“Where else are people begging Christians to come to their homes?”
That’s the tagline on a display introducing the work of Atlanta-based Home Repairs Ministries (HRM). Executive Director Harvey Anderson sets up the display at places such as General Assembly to ask pastors whether they’ve engaged the men of their congregation who “often find themselves on the periphery of the church scratching their heads, wondering where the handle would be to enter in — especially if they don’t sing in the choir, serve in the nursery, or teach a class. For them, Home Repairs Ministries is a good starting point.”
The ministry began more than 10 years ago in Atlanta’s Perimeter Church, when the church hosted a meeting to ask members about their skills.
“Often an elderly person can’t pay for maintenance on her home and receives a citation for the deficiency,” Anderson explains, “and they’re exactly the kind of people who can’t deal with that.”
Anderson attended that meeting. His experience serving on an inner-city ministry team, combined with his construction background and love for working with tools, led him to home repair as a good possibility. Shortly after, Perimeter Church formed a small leadership team and decided to move forward with the idea of helping people who were under-resourced and couldn’t afford to make repairs in their home.
“It was a response to the Gospel calling us to love our neighbors as ourselves,” Anderson explains. “The church wanted to bring a balance between word and deed ministry and create an appealing service opportunity for men.”
Anderson was on Perimeter’s staff at the time and helped start a ministry called Unite!, composed of churches that agreed they needed an external focus and by working together would expand their impact on the community.
When this unified effort contributed substantial manpower to the home-repair ministry, the ministry team decided to form a separate nonprofit to network more easily with agencies and organizations. By 2005, HRM launched as a 501(c)(3), and in 2007 Anderson was asked to lead the work full time.
Today, teams from Atlanta-area churches offer to help HRM. The core volunteers are retired people available during the week, with several serving two or three days every week.
HRM addresses critical needs of homeowners who don’t have the funds to hire contractors. Volunteers undertake necessary tasks such as installing handicap ramps and handicap-accessible features within the house. Or they step in to help people struggling to maintain their home’s exterior — siding may be rotted or weeds have taken over the lot, and the home is considered an eyesore.
“Often an elderly person can’t pay for maintenance on her home and receives a citation for the deficiency,” Anderson explains, “and they’re exactly the kind of people who can’t deal with that, or they’d rectify it themselves. It’s a downward spiral if they get into the legal system and don’t have the means to pay.”
To get referrals, HRM approaches various agencies in counties or municipalities that know of homeowners who qualify as low-income with critical needs. Their clients are typically widows, single mothers, seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income families.
For example, HRM volunteer Mark Wolfe remembers an elderly couple who had gotten an eviction notice. A court date was set for their failure to comply with a citation. They were in danger of a stiff fine, possibly a lien, even loss of their home because of deteriorated siding.
“He didn’t have the wherewithal to make repairs on his own,” Wolfe recalls, “so Home Repairs pulled together a team to repair his home and make it livable. When the work was completed, Harvey took pictures and showed it to the judge in charge of the case. After seeing the improvements, the couple was able to stay in their home. Just about everyone’s heart was touched from that experience.”
HRM has expanded into adapting homes of families who foster or adopt so they can pass strict inspections and ensure they have sufficient bedrooms to take in more children. Many of these young families can’t afford something as involved as modifying a basement to build a bedroom.
Wolfe remembers working with a family to prepare their home to receive children. Some already-adopted kids were working with the team. “It was obvious they’d had a pretty rough start in their lives,” Wolfe said. “I asked one of the older boys, ‘Things are going okay now?’ He said, ‘Yeah. We’re someplace where we’re loved now.’ Those are the things that are good to see. You see how we’re helping those in need.”
More than Fixing Houses
HRM gives homeowners a brochure that answers the question, “Why are these people volunteering to help me?” It clarifies that the teams are not serving to gain God’s favor.
“We want them to know we’re here to thank Him for the favor He’s shown us in Christ,” Anderson says. “The tract goes deeper into the Gospel, explaining salvation by grace through faith. We use that to bring the truth of the Gospel.”
Some clients are professing Christians, and Anderson describes the joy of helping fellow brothers and sisters who are in a hard place, praying with Christian clients about their needs, such as health and financial issues. But they serve people from all walks of life.
Several years ago they helped a Muslim widow whose house had been hit by a tornado. When her husband died, she had no insurance and no means to repair the home. When HRM arrived, representatives found five or six pine trees on her home — one had cut a bedroom in half, and another smashed two cars on her property.
“We don’t usually take projects that large, but we were doing things at her house at least four months,” Anderson says. “We don’t like to wear out volunteers, but it was a chance to serve, and we ended up having several cultural exchanges. At least that’s the way she would look at it. For us it was a chance to talk about the Gospel, to talk about grace — someone atoning for another person’s sin. That’s an example of the kind of opportunity we can have. Home repairs allowed us to do something like that with someone we never would have come in contact with otherwise.”
And yet they don’t force those conversations on anyone. “We are there first to serve and repair the problem in their home. If they’re interested in a conversation, however, we definitely want to walk through whatever doors the Lord opens. We care about their eternal destiny, but we don’t make them let us preach first.”
Restoring What Was Lost
In 2015, HRM helped Cindy Ingram, a woman whose husband had been ill for two years and then passed away. Drained financially from medical bills, Ingram became a widow and then was hit with vision problems, requiring four surgeries to restore her sight.
“I sold everything of value I had including my cars, because I was legally blind and had no need for them. I was trying to save for my operations,” Ingram explains. “When it came down to repairing my leaky roof or getting my surgeries, I had to save up for the surgeries. So I let the roof repairs slide, and ceilings threatened to fall.”
Thanks to a grant HRM received to pay for materials, it was able to fully repair Ingram’s roof. She saved enough for the initial surgeries and fully regained her sight after the fourth surgery.
“My faith has grown strong because that’s all I had when I was going through all of this, and all these Christian people stepped up and helped me,” she says. “I’m so grateful for everything — my eyesight, my home. So I made a promise to God after all of this that I would give maximum service to God — not just service to the Lord, but maximum service — because He’s blessed my life with so many people. And Harvey is the beginning of that.”
Anderson remembers, “She couldn’t repair her roof without us, yet she herself was doing what she could to help others. She had very little financially, but at Thanksgiving she was busy peeling 50 pounds of potatoes for a ministry, doing her part to feed the hungry. Our volunteers were blessed to be able to serve her. We don’t do it to feel good about it; we do it because someone needs something. But it’s a rewarding ministry to be part of.”
HRM volunteer Bill Kendrick agrees. “Go with me one day if you want to have fun, because rarely do we go where we don’t have some fun.” He and a good friend volunteer together and get each other laughing as they work. But Kendrick clarifies, “The real fun is when you go into the place and you see something that you can do something about. You can improve the situation for somebody. That’s it. If you can make life better for somebody else, then that’s fun.”
HRM board member John Manderscheid encourages churches to start this kind of ministry. “If people would focus on their own church as a start, they could help people — the seniors and single moms, especially — who don’t have those skills or can’t do ladder work and can’t clean their gutters. Do a little yard work to help someone. It’s simple stuff.”
Harvey Anderson continues leading HRM with a tool belt strapped on, ready to work. “I turn 65 next month, and I plan to do this as long as the Lord gives me the strength. This keeps me young.”
Ann Kroeker is the author of “Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families” (David C. Cook) and “On Being a Writer: 12 Simple Habits for a Writing Life That Lasts” (T.S. Poetry Press, 2014). She can be reached through her website, annkroeker.com.“