VIBURNUM – 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 Viburnum school district and now living with her son who was diagnosed with cancer, Love Thy Neighbor gave this elderly widow a brand new roof.
“I was on that crew and every person except me had her as a teacher,” said Justin Perry, pastor at First Baptist Church here. “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 in Lesterville, located just outside of Viburnum. The husband had been battling cancer for quite some time and he 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.”
Love Thy Neighbor is a weeklong community home repair outreach organized by FBC. Scheduled for July 1-5 this year, volunteers have raised funds and made plans to put on at least three roofs (maybe more) this summer, which will add to the nine roofs crews have already put on homes since FBC started Love Thy Neighbor four years ago. Along with the roofs, crews have also replaced decks, done exterior renovations, and cleaned up overgrown yards.
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.”
He said each year they are blessed to have between 75-100 volunteers that help with construction, all meals for the week and each night’s worship service. It’s a massive undertaking, and he said they are only able to do it because of community and multi-denominational support.
“We have workers from several of our like-minded churches and great support from pretty much all of our area businesses,” Perry said. “If you consider the number of volunteers we need with the 700 population number on our city limit sign, it’s pretty significant.”
He said one of the biggest impacts Love Thy Neighbor has made is in the healed and strengthened relationships between the Viburnum churches.
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,” Perry 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 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?’” Perry said. “And for a lot of years the local church has answered back with ‘come to our thing and see.’ 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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.”