While in Bithlo we had the blessing and opportunity to come alongside U.G.O. and other believers from nearby church communities as they served the community of Bithlo. We helped serve and joined the people of Bithlo for their community dinner. We joined teachers and volunteers in their efforts to serve the V.I.P.’s (students) at O.C.A by participating in their weekly after-school program and by tutoring, leading chapels, music, P.E. and craft classes. And any opportunity God provided for us to meet a new face or get to know a familiar one better we tried to take advantage of it!
Along with building relationships with the people in the community of Bithlo, one of the many projects we worked on was a charming little red house that’s being transformed into a neighborhood library and coffee shop. This little house will soon be a “place of community” where the people of Bithlo can come together for a cup of coffee, quiet study and community meetings. There’s even hopes that one of the rooms will offer space for local musicians to come and share their music with their fellow neighbors.
The exterior of the house had recently been painted. Our team’s task was to “gut” and “prep” the house for a team of volunteers coming to paint the entire interior right after we left. “Gutting and prepping” included removing and cleaning or disposing of old fixtures, faceplates, carpet, trash, etc. However, our greatest task by far was the wallpaper (for the record, Mr. E and I will NOT be decorating with wallpaper
any time soon EVER!).
Each room had three to four layers of wallpaper on the walls…and this wallpaper had been sitting there for years and years in the FL humidity. Needless to say wallpaper + humidity = a MESS! This was quite the feat, but with a crew of 13 we were up for the challenge. After many failed attempts of a finding quick and easy way to remove the wallpaper (hot water, scrapers, sponges, Windex, wallpaper removing tools, fingernails, etc.), quite a bit of “manpower,” mini dance party/music breaks (to keep us sane) and nearly four days/nights of chipping, scrapping and peeling away at the sticky stuff we finally accomplished the task given to us. I think most of the team would agree, we couldn’t have done it without God’s grace and working as a team! It was a joy-filled victory!
The hours spent mindlessly working on the wallpaper project sometimes felt like they dragged on and on… However, I personally found that appreciated the times when I’d find myself working on a little section by myself. These times supplied me with some time to reflect, pray and think about all that God was doing in and through us. One of these times I felt like God gave me an excellent analogy (for those of you who know me, you know I love those moments…ha, ha).
The analogy is about how God works on the hearts of people. Like the walls in charming the little red house in Bithlo, some of us have layers and layers of wallpaper (stories) covering the walls of our heart. Some of these layers appear beautiful…while others cause us to ask, “What were we thinking?!?.” As we peel back the layers we sometimes discover pain, hurt and brokenness. Knowing that a “fresh coat of paint” (God’s love and grace) is probably what we needed at the time the pain, hurt and brokenness took place, we’ve often opted for “cheap substitutes.” Rather than peeling back the layers, we’ve often chosen to “cut corners” by painting directly over the layers of pain, hurt and brokenness….thus making it even more difficult to peel back the layers when we finally realize the “cheap substitute” doesn’t bring true and lasting satisfaction. But once we realize that true and lasting satisfaction can only come from God we have to get to the original “core” of who we are. Peeling back the layers we’ve put up on the walls of our heart takes time and can be painfully difficult at times. And like the old wallpapered walls, the layers don’t always want to come off. Similar to the original mold-covered walls in the red house, even when we’ve finally reached the “core” of who we are there is some clean-up to do. By His grace, God cleans up our sin-covered hearts and prepares us for cleansing and restoration. Like us, it was only after removing layers and layers of wallpaper, adhesive, paint and mold that had been built up over the years that the charming little red house was prepared to be restored by receiving a fresh new coat of paint.
Upon first impression, the people of Bithlo may appear one way…but just like you and I, these individuals have built up layers around their hearts that God wants to peel away in the hopes of restoration. Perhaps God was able to use us to help in this process. Each person in Bithlo has stories to tell and they just need someone to listen. It was a blessing to listen to some of their stories. The gift of trust is a precious one.
Mr. E and I have committed to praying for the V.I.P.’s (Very Important People) we had the honor of meeting in Bithlo and we hope to return one day. However, Bithlo is not the only neighborhood who needs the love of Jesus Christ. In fact, I can guarantee that there are people right in your very own neighborhood who have stories to tell. They’re just waiting for willing listeners like you and I to come along. Will we choose to listen to the stories of the lost and broken? Will we choose to share the love and grace we’ve been given through Jesus Christ with others?
These are questions worth answering.