On September 4, 2011, Bastrop, Texas, began making headlines - but not the kind of headlines any county or community would want.
The nation's third largest fire in history was forming in Bastrop County, east of the city of Bastrop. Powered by strong winds and fueled by tinder-dry brush due to an extreme drought in the region, the fire was soon raging out of control, consuming the countryside and, not long afterwards, portions of the city itself. By the time the fire was finally declared extinguished on October 10, 2011, nearly 1,700 homes were destroyed and two lives were lost, leaving residents in shock.
Similar to many major disasters that occur, at first, aid poured into the community - volunteers, finances, government assistance. But as the weeks slipped by, the help slowly disappeared. And for those Bastrop residents who had little to begin with before the fire, as the aid dwindled, their hopes did as well.
Although some Bastrop residents may have felt alone, they weren't forgotten. University of Texas-Austin Chi Alpha Campus Pastors Scott Lansing and Dave Giles had the community on their radar as they began to organize for their fifth annual Supreme Makeover project.
Only this time, they weren't out to remake a single home, but make an impact on an entire community!
Connecting with the Bastrop Long-term Recovery Team and Bastrop Christian Ministerial Alliance, Lansing and Giles communicated their desire to serve the community for its best advantage through projects of compassion.
"The Bastrop leadership was excited to learn of our interest," Giles says, "and they believed that 'Tier 1' projects would be of most help." Giles explains that Tier 1 projects are projects for those who are elderly, disabled, under-insured or uninsured."
As Bastrop leaders began preparing a list of possible projects for the Supreme Makeover team to take on, Lansing and Giles went to work assembling Chi Alpha students and volunteers as well as working on lining up sponsors for materials and funding. Students from Texas State University, Angelo State University, Central Bible College, University of Texas - Austin, Texas A&M, Austin Community College, Southern Methodist University and Stephen F. Austin were all part of the volunteer work crew.
By the time the Supreme Makeover team headed to Bastrop on March 14 for four days of compassion-inspired labor, 102 students and volunteers had signed up and $102,000 was donated by the Bastrop Christian Ministerial Alliance — in addition to supplies and materials provided by others. "Lowe's Home Improvement and McCoy's Building Supply were the key building suppliers for the projects," Giles says, expressing his appreciation for all the supplies and financial support.
"Each student paid $75 to come spend their spring break - not at some resort or beach - but working," Giles says. "They worked very hard, and very long hours to make good things happen for hurting people."
Churches were also key to the event. Celebration Community Church, First Assembly of God in Bastrop and Trinity Zion Ministries partnered with the Supreme Makeover team, giving students and volunteers a place to sleep and gather for meals. "Mission U-too, a disaster-relief effort, fired up their kitchens and provided us food and the Austin Baptist Association Disaster Relief provided shower trailers for us," Giles adds.
Originally, Giles and Lansing hoped that of the 40-some projects they were provided to choose from, the team could complete 23 of them. In the end, the team would complete 27 acts of compassion.
"They built decks, put up fences, painted homes, added skirting to mobile homes, built stairways and a couple of sheds - even a pole barn for a dog groomer - and completed a number of other projects for people who otherwise would likely not be able to get those projects done," Giles says. "There were a lot of smiles and grateful hearts."
Giles says that God watched over and blessed the team's efforts. "Despite repeated forecasts of thunderstorms throughout the week, we only had a light sprinkle for three minutes one day," Giles says. "This was significant as all of our projects were exterior projects - there were no other projects lined up to do inside of homes if it rained."
"This year, we had $5,000 worth of equipment donated to the project," Lansing says, "so students were a lot more 'hands-on' working with tools, but God looked out for us as we had no real injuries due to the construction projects."
"We have all felt that we have lost a generation of our kids," expressed Michael Hargett, administrative pastor at First Assembly of God, "but I know 102 young folks that were here for a few days that indicate Hope. There were fine young men and women of God who were a delight to be around and exemplified the qualities of a Christ-filled life."
The labors of love also provided opportunity.
"People in the community wanted to know why college students skip the beaches to come do this for them," Giles says, "and many times we were able to share with them about Christ. One young man even chose to give His life to Christ after we helped his family."
In addition to aiding the community physically and ministering one-on-one, the Supreme Makeover team also worked with local churches to reach out to the community spiritually. On Friday night they held two outreach events - one for elementary-age kids and the other for teens.
"We canvassed the area, sending teams out to let people know about the Friday-evening events," Giles says. "Although the attendance wasn't large, we were able to really minister to and reach out to those who did attend. Both events were a lot of fun - and I think the parents enjoyed themselves just as much as, if not more than, the kids did!"
"It was a great experience having your group here," Hargett told Lansing and Giles. "You were the leaders of the Spirit-filled army that made thing happen and touched many with not only the work of your hands, but mostly with the warmth of your hearts. Thank you for impacting our community."
Giles says that the annual Supreme Makeover outreach has impacted many lives, with this effort being no exception. "At one point or the other, every resident who we helped and every volunteer and student who participated, had tears in their eyes," he says. "We have students who have graduated coming back to participate in the makeover each year because they've found it to be so rewarding."
"When we brought residents and students together for our final lunch on Saturday, we gave both the residents and students an opportunity to share after the lunch," Lansing says. "And just like every year, it was clear that the students were more impacted than anyone else, even the homeowners. God does an incredible work in them during this week in the area of compassion, deep in their hearts. It's not just a momentary 'warm fuzzy,' but something that will impact them for the rest of their lives."
"God has changed my life so much," wrote Janet Heisman on the Supreme Makeover Facebook page. "I have no idea how to describe it. Supreme Makeover was more than I could have ever expected it to be...."
Both Giles and Lansing believe that their annual Supreme Makeover is something other districts and churches could experience as well. "People may think that what we're doing is just to help people who are hurting, but it's so much more than that," Giles says. "What we're doing, we're doing for God's glory. As we allowed the Holy Spirit to work through us during this week, it was a tangible miracle to the people we're serving and the community - hearts are opened to the gospel."
Lansing, referencing the 2011 General Council, says, "We voted to make compassion one of the pillars of the Assemblies of God. Dave (Giles) and I believe we are at the grassroots, building compassion into students' lives through projects like this."
Giles adds that as young people are involved in this ministry, seeds for the future are planted within them. "These young people have a heart of sacrifice. As they graduate and spread out across the country, they'll be the ones who'll share their experiences and inspire churches and districts to step out with a makeover effort of their own - my prayer is that it will have a snowballing effect, with a longer reaching impact than just four days in March 2012."
"I worked my first Compassion Project with Supreme Makeover," wrote Ashley Jacobs on the Supreme Makeover Facebook page. "Whatever I expected before I went - I experienced so much more . . . I will never be the same . . . ."
As for Lansing, the passion for ministry that not only physically makes over a neighborhood or community, but impacts it spiritually, has taken a powerful grip on his heart and soul. "After 16 years, I've resigned my position as XA director at the University of Texas," Lansing says. "I believe God has placed a call upon my life to make Supreme Makeover my full-time ministry."
He explains that over the past five years, he has witnessed how God has blessed every makeover project, impacting lives incredibly for His glory on both the receiving and giving sides of the equation.
"My desire," Lansing says, "is to continue partnering Christian students with community members to physically rebuild what was lost, plant seeds of faith and hope into the lives of those we're helping, provide one-on-one witnessing opportunities as students work with community members, and create and nurture hearts of compassion within the lives of every student and volunteer - all across the United States."
Lansing and Giles, who are currently working to make Supreme Makeover a government-approved non-profit organization, will be meeting with North Texas District officials in the upcoming weeks to discuss options for the ministry.
What the future holds for Supreme Makeover's expansion is yet to be seen, but for now, as Giles and Lansing can attest, the Supreme Makeover in Bastrop made an impact directly or indirectly on thousands of lives, all for the glory of God.
To view a video made during the Bastrop makeover, click here. To learn more about Supreme Makeover, visit its website or Facebook page. For more information about Chi Alpha, see ChiAlpha.com.