Building Faith On The Top Of A Roof

Published 4:15 pm Thursday, December 29, 2011

BUCKINGHAM – As 2011 comes to a close, it's easy to remember the way the earth shook in August and how those horrific summer storms yielded fierce lightening, hail, and strong winds.

There was also a whirlwind that swept through the county in mid-July. However, this force built-up rather than tore down. Not only did it repair and renovate 11 homes, it also impacted numerous lives in a positive way.

Impact Virginia sponsored the weeklong effort that involved 13 teams of teens and their adult volunteers.

An annual mission opportunity for teens, Impact VA is a program offered by the Youth Ministry Division of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board, which provides resources and planning staff.

Basically, the Impact VA goal is to make houses warmer, safer, and drier. This summer, Impact mission projects were hosted in Buckingham, Culpeper, Meadows of Dan, and the Bluefield area.

In a conversation before a tour of two of the Buckingham construction sites, Gordon Ragland, Jr., moderator of the James River Baptist Association, shared background on Impact VA and talked about its young volunteers.

“You will see quite a few young people who have made it a part of their summer to reach out beyond themselves and help people that have a basic need of safe housing,” he shared.

Ragland noted that not only do the teens volunteer their time but they also pay $265 for their lodging, meals, and travel.

“The whole purpose is to help young people really see that being a person of faith, having a religious core, doesn't just mean sitting inside a church building on Sunday morning,” shared Ragland. “It means living a certain set of values and those values really are outside of yourself, putting somebody else's needs ahead of your own.”

Ragland continued, “And that's what brought us, the James River Association to this.”

The James River Baptist Association, explained Ragland, includes 18 churches. Although most are in Buckingham, four are in Cumberland, one is in Fluvanna and another in Nelson.

“One of the issues that continually comes up in our associational meetings is the concern of involving young people in church and helping young people see the relevance of being involved in church life,” shared Ragland.

Subsequently, when Impact VA approached the JRBA about being a host site, Ragland said they thought about it long and hard. “It's a huge undertaking,” he added.

Although the VBMB provides an Impact VA team to work with the project during the week, hosting requires an upfront commitment of $15,000. Along with that figure, which could include cash as well as in-kind services, the host must also do all the logistical work.

Additionally, hosting also means providing lunch everyday to all of the teams. In this case, that meant feeding approximately 167 people. And, the food either had to be served at churches near the respective work sites or carried to the site.

Offering that making the commitment was a leap of faith for the JRBA, Ragland said its members saw it as another way of looking at the world and getting involved.

Moreover, Ragland said the JRBA felt it would be able to offer youth a time to reflect on where they are in their faith relationship.

Once the decision was made, the JRBA calculated it would need a budget of approximately $22,000. A successful grant application to the Virginia Baptist Foundation resulted in $7,500.

Then, through networking with Habitat for Humanity, the JRBA learned about the Home Depot Foundation and applied for its assistance, which resulted in a $2,500 gift card for building materials.

Ragland noted that the HDF stipulated that it would not support a religious organization that was only serving its members. Because JRBA was seeking referrals through social services, it clearly leaped that hurdle.

Along with VBMB and Baptist volunteers from across the state, area businesses, churches, and individuals rounded out the effort with donations and in-kind services.

During the week of the project, over 200 local volunteers participated by providing and delivering water, transporting building supplies, preparing and delivering lunches, picking up debris from the sites, and offering their assistance in countless other ways.

Building Faith On A Rooftop

On the way to the first site, tour guide Perry Clore, pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, praised all of the volunteers. He talked about the countless hours that Ragland, Phyllis Tyler, and Betty Toney, all working on behalf of the James River Baptist Association, expended in the planning stages of the project.

Stressing that their efforts have really paid off, Clore stated, “It has gone very well.” Admitting that initially he had concerns about how everything would come together, he shared, “God and people have blown my mind.”

The first home offered the stark reality of the reason behind Impact VA. It was obvious that the team had completed quite a bit of work on the house but there was much more to be done.

Some of the teens were putting on a new roof while others were repairing siding and giving the house a much needed paint job.

Corey Dean, an experienced builder with Main Street Homes in Richmond, was overseeing the work.

Each summer, Dean uses part of his vacation time to volunteer with Impact VA. Not only does he serve as construction supervisor but he also draws up the plans for the projects.

During the conversation, Dean shared that he is a three-year veteran of Impact VA. Well, almost three years. His second year didn't quite work out the way he anticipated. He was struck by lightening in his backyard about a month before Impact and was unable to work that summer. However, he did visit the sites.

“I am here by the grace of God,” shared Dean, “No doubt whatsoever.” He added, “I love doing this now-it is where I want to be.”

With one-day left to go, Dean talked about the week. “This has gone really well. The biggest thing is always the local folks who put it together. If they can do a good job and have things in place, it goes well. And, this is probably the best one we've dealt with. They are doing a fantastic job,” he stated.

Dean continued, “They have more runners than I am used to having. They have people who want to do this and want to do that.” he added, “And a lot of that is because of Gordon Ragland. He is a fantastic man and he has done a fantastic job with this.”

Sharing that yesterday he asked Ragland if he could get a carpenter, Dean stated, “We've got two guys here today who took the day off from their normal jobs to come help us out on this one.”

Dean said he became involved with Impact after his church in Richmond worked with the program for several years. He said at that time he felt it was something he should be involved in because of his construction experience.

However, while talking with Dean, it became clear that his commitment to Impact is now driven by a much larger force-his faith.

“The kids are amazing,” stated Dean. He said that although most of the teens are ready to work on the first day, some seem unsure about wanting to be there. “Usually, after the first day or two, they really become a team,” Dean stated. “There are kids here who are on their fifth or sixth Impact.”

“One of my crew chiefs has been doing Impact for 12 or 13 years. Every time he moves, he's moved four times, he goes to a new church and then he brings them to Impact,” said Dean. “He brought one church from South Carolina to Impact Virginia.”

Dean said Impact offers teens an opportunity to learn trades and experience the camaraderie of working with others.

“I think the biggest thing is it shows them how blessed they are because most of them don't see this kind of thing everyday. Then, to be able to help somebody out and make a difference in their life gives them an opportunity to see the Lord at work,” he shared.

Talking about the varying skill levels of the youth and noting that some may have used a circular saw while others haven't even used a hammer, Dean shared, “They teach each other. By the end of the week they are all amazed at what they can do.” He laughed and added, “And by the end of the week, they are not as covered in paint as they were on the first day.”

Dean said that in the planning stages, they visited approximately 40 homes. Some only needed a door or window replaced while others needed complete renovations. He explained that what they look for is a project that will offer the teen teams a week's worth of work at each of the prospective sites.

More Than A Ramp

At the second home, a new ramp offers the elderly homeowner the freedom to get in and out of her house without assistance.

She shared that her family did not want her going out by herself. Now, with the ramp and the handrails, she proudly attests that she can go to her mailbox.

“I couldn't get out the house and I couldn't get in,” she shared. “It's nice work. And it works good because I tried it yesterday evening. It's beautiful.”

As some team members finished the ramp, several were inside doing some house cleaning and others worked to landscape the area around the new ramp.

Unlike the two teams that were working at the first site on the roofing project, this team was mostly female. Only one young man rounded-out the team.

While talking with the teens, some of them explained that their churches and youth groups raised money throughout the year to help with the fee. Others said they had to foot their own bill or a portion of it.

Crew Chief Fred Massie, from Louisa Baptist Church, expressed pride in the self-confidence the young women have gained over the week.

Massie began volunteering with Impact VA in 2001. “My church was going to Impact Virginia in Charles City and I had two sons going. They needed another male chaperone so I went as a crew chief,” he shared.

A farmer by profession, Massie explained that he has enough “know how” to follow the plans provided to the crew chiefs.

It is obvious that he enjoys working with youth. “They learn how to work together and how to meet new friends,” shared Massie, who referred to his team as “my kids.” He added, “And they learn that sometimes you to do things because they need to be done.”

Samantha, a third year veteran of Impact VA and a sophomore in high school, shared, “Our church started doing this a couple of years ago. That first year we had an amazing time helping people and at the worship services. We've been coming back ever since.”

She offered, “The best part for me is being able to be with everyone in a Christian environment and helping those in need.” Samantha added, “And, I like learning how to do the construction and working with the power tools.”

Courtney shared, “I always thought about going on a mission trip to somewhere interesting. You never really think about there being people right in your own backyard that really need help.”

Noting that she enjoys getting to know the people they are helping, Courtney stated, “It truly earns its name. You really are Impacting but it's in your own community, your own state.”

Clay, the lone male on the team, added, “You meet people that you would not ordinarily get to know.” He shared, “I feel like it changes the lives of everybody involved-their lives and our lives.”

The group all agree that they enjoy going back to the Nazarene Campground, their home-away-from-home for the week, to get their showers and then begin an evening of getting to know kids from the other teams.

“We all go to dinner and then walk around together-that's the fun part,” said Clay.

Courtney shared that the worship services each night have been truly inspirational. “The youth pastor this week, Melanie, she has really gotten us into knowing about epics and heroes. She has helped us realize that God is our hero,” she stated.

Clay stated, “You begin to experience what being a Christian is truly about. It brings it all together.” He concluded, “And we are changing the lives of others.”

They Will Come to Build It

When it was time for lunch, several of the teams converged at Buckingham Baptist Church for a meal and respite from the heat, which was hovering around 100 degrees.

Glenn Maddox, a youth minister turned high school math teacher who spends his summers working as the coordinator for Impact Virginia, offered his insight about the program.

He said his Impact VA experience began in 1996, when he served as one of its youth minister for a week. “I've been coming to Impact ever since in one role or another,” he stated.

Maddox has served in his current role for the last six years. He explained that although he is considered the camp program director, most of the set-up and planning work is done at the local level.

Moreover, he pointed-out that Dean Miller, a full-time employee with the VBMB, is the actual coordinator. “I take the reigns during the summer,” he offered.

According to Maddox, youth involved in Impact are provided an opportunity to live out their faith. “When they realize the difference they are making here, we see them getting exciting about going home and doing the same thing,” he stated. “So it goes beyond the week. It is not just a one week experience.”

When asked about the safety record involved with teens working at construction sites, Maddox said most of the injuries usually occur on the basketball court or in similar recreational settings.

Explaining that the crew chiefs take the first hour or so of the week to explain safety precautions, he said they also make sure that the youth are instructed in the proper use of the power tools. Maddox added that only teens 16 or older are allowed to do roofing work.

As far as chaperones, Maddox said they have one adult for every six teens of that respective gender. He added that most first-time chaperones may be hesitate before their week at Impact but usually are eager to come back.

“The local involvement is what really makes the difference,” added Maddox. “And, here, they've done an unusually good job with that.”

By week's end, the teams had put new roofs on five homes and constructed six handicapped accessible ramps. They also did exterior painting and yard cleanup, rebuilt a side stoop, repaired broken piers in a crawl space, and repaired a main girder beam.

“It was very, very impressive,” shared one elderly Buckingham resident whose front entrance to her home is now handicapped accessible. “I had ten teenagers here, five boys and five girls, during the hottest week of the summer.”

“It was very nicely done,” she stated, “And, with very good quality material. They started on Monday and by three o'clock on Friday they were finished.”

The woman shared that she really enjoyed talking with the youth. “And it was great watching them interact with each other and becoming friends,” she added.

“It was a wonderful experience. Everything was so well organized. It was just a Godsend. I didn't ask for it, it just looked like it happened.”

Day Is Done

At the end of the day, the worship service offered the flushed-faced teens a reprieve from the heat and an opportunity to sing praises with a talented young musician and songwriter.

Although the heat seemed to have taken its toll on the youth, when the musician sang and played his guitar, his young audience swayed to the music with their hands held high.

Their construction leader, Corey Dean, stepped forward to share his story about that Sunday afternoon when he was struck by lightening and his heart stopped beating not once but four times as paramedics rushed him to a nearby hospital and then to MCV.

Dean, who was publicly sharing his testimony for the first time, told his audience that prior to being struck by lightening, he felt he had a relationship with God. However, he said he now realizes his life was filled with too many other heroes.

“We're not the hero. God laid me out dead and he brought me back for his Glory. He revealed his power and grace,” shared Dean. He told his audience not to wait until lightening strikes to get to know the Lord. “Do it now,” he urged.

Worship also included some lighter moments with a skit from the Impact staff. It concluded with an inspiring yet light-hearted message from the youth minister.

At the end of the service, the teams filed out of the worship center and mingled around its park-like surroundings. The sun was setting and another day of Impact Virginia was ending.

Watching the youth as some gathered to pray with their leaders and others talked with newfound friends or stopped to give an old friend a hug, there was no doubt that the Impact of their week in Buckingham would stay with them for many days and years to come.