Posted August 02, 2012 in MH Alpena MI:
How Poverty Built a Bridge

by Rosemary Horan.

It all began with a call from the local youth ministry leader. "We’d like to volunteer for a week to help with anything that needs doing at Madonna House."

Of course I was thrilled and grateful. Like all our field houses, this house in Alpena lives by begging. In fact, we have no salaries or grants, and without the generosity of those we live among, none of our houses could exist.

And their help was certainly needed. At that particular time, the poustinia building, where we offer the opportunity to make a certain type of overnight retreat, was much in need of repair.

The students arrived with gusto, and beginning with sanding and painting the window frames, they went on to wash windows, scrape paint from window edges and tear up some of the worn out carpeting.

The worn oak floors under the rugs looked so promising, and the energy of the students was so abounding, that they continued tearing up carpeting in the hallway, the main poustinia room, and finally up the staircase.

They removed the rapidly deteriorating underliner, edging, molding, and every last stray nail and staple to prepare for sanding the floor.

"Who will be doing the sanding, Rosemary?" they asked.

"I don’t know yet," I answered. "Would you like to give it a try?"

"You bet. We’d love to learn that." I barely noticed the slight emphasis on the word, "learn."

Northern Tool donated the use of a large drum sander and papers and a small hand-held sander for the stairs.

Then followed two days of 90 plus degree weather and record humidity, during which I carefully guided my new friends in removing the first and second top layers of finish.

At the end of the second day, after they had gone home, I briefly sat down in the poustinia building and asked the Lord, "Is this really what you want, or is there another way?"

I went across the yard to the main building. The answering machine was blinking. The first message was: "This is Ronald McDonald. I heard you’re working on a project, and I’d like to help. If you can wait a few weeks, perhaps I can finish the job for you."

He is Alpena’s premiere floor refinisher and possibly the best known one in all of northeastern lower Michigan!

This seemed like a miracle.

Of course I waited, and he came, and of course he did a beautiful job—everything except the stairs.

He said he would be back another time to do them, as they would be more time consuming.

The sanding of the floor wasn’t the only thing that seemed like a miracle. The other "miracle" had to do with some dry walling.

Some weeks previous, a severe storm had broken open a crack in the bathroom wall enlarging it into a gaping hole. It had also caused new cracks: cracks to the right, cracks to the left, cracks in the ceiling—a very great abundance of cracks.

There is a fledgling company in town, Bliss Painting. They had come earlier to look at the job, and had given what I thought was a bargain $500 estimate.

Now I called them back and asked if the offer still held. Doug Bliss, the owner said, "Oh no, that was to be pro bono for you. We won’t charge you anything."

You can imagine my gratitude and amazement.

Doug is the minister of a small church, and he hires, per day, men in need of work.

Others helped out as well. Dan Carstens, owner of Builders Express, donated drywall and insulation, and came himself to test the walls and offer instructions, and John’s Electric updated the wiring.

As for the workers from Bliss Painting, so many different men came that I lost count. There must have been dozens of them as the work stretched into weeks. They did the job beautifully.

I told them about poustinia. They were, after all, working in a poustinia building. "Have you ever made a retreat?" I asked them.

And they had lots of questions. "What is a retreat?" "Nope, I never made one of those. I never knew what it was." "Poustinia? How do you spell that word again?" "Is that what this building is used for?" "You mean a person would really want to come and be alone with God for a whole day?"

Meanwhile, Stanson Floor Co. had offered to give us a donation of new lineoleum for the kitchen and bathroom. But when we started moving the fixtures in preparation for laying the lineoleum, we discovered that same fine oak located elsewhere in the building was in the kitchen and bathroom as well.

"It would look better, and more welcoming, Rosemary," a neighbor told me, "if these floors were refinished as well."

I phoned Mr. McDonald, "What would you think, instead of doing the stairs, of refinishing the kitchen and bathroom floors?"

"I would be happy to do that," he said. "It would probably take me two days on my way to and from work. It would pull the whole downstairs together and look really nice."

I also phoned the floor company with the result that, instead of linoleum, they donated new molding completely refinished, and two volunteers came to install it.

Then Pat Skiba and his All American Plumbing crew came on their free time to reinstall the claw-foot tub, bath vanity, etc., and also found the new pipes needed for such a restoration, gifts of Alpena Supply.

Throughout this time, besides all the needed work that was accomplished, many new friends were made. Some were from other churches or no church at all.

This is how poverty built a bridge—our Madonna House poverty of depending upon the generosity of others for all our needs. Bless all these people who helped, Lord, and their families, each one. May the promised hundredfold be theirs.


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