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RESOURCE CENTER AND ARCHIVES

Church effort set to minister to families across greater-Birmingham areacomment (0)

June 9, 2005

By Erin Webster


Tell us again, Momma,” the children beg. And so Beverly Gardner begins to tell her 13 children about the church members who are coming to make over their six-bedroom house and send the family away to do wonderful things while the house is transformed.
   
It’s a story filled with hope for a kid-friendly place to play out in the yard — not to mention eyes glimmering at the thought of going to Visionland, fishing, playing sports and even a date for the hardworking mother and father.
   
The best part of the story is that it’s real — the Gardners have been chosen as one of the families that will benefit from an “Extreme Home GraceOver” sponsored by The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham.
   
After 25 years spent raising 16 children, 13 of whom are still at home, Beverly and Sam Gardners’ home is in need of a few repairs. And after washing four to five loads of laundry a day, cooking four times a day and eating in shifts at the kitchen table, the family has appliances in need of repairs as well.
   
But for the Gardners, it’s all part of the joy of raising children. After having four children of their own, two with special needs, they felt led to adopt 12 more, including many with special needs, including blindness, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. 
   
“Having given birth to one child with special needs makes (having more special needs children) easier because you already have your life adjusted,” Beverly said. “It’s just obviously what we’re supposed to be doing.”
   
Through it all, Beverly and Sam keep smiles and laughter handy, happy that everyone is healthy, clothed and well fed. “I don’t worry about the things that need fixing because there’s no money to fix them with,” she said.
   
But July 15–17, many of those things will be fixed, thanks to the GraceOver project.
   
In addition to the Gardners, four other families, Ernest Chapel Presbyterian Church in Birmingham and Jessie’s Place — a Birmingham homeless shelter for women and children — will have needs met and items fixed. 
   
Volunteers from the church and area businesses are teaming up to make this happen. At press time, 800 volunteers were signed up to help with the project, and area businesses are providing food, building supplies and other items to the effort. The church is hoping many more will join in, providing sponsorships and goods, according to Gene Mason, communications minister for the church.
   
“It’s a great way for businesses to be involved in the community,” Mason said. “Donating goods and services will help us transform these homes and organizations.” While much has been donated — including one surprise “jaw-dropping” gift — much is still needed, including about 300 more workers, he said.
   
Mason said the popularity of the home-makeover shows on television that inspired other churches and organizations to do similar projects also inspired Brook Hills. He was quick to point out, however, that a layperson in the church brought the idea of the “Extreme Home GraceOver” to the attention of church staff, and “the project is almost entirely lay-led.”
   
Mason said the purpose behind the GraceOver is “service, pure and simple.”
   
“We want to live out Matthew 25:35–40, where Jesus relates that when we clothe and shelter others, provide food and serve in His name, we are doing it ‘as unto the Lord,’” Mason said. “So the mission is simply to serve Christ and honor Him as we serve those around us with simple, practical needs.”
   
Mason said the initial reaction from the church members was enthusiastic, with 500 volunteers signing up when the project was announced in April. “I haven’t met a member yet who hasn’t been excited about what God will do through this ministry.”
   
Of the 50 nominations that were submitted, seven projects were prayerfully chosen by a team of GraceOver volunteers that included designers and architects. Mason said the team conducted on-site interviews with nominees and looked at the size and location of the projects because all work needs to be done in a few days’ time and be within reach of the church and membership. 
   
Mason said the projects chosen “are for people who have legitimate, practical needs that we can meet.” 
   
Beverly said her family has been overwhelmed by the generosity of the church. “(Sam and I) just look at each other and start laughing,” she said. “We can’t believe it. I didn’t even know (Brook Hills) existed.” The Gardners, who live in Trussville, are members of Holy Infant of Prague Catholic Church.
   
According to the project’s Web site, this is Brook Hills’ biggest missions project ever. And Mason stressed that the purpose of the work is to glorify and honor God through service. “It’s important to know that missions is not just about going around the world,” he said. “Sometimes it’s about going around the corner or down the street.”
   
Missions also means more than sharing the gospel, according to Brook Hills Pastor Rick Ousley.
   
“Part of missions is sometimes doing the ministry of the gospel,” he said. “These (families) are believers. This is brother helping brother.”
   
As these fellow Christians — many of whom have no prior connection to the church — share how God’s love has been shown to them, their stories become testimonies to Christ, Ousley said.
   
He said he hopes the volunteers receive a blessing, too. “I want the church to experience the joy of serving, the joy of giving,” he said. “I want the essence of giving to capture our people.”
   
Mixed in with all this goodness is a bit of badness, Beverly noted. “They won’t tell me exactly what they’re going to do.” And they’re not telling the others, either.
   
During the three days of work, not only will the families have their needs provided for, they will also be hosted by a team of volunteers who will help them fulfill their wish lists for fun — trips to Six Flags, beauty makeovers, playing sports and going fishing, among other things.
   
For the Gardners, a family vacation and a date for mom and dad are in order. “We haven’t done anything together outside this house for three days in 20 years,” said Beverly with a laugh. And their dates have consisted of a quick hour away to go out to eat and then home. So the church is providing babysitters to allow the Gardners to slip away to dinner and a movie.
   
“[All this] is overwhelming,” Beverly said.
   
The work on the sites will be unveiled the afternoon of July 17 with Ousley and a media team from the church visiting each site to capture the final results. The congregation at large will see video footage and meet the families during the morning services July 24.
   
“We talk about giving and helping, and that Sunday we’ll get to look at it. And our goosebumps will not betray us,” Ousley said.
   
To learn more about the GraceOver, visit www.bhgraceover.org. The site has information about the families and organizations that will be helped, as well as a sponsor and donation needs list.

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