For Josh Roloff, a building contractor in Fort Collins, Colo., a simple business outing turned his comfortable lifestyle upside down and laid the foundation for Restoration Now—a ministry he started that shows his neighbors God’s heart to redeem as the volunteers rehab dilapidated homes.
In December 2004 when he was 28, Roloff joined members of Grace Church Presbyterian, then a new PCA church plant in town, on their visit to sites and people who benefited from United Way-sponsored agencies. The experience left an indelible impression on his mind—and an irresistible calling in his heart.
Contrasting the beauty and greatness of Fort Collins, Roloff found homes in various states of disrepair with their impoverished occupants hurting and without hope. “Although a number of support agencies exist in our community, they can’t relieve all of their clients’ needs—especially housing issues,” Roloff explains. “Sometimes it’s not possible for owners to physically do the work; in almost all cases, they can’t afford the repairs.”
These needs immediately connected with Roloff, who increasingly desired to apply his skills on “a more humanitarian level.” That summer, Grace Church members and other volunteers teamed up for one week to assist people referred to them by the Northern Colorado AIDS Project. Team participants also included members of First Presbyterian Church in Chattanooga, Tenn., and Christ Presbyterian in Olive Branch, Miss., both PCA congregations.
Additional renovation projects followed, and other contractors volunteered their time and building suppliers provided materials. Other churches, including Pear Orchard Presbyterian from Jackson, Miss., and North Shore Fellowship, also in Chattanooga, sent members for hands-on learning.
By the fall of 2006, Roloff and Rev. Scott Lowe, the pastor of Grace Church who had encouraged him to join the initial tour, talked about formalizing the ministry. “We are moving into, not out of, the city and the world,” Lowe states. “We are not a fort, but an airport runway. As sinners we’re never in danger of forgetting our needs, but our needs are met in the service of others.”
Regarding a formal ministry, Roloff says, “A lot of other men showed interest and urged Scott and me to put a business plan together. People began giving money to support the work, and I started thinking about dissolving my business.”
Roloff’s wife, Nicole, was supportive even amid the ambiguous nature of the ministry’s future. In addition, she was pregnant with their first child and their savings would not amount to much of a contingency fund. He knew pursuing this would mean turning his back on a comfortable, manageable lifestyle. “I worked probably 100 days a year and was able to ski about 35 days in the winter,” said Roloff.
“Initially, I ran from this idea, pushed it away … scared of what it might look like or how it could radically change my life. And it has. It has become what wakes me up during the middle of the night. It’s what makes the blood flow richer through my veins. God has wrestled me to the place where I can do nothing else but pursue this vision.”
Restoration Now emerged after much prayer and planning. Roloff describes it as “a faith-based organization that exists to bring hope to our neighbors of Fort Collins through home renovation.” It operates under the authority of the 80-member Grace Church and a six-member board (headed by Lowe), and Roloff functions as the full-time director and only paid staff.
Providing Stability in the Love of Jesus
“Through home renovation, Restoration Now brings gospel renewal to our neighbors by utilizing the resources in our community to provide physical, spiritual, and emotional stability found only in the hope and love of Jesus,” Roloff explains. This clearly aligns with Grace’s mission statement to “embrace the city and the world with authentic relationships, loving leadership, engaging worship, and a robust world and life view … through a gospel-saturated message.”
One opportunity brought his vision full-circle. Even though Restoration Now is openly affiliated with the church, Roloff secured a three-year grant from the Larimer County United Way for funding. In God’s providence, a ministry conceived during a United Way-sponsored tour began receiving United Way support. A top official in the organization commented, “I can’t believe you guys are doing this. There’s nothing like it going on in our city, and I know you’re just a little church trying to make it.” Jesus demonstrated that the way to a person’s heart often involves meeting physical needs, and Roloff and Restoration Now volunteers repeatedly discover that sacrificial service topples relational and spiritual barriers.
One homeowner said, “The repair work gave us a boost we needed just to feel like we could live. We felt like nobody cared.” Another man, connecting with the ministry through the AIDS Project, told Lowe, “I am not trying to offend you, pastor, but the people this week have been the equivalent of one hundred preachers.”
“We don’t go and proselytize,” Roloff points out. “But when you show up day after day offering to help, you’re already in people’s homes, and the gospel starts working on its own. You get to know people, and it’s not uncommon for them to ask, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Then we can give a reason for the hope we have, as the Bible teaches. When we rehab someone’s home, it’s amazing to build relationships with the people who live there. We’ve gone to houses where friends and relatives were just hanging around, and days after watching us at work, we find them pitching in to help.”
Volunteer workers benefit from these projects as much as Restoration Now clients, Roloff notes. “One summer a member of another church spent a week gutting the inside of a home owned by a gay man with AIDS. At the end of the week, the worker admitted, ‘I didn’t realize how much of a homophobe I was.’ Working like this, engaging with needy people at a very personal level rips away a lot of prejudice. At the same time, we can change people’s views of religion and Christianity.
“If you own a home,” Roloff continues, “without question it will need work. But if you’re poor and can’t afford it, what do you do? We worked on one house that had mold growing inside the roof, and the owner was constantly sick. We can’t just go to her door and invite her to visit our church,” Roloff says.
Understandably funding remains a challenge. Roloff says his own support is a step of faith, but “even if we had a million-dollar budget, we wouldn’t change the way we operate,” he shares. “We’d still be on a shoestring budget, just so we can do more.”
Donated materials and volunteer labor help to supply what lacks in cash. The result is an organism manifesting the love of Christ to what Roloff termed “the least of these,” rather than a slick organization churning out projects like an assembly line.
So instead of just waiting until Christ returns to makes all things new, some Fort Collins residents tangibly experience gospel love and restoration, now.
Robert J. Tamasy is vice president of communications for Leaders Legacy, Inc., an Atlanta-based ministry to business and professional leaders. He is the author of Business at Its Best: Timeless Wisdom from Proverbs for Today’s Workplace, and co-author of The Heart of Mentoring with David A. Stoddard. He comments on everyday issues at www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com.