Several years ago, Ed and Leah Bass purchased a home in Alvarado, Texas. It was a fixer-upper, but the couple was determined to turn the desperately needy house into their dream home. Step by step, they started to repair and rebuild the house. Last July, the couple went to pick out new paint colors and items for the house, dreaming of what was to be.
Less than a week later, instead of standing side by side working on their future together, Leah was standing in shock and disbelief at Ed's graveside — a massive heart attack having taken his life without warning. Ed was 55 years old. And just four days after Ed's funeral, Leah faced another huge emotional challenge when her mother died.
Leah and Ed had begun as Chi Alpha pastors at Stephen F. Austin University, serving that Texas college community for six years before becoming pastors for the following two decades. In 1998, the couple came on staff at Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) in Waxahachie, Texas. A year later, Ed became the director of the SAGU IT Department, where he served until his death.
For Leah, not only had she lost her life-long ministry companion and confidant, and then her mother, she was left emotionally drained and alone in a home that once was filled with dreams, but now was a nightmare — surrounding her with a multitude of problems she did not have the skill, energy or finances to repair.
But then the Supreme Home Makeover Team (not to be confused with the ABC program, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition") stepped in.
Unless you're from the North Texas District, chances are good you never heard of the Supreme team before. It was created last year when University of Texas at Austin Chi Alpha co-Director Scott Lansing and Campus Minister Dave Giles were trying to come up with a way to involve Chi Alpha students in some type of compassion ministry over spring break.
Supreme Home Makeover was born as they ended up hosting their first makeover with the help of 50 students and dozens of businesses — repairing and refreshing a missionary's home that had suffered flood damage.
"After seeing the impact the first makeover had on the students' lives, along with the impact on the missionary family, their neighbors and business people," Giles says of their first experience, "how could we not do a follow-up project this spring break?"
Lansing and his wife Anita and Giles and his wife Libby, having been made aware of Leah's situation through a district Chi Alpha staff gathering, went to work. They began making phone calls, contacting other Chi Alpha groups in the region as well as churches and local businesses. In addition, last year's makeover recipient, Chi Alpha North Texas District Director Gary Paschal — an AG U.S. missionary — played a key role in raising funds and helping network people and businesses for this year's project.
However, perhaps what was the biggest challenge of all, they decided to keep the makeover a secret — not telling Leah what their plans were.
"We contacted family members and let them know what we were hoping to do — we had to involve them if this was to work," Giles says. "They were all very supportive of the idea and what we had planned. We also had to inform and clear things with her boss at SAGU."
Despite the odds being against them, with so many people knowing about the makeover at her church (Bethel Assembly), work, family and even in the community, the plans for the makeover progressed, with Leah never having a clue of what was coming her way.
On March 18, Leah was taken out of town by her father and sister for a vacation in Missouri, and Giles and Lansing, with their contractors and key staff, began work. They had to determine what supplies were needed, get them delivered and get the project plans laid out before the workforce arrived.
Over the next four days, members from 10 different Chi Alpha groups, MAPS workers, neighbors, church members, missionaries (world and U.S.), international students, SAGU staff members and business people from the community descended upon Leah's home. At the peak of the labor, more than 130 people were working on the home.
"We began at 8 a.m. and worked until 9 p.m. each day," Giles says, "with some working into the wee hours of the morning to prepare for the next day's work schedule." Each night busses would take the exhausted students back to their beds at the AG Lakeview Conference Center.
"One of the most difficult challenges, "Lansing shares, "was the timing of the different projects that were all happening at the same time. When you have 25 or 30 things happening at one time, it's impossible to know what is happening with all of them. Thankfully, we had contractors on site who were flexible and patient with the dozens of questions that came their way."
The laundry list of repairs included: leveling the home, replacing windows and installing siding on two sides of the home, replacing roof trim and shingles, fixing all doorframes and trim, painting and wallpapering throughout the house, remodeling both bathrooms, replacing kitchen appliances, replacing tile and carpeting,landscaping and a number of other projects — including a deck and adding a laundry room!
Even with many hands, the list of repairs needed was not light. Then the repairs went from "challenging" to "God, we really need your help" as unanticipated problems arose.
"As we took out the old flooring, we discovered two rooms had dry rot and termites," Giles says, now able to chuckle at the additional workload. "We had to take out walls and completely remove those floors and rebuild them."
Even though the Supreme Makeover team went into the project with strong backing by McCoy's Building Supplies, finances contributed by individuals and organizations, and even a "contractor's discount" from the local Lowe's, Giles says that during the project, God continued to send help their way.
For example, a new deck was donated by Environmental Mill, a roofing contractor unexpectedly sent out a team to roof the house, a neighbor came by and volunteered his services as a cabinet maker and made and installed new kitchen cabinets, and a friend of the family ran into some makeover team members at a store, and ended up volunteering many hours to help with the project.
On March 21, after more than 4,300 hours of combined labor, the team was nearly done. But then came another surprise. Leah had decided to leave Missouri a little earlier than planned. Her son Jared was sent to intercept her and take her "out to eat" as the team worked to complete the final touches before Leah's arrival.
"When they left the restaurant, we had pre-arranged to meet them in a church parking lot, a few blocks from the house," Giles says. "We didn't want to shock her too much, so Scott and I [along with several family members] met her there and explained what had been happening while she was gone . . . tears began to run down her cheeks."
"When Jared first pulled off into the parking lot, and my father and sister drove on ahead in their car," Leah recalls, laughing at the memory, "I began to wonder if the kids had decided to try to do something for the house, and gotten in over their heads."
Little did she know . . . .
"As they told me about what was going on, I was just trying to take in everything," Leah says. "I was fighting tears — no, I'm sure I wasn't able to hold them back when they were talking to me about all these people who wanted to do this for me . . . ."
When Leah arrived at her "new" home, it was dark, but spotlights were on, revealing around 130 workers awaiting her arrival in eager anticipation — even though most had never met her before.
"I saw all these cars, a school bus . . . they were everywhere," Leah says. " I was in tears, but happy tears. I got out of the car and they were flashing pictures all around me — there were so many students! They had a big sign welcoming me home and they gave me flowers."
But what happened next still brings Leah to tears.
"They came up and gave me a T-shirt [like all the Supreme team members were wearing] and it said, 'Supreme Home Makeover: 2009 Bass Edition.' It touched me so much . . . ," Leah says, pausing as she loses her battle to control the tears. "That was for Ed . . . it was so beautiful to remember him in such a way, and to remember me . . . ."
As Leah made her way toward the house, Giles says the students broke out in wild cheering and clapping in an expression of love and a release of the stress of the long hours they had labored together.
With tears streaming down her cheeks, Leah was overwhelmed by the reception.
"I would have never had dreamed — never ever dreamed — anyone would show that kind of love to someone, and I'll bet 90 percent didn't even know me," she says. "They were just wonderful, wonderful! I was so touched. Even now I don't have the words to say how touched I've been. I really felt their love and their servants' hearts — they did a beautiful job."
Student representatives from all the Chi Alpha groups then came forward and together they prayed over Leah, asking God's blessing and protection over her.
Then it was on to the house. Giles, Lansing and Mark Walker — a co-worker of Ed's from SAGU — and several others took Leah on a tour of her newly remodeled home. In every room they stopped, students were gathered outside of the windows, pressing to see her reactions and show their care for her. Giles adds that he believes that through the makeover, people were extending love to Leah in ways that helped ease some of her pain.
With the help of Leah's children, the Supreme team was able to use the colors Ed and Leah had picked out together throughout the home. And although they remodeled so many different areas, Leah says the team kept the things that Ed had done that were special to her.
"They made things nicer, but they're [Ed's handiwork] still there," she says in obvious pleasure. "I am just amazed, I walk through the house and just keep saying, 'This is amazing!'"
However, as much of an impact and blessing as the makeover was for Leah, Giles says it may have had even more of an impact on Chi Alpha students and other volunteers. Many called the event "life-changing" for them and inquired about participating again next year.
"Towards the end of the makeover, these students were dead tired, but they were still asking, 'What can I do next?'" Giles says. "It was a tremendous experience."
For Lansing, knowing that they had made a lasting impact on Leah's life, providing her with a beautiful, safe and now fully functional home, will be something he never forgets.
Although Giles and Lansing envision this as at least a yearly effort for UT-Austin Chi Alpha, they don't limit their dream.
"My hope and dream is, ultimately, that districts, sections and churches all over the United States would be doing the same or similar things, especially for missionaries, retired pastors or widows of pastors," Giles says with great conviction. "Anybody could do this — men's ministries, women's ministries, Teen Challenge groups. It wouldn't have to be as big as what we're doing, but even working in smaller ways to show God's love in practical, compassionate ways."
As team members boarded the vans and buses for the last time, reluctant to leave the scene of this four-day ministry miracle, Giles and Lansing handed them a carpenter's pencil that had the McCoy slogan printed on it.
"Practice random acts of building."
For more information about UT-Austin Chi Alpha, see its Web site at http://www.utChiAlpha.org. For the national Chi Alpha program, see http://www.ChiAlpha.com.
--Dan Van Veen