By James C. Jones
These believers are working together to make a difference in their community.
Many houses where I live in Illinois are old. The house where I live, for example, was built in 1900. Since the population of many small towns in central Illinois has stayed roughly the same or decreased over the years, few homes are being built. Consequently, many people live in relatively old houses.
Because so many houses are old and require continual maintenance, many people struggle to keep up with all that needs to be done. Many houses in our small town have fallen into disrepair, and this has led to more problems: blight, crime, decreased property values, and difficulty in selling homes.
While the problems are readily apparent—a large number of homes need some serious work—solutions are not so clear.
Yet, I was reminded of Jesus’ teaching, which is filled with references to helping those in need. Jesus’ story of separating the sheep from the goats (Matthew 25:31-46) is especially convicting. I believe Jesus told this story to convince his followers of the importance of helping those who are in need. Christians don’t have the option of ignoring Jesus’ call here.
Even with that in mind, when I moved to this town three years ago, I wasn’t sure what I could do about the problem. I was new to the church and to the community. How could I possibly make a dent in the need that was all around me? I soon received a clear answer to that question.
Not long after we moved, I began attending local ministerial association meetings and struck up a friendship with the minister at the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in our town. My friend and fellow minister introduced me to a program called Missions for Taylorville. One Saturday each June, Christians from churches across denominational lines come together to make repairs on homes whose owners cannot physically or financially complete regular maintenance on their own.
I was soon so struck by this work that I volunteered to help with the planning committee and witnessed how it all came together. The team is composed of members of the local Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Nazarene, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Baptist, and Christian church members.
For weeks, we look through applications from people who need help, and we make visits to assess the needs at each home and make supply lists for potential repairs. After the needs are identified, we match each need with volunteers from the community who can perform the work: painting, cleaning, carpentry work, and raking yards.
One of the biggest needs is construction of wheelchair ramps for people who can no longer climb stairs. These projects take priority over most others.
One of the great blessings is that the resources to do this work have always been available. We have volunteers from virtually every church in our community, but some corporate groups have also chosen to volunteer with us. The high school football, cheerleading, and dance teams have worked on homes for Missions for Taylorville. Men and women with building and repair skills direct those of us who are unskilled, but willing. Churches, businesses, and individuals have donated money to purchase supplies or have donated the supplies outright.
The Church in Our Community
We have not solved the systemic problems of poverty and blight in our community. We don’t have the kind of resources necessary for that. Rather, many of our repairs are basic. They make a house look a bit better. They allow someone to come and go. They provide a workable bathroom or kitchen sink. This is not an extreme makeover. We’d like to do more, but we must work within the resources we have available.
Nonetheless, two important things have happened. First, we have helped dozens of people in the name of Jesus. Many people in our culture have a negative view of religion, the church, and Christians in general. Missions for Taylorville shows our community that we care about people more than politics, more than being “right,” and more than building our own buildings.
Second, we have been the church in this community. In our meetings, we rarely talk about which church we attend. That never seems to be the primary issue. In fact, for weeks I wasn’t sure who attended what church. What matters is that we are coming together across all of our lines, our splits, our membership lists, and our differences to serve as the body of Christ in this community.
We hope to do more in the future. We’ve added a fall event to our typical spring service project. But we’d like to see the program operate year-round and meet more extensive needs. For now, we continue in what we’ve been doing, and we serve to be the church.
James Jones is lead pastor at Taylorsville (Illinois) Christian Church.