundraisers, Danna was able to purchase two old trailers. But with no carpet, power, working kitchen, heat, or even locks on the doors, the children often spent the colder nights at friends’ homes just to stay warm.

“Danna has such amazing strength,” said Cindy White, who is married to John’s brother, James. “It’s been such a tough year, but [Danna] has always been such a welcoming and giving person. When you’ve got five kids at home … they always had friends over, kids who didn’t have a place to go. They always knew they’d find love at Danna’s. Even with a two-bedroom house, there was always room for people to come.”

Despite the hardship of the past year, Danna continued to have a missionary’s heart, expressing repeatedly on the March 12 show her desire to minister to others in need.

In the White family episode of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, the design team led by Ty Pennington built on Danna’s desire to be a ministry beacon in her community. Providentially, the show contacted LifeWay to play a special role in its plans to help stock a chapel being built inside the home.

Karin Jarlstedt, a design producer on the show, contacted Phill Burgess, executive director of LifeWay’s Holman Bible Outreach International -– which facilitates the translation, production and distribution of affordable Bibles and Scripture portions for evangelism, mission projects and training.

Jarlstedt had an urgent request for Burgess: 50 pew Bibles and 50 Baptist Hymnals -– all embossed with “The White Family Chapel.” An additional 1,000 Bibles to give away to the volunteers would be great, she added, as would some new books to stock a library.

“And she needed them yesterday,” Burgess recalled with a laugh. “But after hearing the story of Danna White and her kids, we knew there was no way we couldn’t participate in blessing this family.”

Just 48 hours after being contacted by the show, everything the producers asked for was headed to Tulsa on a LifeWay truck driven by Chad Price and Marcus Rich of LifeWay’s logistics department. There, they joined Burgess and employees of the Tulsa LifeWay Christian Store.

Landon Gaines, manager of the Tulsa store, said it was gratifying to watch the show on Sunday night, knowing the intense amount of work that went into building a house in five days. Even though LifeWay’s contribution didn’t make it to the screen, the results nevertheless were gratifying, he said.

“Our mission was to be a part of this show and to have a hand in impacting this family in a very positive way,” Gaines said. “Even though we weren’t shown, it feels rewarding to know our hard work and involvement will help spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ for generations to come. By helping people to know Christ, our vision statement was fulfilled again through this event.”

Gaines added that the Tulsa store employees’ involvement in the show has given them “a renewed sense of vision for our store and our purpose in the community.”

“We have had several opportunities to intensify our relationships with our customers and our community because of the show,” he said. “I had a customer remark that being a part of events like this is what life is all about. Through conversations like that, we have opportunities to show and tell them about our vision and commitment.”

“God’s Word is transformational,” Burgess said, “and we could see Danna White’s desire for a place to touch others with the love and truth of Christ.

“Our mission is to share Christ and provide biblical solutions for life,” Burgess continued. “The first thing we did as the onsite LifeWay team was resolve that it isn’t about getting seen on camera; it’s about playing a role in impacting a family and the countless others that they will touch with the love of Christ in the future.”

The LifeWay group began setting up the chapel at 10:30 p.m. the night before the project’s completion. After unpacking boxes of books and Bibles and stocking shelves of the library, the LifeWay employees prayed together in the chapel, again committing the fruits of their effort to God.

“Her husband may have gone home, but Danna White’s ministry is just getting started in a new way,” Burgess said. “LifeWay is blessed to have been able to come alongside her in this way. This is the perfect example of seeing where God is at work and joining Him there.

“We have no idea where this could lead and what impact this show will have,” he added. “God’s Word does not return void, so we know something big will happen. I am so thankful we were able to play a role in helping this family make an impact in the community.”

    About the Author

  • Russ Rankin