Tulsa church combines Gospel message with home makeovers
BY BILL SHERMAN World Religion Writer
Saturday, August 18, 2012
8/18/12 at 5:23 AM
It began as knock on the door one evening this spring.
When Sheri Melgoza answered the door, she had no idea that several weeks later, a work crew from Woodlake Assembly of God would invade her house with hammers and crowbars to tear out cabinets and a window and refurbish her kitchen, complete with new appliances.
"I'm thrilled. I never thought in a million years I'd get a new kitchen," said the single mother who has battled health problems and tragedy in recent years.
A year ago, Melgoza spent four months in the hospital for a liver transplant. Complications required a second transplant. She had a heart attack and a stroke during surgery. While she was hospitalized, her 26-year-old son, Matthew Weeks, who had been caring for her younger children, was killed in a motorcycle accident. She was unable to attend the funeral. When she was released, she could not walk.
Because the home makeovers are based on need, Melgoza was a good candidate for Woodlake project, which is modeled after the former television show "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition."
The Rev. Jamie Austin, pastor of Woodlake Assembly, 7100 E. 31st St., said the church started the home makeover program two years ago as a way to "get outside the church walls."
"It used to be if you just opened the doors and played the music, people showed up, but those days are long gone. Now getting the message of Jesus Christ into the communities, you have to meet their needs," he said.
In spring 2010, about 100 church members canvassed the neighborhood around the church, knocking on doors, handing out cookies and printed material and asking people if they wanted to fill out an application for a free home makeover.
"We'd get this look like, 'This is too good to be true,' " Austin said.
About 30 filled out applications that first year. Teams from the church visited each home to interview the applicants, and five were chosen for makeovers.
One of them was an elderly widow living with a half-finished bathroom remodeling project that her husband started before he died. Another was a single mother whose children were sleeping on the floor because they had no beds.
"We're looking for need. And we're looking for direction from God," Austin said.
The church budgets about $1,000 per project, but the teams assigned to do the work typically raise more in cash and materials, so that about $3,500 is spent on each home, excluding the donated labor from church members.
In the Melgoza project, Case & Associates Properties donated a new stainless steel stove, refrigerator, dishwasher and microwave, said David Atkinson, chief financial officer at Case and manager of the project.
Church volunteers removed some cabinets, refinished others, replaced a window, painted and did numerous small repairs around the house and yard. Typical projects include refinishing or replacing kitchen cabinets and countertops, redoing bathroom tile, painting and buying new appliances. A project may take two or three weeks or up to a month, working evenings and weekends.
"This is not about us growing the church or people coming here. It's just simply getting outside the church walls and expressing the love of Christ through the meeting of needs," Austin said.
Some people have joined the church, but that's not the point.
"A lot of the families we choose are not Christians. We tell them: We're not going to preach to you. We just want to show the love of Christ."
Now in its third year, the project has helped dozens of people.
But the biggest beneficiary has been the church, said Austin, a Tulsa native and former youth pastor who took over the church in late 2009.
"It's affected us. It's been good for the church," he said. "Our people absolutely love it."
He said church attendance has doubled during the past 2 1/2 years, at least in part because of this project, which has generated enthusiasm.
"The biggest benefit to the church is getting our eyes off of us and getting them on the community. A church, if it's not careful, can become inward focused really fast. And I believe we have to be intentional about being outward focused.
"Another benefit is that we have all these people sitting in our pews that have all these giftings they've never used before. For some of them it's interior decorating. For others it's landscaping, construction or painting. It's providing all these avenues for ministry."
The last two Sundays of August will be "Reveal Sundays," at which the work teams and recipients will be introduced, and videos shown of the projects.
"It's been awesome," Austin said. "They don't have to speak, but typically every one of them takes the microphone and through tear-filled eyes says, 'Thank you for loving me.' "
Original Print Headline: Church Makeover
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398
Sheri Melgoza on Wednesday shows off her kitchen, which was given a makeover by members of Woodlake Assembly of God. STEPHEN PINGRY/Tulsa World
Candie and Paul Bowman pack up pots and pans July 28 as Woodlake Assembly of God members begin to renovate Sheri Melgoza's kitchen. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World
Eddie Riggs of Woodlake Assembly of God works to turn a broom closet into cabinets on July 28 at the midtown home of Sheri Melgoza. CORY YOUNG/Tulsa World