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Working with the Homeowner

How to come alongside, help and respect the homeowner for ministry projects.

Loving Your Neighbor Through Home Repair

Helping Hurting HomeownersPeople with a high view of scriptural authority have often been strong in word ministry but "not so strong" in deed ministry. This has often bothered me, because our example, Jesus, was mighty in word and deed (Luke 24:19). So, that is why we think a church with the capacity and with interested people should be out there helping hurting people stay in their homes.

Coming from the other direction, just fixing houses isn't enough. If the work does not address a person's greatest need, redemption from sin, we haven't "loved our neighbor as ourselves". One reason I like home repairs is that people are inviting us into their homes. We're not selling anything, and by the way, "Do you understand why were are helping you? We're telling God, 'Thank you', for redeeming us from sin through Christ, alone".

Isaiah 58 talks about ending religious posturing and getting practical enough to help real people in real need. Verse 10 says, "if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday." Our world desperately needs such light.

How about you? Does your church have someone who loves to fix things and could start a team (it can start very small)? Our ministry exists, in part, to help you start or grow your team. You'll find a wealth of information in the resource center and ministry library. Sign up now at no cost!



How You Can Engage Your Community - Part 2

This blog continues the series on how churches, outreach teams and service ministries can impact their communities.

CourtAdvocacy is one of those open-ended terms that can mean different things to just about everyone. What springs to your mind? A political rally? Signing a petition? A lawyer? the concept is simple - advancing the cause of the hurting and oppressed, typically through public opinion or legislation.

Have you had success with large (or small) advocacy efforts? If so, will you share your story? We'd love to learn from you. Please click on “Leave a Comment” at the bottom of this post and share your experience!

Because the challenges advocacy seeks to address can be so large and daunting, it probably scares a lot of folks off. But we think that there are ways to "stand in the gap" for people that don't require such a large-scale effort.

Advocacy can be very effective if you have good relationships in the community, but require a different set of skills for "hands-on" ministry people. Instead of swinging a hammer, collecting food, or providing shelter or rent money, these types of engagements require strong networking skills and the ability to work the phones. While they may not require material costs or volunteers, advocacy projects are a great way to build strong rapport and relationship with a homeowner and to help more people. Here's how it looks for our ministry. We get connected with someone in need, then use our connections and relationships to get funding, materials, grants, special considerations or discounts. HRM typically works with companies and nonprofits until a solution is arrived at - advocating on the client’s behalf.

We've been able to get client's heaters or air conditioners replaced or repaired for significant discounts or free. Certainly, this is not something a company or nonprofit can do all the time, but if you can accomplish one or two projects that you wouldn't have been able to before, what a difference that could mean for people!

Want to read more about how to impact your community?

Part 1 - Repairs and Accessibility
Part 3 - Disaster Response/Recovery
Part 4 - Forming Partnerships



Every One a Story

There can be a dangerous side to goals for a service ministry. It's easy to look at a major milestone that’s been hit, and think something along the lines of, “YES! We completed 10 more projects this year!” Those can be very exciting moments, and represent something really good, but they can also send us down a wrong path.

Why? Not just because of pride, which is always a threat, but because we can tend to look at the numbers and not see the people behind them. Even in ministry this can be a challenge. But the truth of the matter is, it’s loving people that God cares about (and loving Him!), and every person a ministry serves has a story. They’re all unique, and many of them are fascinating. That's certainly true for our ministry!

Meet:

  • A single mother, suddenly raising five kids alone after a divorce, needing a porch screen installed to protect the youngest son, who has Down’s Syndrome
  • The senior couple tied up in court because of housing code violations, desiring help to avoid fines they can't afford
  • The mother of two young children, valiantly supporting her husband with ALS, and trying to find an easier way to get him in and out of the house
  • A faithful single mother of two adopted sisters with cerebral palsy, looking for relief for her back from carrying one of the sisters, who is in a wheelchair, up the stairs into their home
  • The widow with the tender heart, whom we have helped with repairs before, calling to ask for advice to help a man scheduled to get out of prison
  • A Palestinian widow with no insurance and devastated by a tornado which ripped into her house and through two cars, looking for help recovering from the disaster
  • A lonely man, who just lost his wife, in desperate need of help in the yard to tear our a rotten wooden pool deck, along with some other work on his deck


That’s just a few of them. It’s a blessing to be able to serve all the people we do and show them God’s love, and to be able to share why we are serving - because God didn't just look at us as a group of hopeless, sinful rebels, but personally offered up His own Son, Jesus, to every individual who puts their faith and trust in Him.



Passing it On

1969 was a big music year. The Beatles "Yellow Submarine" was released and the Woodstock concert was held on a dairy farm in the Catskills. The same year, a song called “Pass it On” (copyright Bud John Songs, Inc, Words and Music by Kurt Kaiser) entered the church. The song began, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going . . . . that’s how it is with God’s love, you want to pass it on”.

Serving homeownersFor those of us in Christian ministry, the song embodies what we're going for - sharing God's love with others. That love is often expressed in meeting someone's needs. But it can also be expressed in teaching someone a skill so that they can deal with future problems themselves.

A home repair ministry gives us an opportunity to do both. We can often relieve a pressing problem for the homeowner, but having worked in inner-city ministry for many years, my mind immediately focuses on making ministry developmental - giving people skills & knowledge to improve their situation rather than keeping them dependent on us. The last thing we want to do is hurt the people that we’re trying to help. In fact, that’s the central theme of Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett’s book, When Helping Hurts. We actually got to meet and talk with Steve at a church conference we went to in June, 2013. He gave us some great ideas and challenged us to make sure that we don’t ultimately hurt the people we serve.

What about situations where it either isn't practical of possible to pass along a skill, say because of age, safety or complexity? Even in situations like this, we have much more to offer - the Gospel! It came to me freely, by God’s grace, and the expectation is that I won’t keep it to myself, as though it isn’t worth sharing or that I’m hoarding it. 

Passing the Baton

from freeimages.com / Michal Zacharzewski

Perhaps it’s like a relay race, where, unless there is a successful ‘passing’ of the baton by the lead runner, the race is over for a team. Like that runner, my job, as one who has benefitted from the promises of God in Jesus, is to offer the Gospel in an engaging way to someone else (who will then carry it to others). 

On the flip side, if we make appealing attempts at spiritual discussion and the person we are serving doesn’t want to receive “the baton”, we don’t force it on him or her. We can’t make others receive Jesus. At some point, the person we just served may be ready to receive the offer of eternal life in Christ from someone else.


Confessions of a (Very) Unskilled Laborer

Hi, my name is Jim and I have a confession to make. I am the second employee at Home Repairs Ministries, and I don't have the slightest clue how to fix much of anything. I once told my boss that I would provide the best assistance I could for a project... by not coming. Oh, the irony of my job (I handle operations, communications and fundraising). God indeed does have a sense of humor.

But a funny thing happened last month. My boss had an urgent project that he needed to get done fast. He needed to get a concrete walkway poured and smoothed for a homeowner who's 88-year old father-in-law was coming home after having an aneurism (we shared this full story in our February 2014 eNewsletter). He asked me if I could help. Obviously, he was completely desperate. A trip out of the office sounded nice, so I accepted.

Pouring the walkway 2I joined with three other guys and Harvey, our Executive Director. Harvey had a concrete business back in the day and was in familiar territory. The other four guys (including me) didn't have much of a clue. By the grace of God, the project actually went very well. Having one guy there who knew what he was doing and giving good instructions made all the difference. We set up the forms (wooden posts that hold the concrete while it forms and dries), poured, leveled and smoothed the concrete (a process called screeding) and finished the edge. Voila! God provided the concrete - it was donated by Ernst Concrete (the company the homeowner had worked with for many years).

We also got to share a bit about why we came to help the homeowner - to say "thank you" for salvation through faith in Jesus (the Gospel). Cool!

So, back to the moral of the story and being unskilled. Even if you are not a carpenter or construction guy, you can still help and serve homeowners around their house. If your church has a home repair team, they probably could use someone to run supplies and help keep the site clean. And they may very well have tasks that you don't have to be very experienced to do. As an example, our ministry sometimes does yard work for elderly folks, which doesn't really require a great deal of technical skills. So, if you like to help in a tangible way for folks in need, there are ways you can serve even if you're mostly clueless like me!

Video - Pouring the Concrete Walkway



Mercy Ministry - Embrace the Mess!

Mercy ministry involves getting involved in people's lives, often in very messy situations. It can be exasperating and difficult... And it could be considered one of the purest representations of the gospel there is.

Someone comes alongside a person in need, oftentimes in a terrible state, offers help or resources that they do not have access to (or technically deserve) to help them with their current dilemma and loves on them beyond anything that they deserve. Sometimes the person helping can even offer training or skills to help that person get out of their mess.

Does that sound familiar at all? What a great picture of the gospel! God finds us in a self-inflicted mess caused by our sin, out of love offers us hope and a real solution through Jesus Christ, and gives us the resources through the Holy Spirit to change.

As Ephesians 2:4 so well puts it, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)…” (NKJV)

Mercy Ministry - Embrace the MessPerhaps it’s another aspect of God’s mercy that He, who found sinners like us, in much the same state, uses us as instruments of His grace to others in need? How cool is that?

So, if you’re handy (even if it’s just cleaning an elderly person’s or single mother’s yard), a home repair ministry is a great way to exhibit and share God’s mercy. A nice side benefit of a home repair ministry is that it’s not terribly likely to cause someone to become dependent and create another “messy cycle” (for reasons mentioned in our blog, Avoiding the Dependency Trap). If you have some handyman skills but are not sure where or how to start your own ministry, please sign up for our resource library. We can help you.


Avoiding the Dependency Trap

I’ve been involved in mercy ministry for many years and feel that a home repair ministry is one of the most helpful ministries out there. Following is a bit of my heart about that. Hopefully, you’ll be encouraged, as I am, in your support of the ministry.

I remember serving in a soup kitchen and feeling as though I wasn’t helping much. The Lord put a high value on feeding the hungry (Matt 25: 31-46), so a soup kitchen is necessary, but addressing the immediate need isn’t always enough. My sense of falling short came because feeding/clothing, etc. often doesn’t move a person beyond needing someone to provide tomorrow’s soup.

TrainingMinistries that teach people skills to improve their current situation, such as job training, are classified as a developmental. But even that has sometimes left me feeling unsatisfied. My training is that I should aspire to become an advocate for “the poor,” working to change laws that hold people in the chains of oppression. So I can always find things to make me feel guilty about ministry, whether from biblical teaching or just my personality problems (of which there are many!). Ministries of mercy can be very complicated, even downright messy.

The good news (not specifically the Gospel, this time) is that a home repair ministry is in a unique spot. First, many of the people we serve are in situations where a repair is not likely to create a recurring dependency - an immediate need gets addressed and is unlikely to happen again soon after. On top of that, the situations we encounter seldom are due to a homeowner’s vice (unless neglect due to a lack of income is a vice) but all things are in decay. We help address the problem or needed change and the person gets on with her life. For example, a team builds a handicap ramp and the homeowner can now get in and out of the house. Good to go. Or an old roof is replaced with one that will outlive the owner and the structure of the house is protected.

Building a rampDevelopmental training of home owners to do home repairs isn’t often helpful, though tips on maintenance can be. Training an elderly diabetic amputee about wheelchair ramp construction isn’t likely to be useful to him. As for political advocacy, apart from legislation against people aging and homes decaying, there’s not much to do apart from more government funding of unlimited needs from limited resources.

In the last couple few years, several books have been written by people who have extensive experience working with “the poor”. Just hearing the titles of the books makes me stop and think: When Helping Hurts by Brian Fikkert and Steve Corbett, and Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton. To a simple person like me who likes to address problems wearing a tool belt, while helping others to do the same, all of that knowledge tends to be “bad news” – making efforts to help people even more complicated and messy.

But now, let me take you back to the “good news”: The issues raised in these books generally don’t apply to our ministry. The people we serve face some very difficult situations, but their problems are not usually brought on by laziness or chronic dependency. While we can’t fix all of their difficulties, we can keep homes from becoming a toxic problem that hurts!

Oh, and wouldn’t it be great if a project were followed up by relational people who visit the homeowner (who didn’t learn to fix the roof) and bring some of our monthly mailing envelopes to stuff, together, while talking about the love of God demonstrated in the sacrifice of Jesus (the BEST NEWS of all). Dependency on the Savior is exactly where He wants us! I Peter 5:7 — "...casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you." If you have good relational, evangelistic skills, and live in the Atlanta area (even if you don’t have tool skills), we can use you. Please contact me and we’ll plug you in.


Mercy Ministry's Tension - Loving With Discernment Part Two

In Monday's blog post, we shared a bit about how we get project referrals and set guidelines and expectations with homeowners. This is necessary because one of the risks that we face, as mercy ministries, is getting scammed. So how do you put some safeguards in place to minimize this risk and vet the people you serve?

Some ideas that will help, but none are foolproof:

  • Request recommendations from someone that knows them and their situation, e.g. their local church, social worker, hospital staff, senior services agency or even their medical professional.
  • Get their last 3 payroll stubs or Social Security receipts, etc.
  • Make sure they own the house, get copy of utility bills.
  • Take a look at the house, cars, furniture, etc. Do the pieces fit into a familiar pattern of hurt or is something awry?

If you take a volunteer into the wrong house that sends all of the wrong signals, your volunteer may be busy the next time you ask for help.

November 2012 Roof ProjectA word of caution, however. We want to be the hands and feet of Christ in the community. People in some communities have been practicing “survive any way you can” for generations. There are also many who, entirely legitimately, are hurting for reasons beyond their control. We sometimes talk about people hurting for three reasons: their own sin, someone’s sin against them and disasters/situations beyond anyone’s control (See Timothy Keller's excellent Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road for more detail on this). If the latter two cases are the reason, it would be terrible to have God’s resources available but withhold them because you heard about an outright scam by someone else. If my God owns the cattle on a thousand hills (real meaning: God owns everything), then I think He’s more concerned about my heart than being absolutely sure about the people that ask us for help. I’d much rather get scammed than not help one who has been sent by the Lord – it really helps to be listening to God’s Spirit to understand what to do.

It reminds me of a couple of passages of scripture: Matthew 10:16 - "Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves." Deuteronomy 15:11 - " . . . I command you, 'You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’" Matthew 5:16 - "In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven."

It isn’t easy, but it is God’s will that we are the conduit of his grace and mercy.


Mercy Ministry's Tension - Loving With Discernment Part One

My co-worker Jim and I spoke with a representative of Habitat for Humanity in Atlanta about being available to help those living in homes built by their chapter. We explained that two ways we get referrals are 1) from agencies that have pre-qualified the person needing help, and 2) those that hear about us or find out about us and initiate the contact. #1 is by far our preference because someone else has determined that the family is eligible for help.

Distressed House#2 raises some challenges. The first can be found in me: Tell me that someone has something for nothing and I might just get into the line. The same kind of thing happens with very nice citizens in the community. “Oh, HRM does home repairs for nothing? Well, put me on the list for new exterior paint job, break up and replace my old driveway, repaint all of my rooms with faux marbre columns and a Trompe L'oeil Mediterranean window scene, replace my dark granite countertops with lighter ones, . . . Oh, this is for people who cannot afford to make repairs, often to keep the home from being condemned, or under threat of paying a fine for not keeping the property up?“

A while back, we were at someone’s house when they heard what we do and were more than happy to let us help them until I used “dire circumstances” to describe what we do and he realized that he’d misunderstood.

Here's a real-life example of why we need to have some discernment. About a year and a half ago, we got word, from several sources, about a family that was homeschooling, closely connected to a home school group, and lived next door to someone from my church. The mother was fighting a losing battle with cancer, in and out of the hospital, getting meals brought in by many families, and having respiratory problems due to old carpet in the house. Six months after getting carpet donated and installed by HRM volunteers, we were called by a police detective to find out about what we’d done to help. It seems that the husband and wife had been scamming people for a long time, she was in jail, and there were many people who considered her to be a friend, really angry with her.

So, you want some suggestions on how to vet those you serve and how to balance love and discernment? Come back Friday for Part Two.


6 Project Success Indicators for Your Service Ministry

Let's take a look at some of your possible success indicators to help you measure both Project work and your overall Ministry effectiveness.

Here are some key areas that you could review to gauge project success and identify areas for ministry improvement. Remember to follow-up with the client for their input:

  • The quality and completion of the work
  • The appropriate clean up was completed
  • The client was personally satisfied with the work
  • The client’s spiritual needs were addressed
  • The client’s desire for prayer and contact with a local church were addressed
  • The project documentation was complete and filed for historical reference

What are the success indicators for your Ministry?

  • Number of projects completed by the team per month/year
  • Number of volunteers involved in the course of a month/year
  • Client's connected with local churches through the ministry experience. (This can be hard to quantify.)
  • Number of clients that were followed up within a month/six months to determine additional needs
  • Number of joint projects that occurred with other church teams or ministries.