Tuesday, July 23, 2024

College Station, Houston churches repair Azle homes in partnership with Servolution, FMC


AZLE — Earlene Gardner, 66, bought a house on Tenderfoot Trail near Azle thinking it was in good condition. Over the next three years, flooding, crumbling ceilings and a decaying porch would leave the disabled woman, at times, confined to her home. Triumphant cheering, clapping, and Aggie whooping followed as a team of mostly high school and college students helped bring the house down June 26.

About 150 volunteers from Christ Church in College Station and 30 from Lakewood Church in Houston visited the Azle and Springtown area during the week of June 24 for a mission trip. While in the city, the group worked on service projects at 11 different homes. Members of the First Methodist Church of Azle acted as shower homes for the group and hosted a large dinner for their guests Thursday night.

Christ Church is a 26-year-old congregation in College Station with 4,000-members. Brian Smith is the church’s student and college pastor and served as director for the mission in Azle. Christ Church is a member of the recently formed Global Methodist denomination who made its exodus from the United Methodist Church, along with about a quarter of all UMC bodies, starting in 2019.

Smith first set his eyes on Azle two years ago, after wanting to do mission work in his home-city of Fort Worth and instead being referred to Servolution Director Jason Malewiski. Through Servolution, Smith found homes in need that had already begun building relationships with the service organization.

“We just love doing mission work and serving, around the state, nation and around the world,” Smith said. “We loved working with (Servolution). We were actually staying in the Fort Worth area, but all of our work was out here, so we wanted to be closer to our actual job sites and we connected with First Methodist Azle.  We were so excited as a new Global Methodist Church as well to be part of the connectional system in the Global Methodist Church and a part of our sending group and hosting group here and we’ve just really been enjoying their hospitality this week. It’s been really incredible. Our goal is not to just come in for a week and just put a band aid on but to be a part of the long-term solution.”

Christ Church takes a domestic mission trip each year to serve other communities in Texas.

“It’s been very rewarding,” Smith said. “We’ve been a connectional church since our existence, and I think that’s very important, especially for the new denomination, it’s important to remind ourselves of the mission that we’ve been called to worship passionately, to love extravagantly and to be the hands and feet of Christ. That’s our calling — we’re called to love people and make disciples of people.”

Members of the group’s “pink squad,” an all-girl group of volunteers, and a volunteer from the Lakewood Church also spoke to the Tri-County Reporter about their experiences going on mission trips to serve neighbors across the state and world.

For Anica Gomez, age 17, this visit to Azle marked her fifth trip of this kind.

“I have just always been grown up with so many servant leaders as examples for me and I really do think this is just an amazing way to show your servant hearted-ship for God and go out and physically be the hands and feet of the Lord in your community and in other people’s communities,” Gomez said. “I also think it has a very lasting impact in other people’s communities because you can go out to help people that maybe you don’t know. And then bring all of those things home. The year we had COVID we did one home at our home church, and I think that was very impactful because we were helping our neighbors, we were helping neighborhoods that were two minutes away from us. I think that is something that is so immensely heartwarming, too, because you’re driving around town, and you see that progress and you see that work that you’ve done. I think everything about helping your community, loving others, loving your neighbors, loving people that you’ve never met before is just entirely what God calls us to do as Christians. I just think mission work is one of the most important ways to serve if you’re able to.”

Elena Boucher, age 18, was on her fourth mission trip. “Everyone who goes on these trips and experiences the things we get to do, we all leave transformed pretty much,” Boucher said. “Getting to do what we do and hearing our clients’ stories and how we’re helping them — it’s so powerful in itself to us.”

Sara Garcia, age 17, only began going on mission trips this year but said the experience had been rewarding so far.

“I unfortunately did not get the privilege of growing up with this church but as soon as I joined this community I already felt so transformed. It’s been such a privilege coming to this mission trip and just getting to see God’s love is shining through everyone as they work, and it is so inspiring to see that because I did not grow up experiencing this. I didn’t even know mission trips were a thing. I feel like the fact that I get to do this and the fact that I get to see everything play out is so heartwarming to me. It’s something that I never thought I would get to experience and I’m so glad I did because I feel like I’ve completely grown as a person.”

Kinsey Thomas, age 15, from Lakewood Church was excited to join the group helping in Azle. She said it is great to see happy faces in all the places she’s traveled from locally in Houston to as far as Mississippi.

“It was great to get to know everyone and to see how Jesus’ love is so far out,” Thomas said. “It’s not just in my church. It’s everywhere and I’ve done it before, but it just felt different going somewhere new that you’ve never been before and to just be with a group that I never met before and just to get to know them has been amazing. My favorite part of the mission trips is to talk to the homeowners, get to know their story and how they came to Jesus to find our ministry to be able to help them … Jesus’ love is everywhere and not just in our community.”

Gardner’s story

The house on Tenderfoot represented one of the group’s most extensive projects for the week. The owner wanted a stable environment to age in place after her husband died in 2020 but did not feel safe with her home’s current state.

The building was described as rotting from the inside. In one section of the house, the back deck and an unfinished room had to be pulled off the rest of the structure. Gardner, the homeowner, has limited mobility and uses a walker but neither the back porch or front porch was a safe or easily accessible exit. After moving in, Gardner hoped her son, who lives in the area, could help her with repairs. After he received a serious arm injury that was no longer an option.

“I bought the house thinking it was in good sound condition but required a lot of work,” Gardner said. “It’s just been too much because we’ve had to replace thing after thing after thing. It’s hard. I’ve been worried about things not being safe and Servolution has made it safe. Having a ramp to walk down instead of tripping on the steps with my walker is good. It’s going to be so much better … I used to hate the sound of roofs being done (but now) that was the most beautiful sound I ever heard.”

While seeing the room torn down made Gardner feel safer, it was also a bitter reminder of what could have been. She had originally planned on turning the space into a sewing room, a passion she dedicates much of her time to. Gardner was born in Lahoma, Oklahoma. Her mother taught her to sew at the age of 7 and her father was the town’s fire chief. He taught her the skills of his trade which she later used to assess home damage for the Red Cross. Gardner also attended college to be an architect in a time when it was still uncommon for women.

“Nobody would hire me because I was a girl. My granddaughter, now she graduated from accountant tech so getting to see that pass. My dad taught me when I was young, I need to learn everything I could so I could always take care of myself. That was one of the best lessons I had as a person and my mom taught me a woman can do anything a guy can as long as she tries.

Gardner’s mobility issues began after she “snapped her back” trying to catch someone who was falling off a porch. Despite these limitations, she never stopped trying to care for others. With her crafting skill and architecture background she has always worked to modify and create things to help others. In one example, she created pillow rests for a neck brace after her sister suffered injuries in a car wreck. She later acted as a volunteer caregiver and taught sewing to homebound patients.

“I see needs and I do that to fill them,” Gardner said. “I’ve always taken care of everybody. When I was 5, my grandma told me, after we went to see one of her friends that had been in a car wreck, God gave you a gift to make people smile and that’s what you should do. So that’s been my goal in life. You don’t expect it to come back.”

Today, Gardner still tries to spend several days per week at the Azle Senior Center leading sewing and quilting activities. While she has only been here a few years, Gardner said she loves the community, that it reminds her of her hometown when she was young, and she’s never met a rude Azleite yet. With the hard work of Christ Church and Lakewood volunteers, Gardner saw her home transformed with the inclusion of two new mobility ramps and other much needed maintenance.

Technically living on the outskirts of Fort Worth near Azle, Gardner said she has had a difficult time qualifying for transportation assistance and is always looking for ways to get to her doctor’s appointment and surgeries. Gardner asked that anyone who may be able to help her get from place to place reach out by phone at 405-637-9696.