July 3, 2010

Reflections: Church family does unto others, comes to rescue of couple faced with eviction

By ANITA S. CHARLES

What do you do if you find out that within weeks, you must vacate your home of 30 years? If you are a member of Windham Hill United Church of Christ, you might announce this trouble one Sunday morning, hoping for some solace. What happens, however, might be a different story altogether -- what some might call a miracle, and what the folks at Windham Hill UCC have dubbed "The Resurrection Project."

REFLECTIONS is a column written by members of Maine's faith-based community. Opinions expressed in the column reflect the author's view and not necessarily that of the newspaper.

In early 2010, with less than a year of payments left to make on their home, Deb and Nate Rand found themselves facing a dire situation, unable to continue their lease. As the full weight of their situation pressed down on them, they made the need known to the congregation one morning in early March, with three weeks left on their lease. "We're going to be homeless," Deb said. "Please pray for us."

Her pronouncement was followed by what Pastor Sally Colegrove describes as "stunned silence." But then, the small congregation moved into action.

Dick Roy, a financial consultant and church member, investigated the details of the situation. What he discovered was dismal -- the Rands were about to be evicted. He got the couple a 30-day extension. They now had until the end of April to move out.

Meanwhile, another member, Judy Horn, had been driving past Raymond Village UCC's unused parsonage in disrepair. She and her husband Paul, active in Habitat for Humanity, could envision such houses as future living spaces. Judy reported back to Sally, "I might have found a house." What Judy didn't know is that Raymond Village Community Church had been considering tearing the house down and were within days of voting on that action.

Again, Dick Roy acted immediately. He set up a meeting to discuss renting the house. A plan was formed to rent for five months at a low cost to cover taxes and insurance, with the expectation that the lease would increase as the Rands took over payments. The deal was set during the first days of April. Three weeks remained to make the house livable.

April 4: Easter Sunday. From the pulpit, Sally extolled people to consider Jesus's Resurrection "a call for our whole lives." At the end of her sermon, she added, "Folks, we have a family who needs a home. And we have found a house! But that house needs a lot of work, and we have just three short weeks to make it a home."

Sally asked Paul and Judy Horn to take charge of the project. Sign-up lists were available after church: purchasers, painters, carpenters, cleaners and feeders. The Horns were on the site every day. Others came often, and some brought friends. Some loaned equipment; some made meals. In all, there were at least 25 volunteers who contributed time, energy and supplies.

Other than visiting the house once early on, the Rands were not permitted to go near the project. Deb recalls the initial condition of the building: "The house was in pretty tough shape. All the pasted-on border stuff hanging everywhere. It was filthy. All the fixtures needed replacing."

The outside of the house had remained intact -- the roof, the paint, the landscaping. But the inside was like a trail of dominoes: one thing would be removed and two or three more problems would be discovered that needed immediate attention. Judy described one of these moments: "You take a piece of tile up to get the old toilet out, and then you see that the whole floor is rotten and you have to repair that, and you take the tile out further and you see that you need to take the whole tile out and replace that."

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