How does a small church, with no money, led by a pastor with no pre-storm construction skills, rebuild over 100 homes in less than 100 weeks after their own church buildings were also destroyed in a community completely devastated by the worst natural disaster to ever hit the United States? Echoing Philippians 2:13 provides my only answer. As everyone at Lakeshore Baptist Church has learned to say, “Its a God Thing.”
The answer to how God “works all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephesians 1:11) here in this “Rebuild Lakeshore” project includes a mind boggling complexity that I often have a hard time articulating with words. I know that people want to know, when the hammer hits the nail, how does it all work? Let me try to give an overview picture of one aspect of the task, that of organizing volunteers in the actual rebuilding of homes.
A traditional contractor faces a daunting task of scheduling various skilled local subcontractors and work crews to step through every phase of construction. Clearing property, site prep, pier or slab foundation, framing, roofing, wiring, plumbing, insulation, sheet rock, painting, flooring, cabinetry, finish work, and other things each has a list of sub tasks under each one. Weather, availability of materials, labor, budget restraints, and a long list of other factors introduce variables into the equation, but careful planning from start to finish allows him to complete the job and maintain sanity.
Tackling our 100% volunteer fueled relief, recovery, and rebuilding efforts as a traditional contractor would prove impossible. If a local contractor faces rain, he can reschedule his local roofing crew for the following week. (Its raining right now as I type.) If an electrician can’t finish a job in the allotted time, they have the freedom of working until job completion. If a laborer can’t do a job, the contractor can hire someone else. Our roofers and electricians sometimes come as far as 2,732 miles away and must return home with their mission team. Sometimes teams have to cancel at the last moment, or shift dates of their trip. We use anyone, no matter their skill level. Having different people working each week makes it impossible to estimate the amount of time to complete any task. Some people work faster than others. Each project we work on receives a different complex budget coming from grants, financial and material donations, and home owner contributions. All these variables and a thousand others makes project planning like a traditional contractor impossible, so we do not try.
Add to the mix the fact that we house and feed all the volunteer workers here on site. They range in age from small children to senior adults and their skill levels range from master carpenters to never picked up a hammer. Remember also, the fact we live and in an active disaster area where resident’s have the bare minimum of living conditions and where every store, material supplier, home, gas station, bank, restaurant, and utility service suffered complete damage. We do all this while still operating as an active church. (We have Vacation Bible School this week and I head out to perform a funeral in just a few moments.) Some people would say the task at hand proves impossible, but we know that “with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)
The God driven strategy we employ in the effort hinges on the word “flexibility” – or better yet “fluidity.” At any given time we have 20 or more projects all going at one time. Each one fits somewhere along the line in the work flow from gutting a flooded home or clearing a lot or setting a pier foundation, to installing light fixtures or installing closet shelving or hanging doors and everything in between. For example, last week teams cleared a lot where we plan to build a new home, wired a house, roofed another, set cabinets, laid bathroom tile, dug a ditch, rounded out framing for inspection, and several other tasks. A few times a week our leadership team sits down to look at the next several days of work compared to the skill level of teams coming to help. More often, we do it on the run. Juggling jobs includes a look at the next few weeks of people scheduled to be with us. The next team picks up where the last team left off. Some projects sit until God sends someone skilled at the next step. We usually do not have to wait long.
The most frequently asked question we receive from folks planning to send a mission team our way revolves around the exact job they will face when here. The complexity of variables prohibits me from answering that question with 100% precision. Most of the time, we can place our skilled volunteers in their field. A plumber or electrician or a sheet rock finisher can rest pretty sure they will find work in their known profession. We may not know exactly which house he or she will provide assistance to, since we may have several teams in the home before their schedule trip. Remember our word – “flexability.”
All of this and I have not even mentioned all the wonderful volunteers who prepare meals, retrieve and deliver materials, help with cost estimates, clean the bathrooms, organize the tool sheds, move cots, and a thousand other unnamed tasks that have to be done in order for all this to work. At the risk of sounding overly pious, I can’t do this – God can, and He is, and He deserves all the praise. He continues to turn the hearts and hands of his people to the gulf coast and He orchestrates every detail in this overwhelming ministry of mercy for His glory.