How It Should Be

Last weekend, I was speaking in Wisconsin. Before I went, I was also invited to join a small group from a local church during the same time– they were going to do some volunteer work and asked if I wanted to join them. I couldn’t go because of the previous engagement, but the idea of what the group was doing sounded interesting.

Essentially, they wanted to get a group of volunteers together and find someone to help. As simple as that. Just a random act of kindness. They wanted to “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” a place that could use the renovations.

The church group called the mayor of a local town, asked if there was anyone he might know that could use the help, and were directed to the home of Bob and Char. Bob is 80 years old and a WWII vet. He and his wife have always given to the community. But his house now needs repairs and he’s not physically able to do it himself.

The mayor also helped put word out that a group of volunteers was going to help fix up the house and others were welcome to join them. By the time the weekend rolled around, there were nearly 75 volunteers ready to help!

Who was chipping in? One of the volunteers said,

They range in age from high school to senior citizens, some are from organizations like the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars], Kiwanas, Chamber of Commerce and businesses who are donating goods and services to get this thing done.

Were all of these people connected to the same church as the volunteer? Nope. In fact, it wasn’t apparent who was connected with a church at all.

The cool thing is that this project isn’t about promoting [The Church] (actually I’ve asked that they not ‘promote’ us) it’s about promoting ‘community’. We are all in this thing together after all.

I asked how the weekend went and received the following email (slightly edited). Read for yourself:

I don’t know if I had told you before, but Bob & Char were picked up in a limo and spent the weekend in a hotel (all donated) — so they had no idea what was going on until they got back! When Bob & Char pulled up to their house in a limo (with the house hidden by workers and a big garbage truck) and we all yelled “Truck driver, move that truck…” the expression on their faces, the tears rolling down their cheeks, and the smiles said it all — they kept saying, “it’s so beautiful, I can’t believe you all did this for us.”

It was an amazing feeling to stand there with all those people (about 75 volunteers total) we didn’t know just 2 days before, many now feeling like lifelong friends — to see what was accomplished when everyone served alongside each other with a common purpose — just to serve someone who has always given so much… there really aren’t words to describe it.

In 2 1/2 days together this group of people put on a new roof, built a new chimney, put in some new windows, completely re-sided the house, built a partial privacy fence, tore down an old (garage) shed and built a new one, organized all of the contents, built a deck on the back and the front of the house, added brick pavers and decorative landscape design where before there was none, revamped much of the electric service, cut down and hauled out more trees than we could count, rototilled and cleaned out two large garden spots, tore out over grown shrubs and bushes, completely cleaned the yard, planted new bushes and flowering shrubs, put down mulch from the front to the back, and built a beautiful memorial to honor all veterans (something very close to Bob’s heart)!

Again, this was all in 2 1/2 days!… Overall, this was a huge success! ABC’s Extreme Home Makeover has nothing on us!!!!!

That’s incredible. I hope they’re able to do it again (with videotape, so we can watch the reaction).

The volunteer I spoke with had some parting words for non-believers, who might be surprised to hear that there wasn’t a secret church-y motive behind this effort.

I wish non-believers could understand that Christians do the same things, with the same motivations as they do. We didn’t have a hidden agenda, didn’t pass out bible passages, didn’t preach – we would like non-believers to see, not hear, what a Christian is. St. Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the Gospel always and if necessary use words.”

It’d be great to see an activity like this occur at an atheist gathering. I get emails from a secular group in Chicago that often goes to a food depository to volunteer, which is great. Now, think of the impact we could have if we did an activity of greater magnitude at a convention. We could (and should) invite people from other backgrounds, even religious ones. Think of the work that could be done in just one afternoon. Even at a local meeting, actions would speak so much louder than words if atheists want to change their public image.

[tags]ABC, Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, church, atheist, atheism, Christian, St. Francis of Assisi, volunteer, Wisconsin, WWII, VFW, Kiwanas[/tags]

  • JustHis

    Now, that’s what I’m talking about! That is great, a great thing to unite as humanity not solely as a religious group. I agree that there should be no reason we can’t unite to do good for others even if we disagree on God, religion etc.

  • jim henderson

    Hemant -Do you think that Atheists care about improving their public image? Seriously, if there is no movement to advance or agenda to put forth what would motivate atheists to organize public actions of kindness?

  • Hemant

    Jim- I think it’s a big part of what we talk about very often. There’s very little discussion on atheism in the media without a mention of how reviled atheists are. So improving our image is a goal, stated or not. And there is also a motivation for it; for so many of us, we want to see good works being performed, not to please God, but because it’s helpful to a fellow human. To model that would be great.
    – Hemant

  • Prokop

    I wonder if every single person that helped in the project was a Christian, or if there were some atheists intermingling in the bunch. The local businesses cited as well as VFW are not necessarily a religious pool of people, so this event was potentially a joint effort between atheists and Christians, even if the central group were a Christian one.

  • LynnI

    I was one of the ones that participated in this project. Actually the central group was the VFW not our church – if there were any atheists in the group I really couldn’t say nor do I know if everyone was a Christian. As Christians, we were acting on our responsibility to care for those in the community around us. Maybe a non-believer can answer a question for me – Hemant said there is very little discussion on atheism in the media without a mention of how reviled atheists are.
    Why do you think that is?

  • Prokop

    Well, the first problem is the common belief that Atheist means amoral, which it demonstrably does not. Even without a central document to what we believe, atheists have no higher a crime rate than religious folk. Secondly, the Bible isn’t too kind with regards to non-believers. While I can’t recall any of the particular stories referring to those that disbelieve in or distrust God, I do know Psalm 14:1, “The fool says in his heart ‘There is no God’. They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”

  • jim henderson

    Hemant said there is very little discussion on atheism in the media without a mention of how reviled atheists are.

    Hemant give us an example of where you’ve seen this pattern

  • Hemant

    Hemant said there is very little discussion on atheism in the media without a mention of how reviled atheists are.

    I think this happens because our society is not comfortable in accepting atheism as a legitimate way to think. Whenever they mention an atheist, they must qualify it with the word “avowed,” as if it’s not a normal thing to just “be” an atheist.

    There are many studies which point to atheists being unelectable (even if otherwise qualified) and the least trusted minority. So it is a common stereotype people have of us.

    It’s just one of those things you notice when you’re in the minority and may not be too apparent when you’re outside that group.

  • HappyNat

    One way Atheists show up in mainstream news is when they challenge The Pledge, In God We Trust, the Boy Scouts, etc. In these cases a “national institution” is being challenged and the slant, even from the liberal media, is negative.

    Also, Atheist Organizations don’t hold the same recognition as churches, Boy Scouts, United Way, etc. The above organizations have a long history with the community and hold a connection that “non belief” organizations can only hope for.