Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Life Rebuilt

A Life Rebuilt

In 2001, River of Love church moved into a vacant office building. A large structure with lots of rooms, an auditorium; it held a lot of potential. But it lacked a good heating system or insulation and was famously cold. Most everyone who has attended River of Love has a story to tell about how severely they have froze. Too cold to use in winter, it became uninhabited and fell into disrepair. Windows were broken and bricks were stolen right off the structure. The auditorium wood floor was torn up and burned for firewood. The fence around the yard was missing so many planks it looked like a toothless grin. The name and face of Jesus in this little town was under a load of shame and disgrace.

Spring of 2011, the church decided to do something about it. They made a God-sized plan to dismantle the building and reassemble it smaller and warmer. They made a list of materials. They noted that the building frame was loaded with more bricks and lumber than they would need which could be sold. But they still needed 4,000 dollars worth of materials. Thanks to Alliance people’s giving to our approved Work Special account, we were in a position to bless God’s church in Mongolia with needed assistance.

At the same time, a new assistance program called Food for Work was born at the CAMA services project center. The program targets unemployed men by offering work in exchange for food or other non-cash compensation. The idea being that if they are at work and don’t have cash, they won’t be as likely to dive into a drinking abuse cycle. While they enjoy the fruit of their labor in the form of a meal, they also hear hope for rebuilding their life from God’s word. “Man does not live on bread alone”.

July 6th, a Food for Work team joined a few locals to begin rebuilding the fence around River of Love. A cold rain bore down on us from the north. It made the ground softer, but the railroad tie posts heavier. That evening, muddy boots and clothes tramped into the condemned building to sleep on a linoleum floor in the building’s one usable room.

Under the demolished auditorium floor lived a family of dogs. Down the hall a homeless family squatted without the blessing of the church leaders. Settling down for a sleep would not have been easy had we not been so tired from the work. Drifting off to sleep there were thoughts of what other unwanted inhabitants might be haunting around. A screeching sound woke us from sleep in the middle of the night. What was that? Out into the hall I crept to find out. A howling cowering puppy cried in a corner of the dark hallway. He was more scared than I was, and bit ferociously when touched. It was at least a little less scary that what I might have imagined lived in such a forsaken place.

Soon the fence was finished, and the real work began. Demolishing the church building began by pulling down the exterior bricks and dismantling the roof tiles and frame. Then the floor boards were removed sorted and stored. Windows and doors were removed and stacked up and stored. Soon we were pulling down walls made of massive 2-inch rough sawn planks covered with lath and dried dirt. (Noticeably absent was any kind of insulation.) The ceilings were just as heavy built and covered with tons of dirt and coal ashes. They made terrific plumes of dust when the crashed to the ground. Lastly, the frame itself had to be dismantled. First we tried to pull it down with ropes, then pushing from the corners, then hitting with sledge hammer. Cheers went up when it finally fell.

At meal times, men who had never heard the good news of new life and forgiveness listened to God’s word. We sat in the shade and digested our food and discussed what was read. Among the workers hearing God’s word for the first time was a man named Happy. He had helped on a previous Food for Work project and proved both useful and faithful. He was especially pleasant to work with because he was so thankful to be out of Darhan, where his drunkenness demons seemed to have a stronger hold on him. Church leaders began to ask about him when he was gone. They prayed for and cared for him.

Soon the rubble of the old building was cleared and a new floor was built on the old foundation. Getting the new floor level was a big challenge. The Apostle Paul was right; it’s no fun building on another man’s foundation! But soon it was nailed down and wall erected, this time 6 inches wide stuffed full with wool, foam and fiberglass insulation.

The frame covered less than half of the old foundation footprint. And half of that became a parsonage with a special heating system to keep the church space warm all the time.

Church leaders decided on November 20th for the grand opening. The ladies worked away decorating and preparing. The Saturday before the big day teams spread out all over town inviting people to the party and sharing the good news. An old classmate of a leader had never heard the gospel before and prayed to receive Christ.

The Church building was packed with people the next day, and plenty warm. Songs were sung, speeches given testifying to God’s goodness, gifts of appreciation given and finally a group picture taken to commemorate the beginning of a new chapter for River of Love.

As the crowd dispersed a mid-aged man holding a new bible nodded at me. Someone took his picture. Curious, I inquired to find it was the guy who received Christ yesterday.

Happy, the man who did so much good work on the building, still has a long road to recovery from alcohol. The last time I saw him at the River of Love church I told him “Jesus loves you”. He shyly looked at his shoes and smiled an “amen”. Now he is faithfully following Jesus and attending Celebrate Recover class Saturday nights at the CAMA project center. Whenever I see his bright smile, which is still minus more than a tooth or two, I see the love of Jesus working on him, and I see hope of a life rebuilt.

No comments: