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Mission in Action: See What’s Going On!

Since last September, members of Middleburg Missionaries, an ecumenical outreach of Middleburg Heights Community United Church of Christ, have been deeply involved in rehabbing a house in the Archwood neighborhood of Cleveland for the Ngemba family, a refugee family from the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The house is done!!

The project has been compelling, drawing many people, both from within and outside of the church. The work has been transformational, not only for the Ngemba family, for whom home ownership will make a life-changing economic difference, but also for those involved in helping out.

The Ngembas came to the U.S. six years ago to escape the civil war in the Congo and life in a refugee camp in Uganda.  Mayele Ngemba, a student at Cleveland State University, purchased a duplex for $1,800 with the dream of providing his parents, a brother and two sisters, with an affordable place to live.   A duplex, he reasoned, would someday provide an income stream to help pay for his family’s housing as well as provide a place to house other refugees. 

Mayele soon realized he bit off a very big challenge as the house was just one step from being torn down.  With the help of a Cleveland city councilman, Brian Cummins, Mayele was able to clean up the property and replace some of the wiring, plumbing and heating systems.  However, he ran into a major obstacle when it came to replacing the ancient leaking roof.  
Since his parents had joined MHCUCC, he asked if there might be some handy members of the congregation who could help him replace the roof – he already had purchased some shingles. One look at the size and complexity of the roof put a stop to the idea that the church had the manpower (too old), skill (not enough), or desire to deal with a high roof. So Vicki included Mayele’s house as a project for Middleburg Missionaries Workship Sunday in August 2015, and enticed several of us to go down and look things over. John Toth, John Ivancic, Bob Lewis and several others ended up hooked on helping. We decided to hire a professional to address the roof and a new roof was completed on Thanksgiving weekend.

The house turned out to be a people magnet – it draws people to want to work on it. From MHCUCC, John Ivancic, John Toth, Tom and Lorraine Ropas, Jeff and Gail Lingenfelter, Don and Pauline Wills, Paul King, Mars Patterson, John Gregory, Sandy and George Uhl, Anne Harris, John and Debbie Thompson, Bob and Maggie Watson, Tom and Jo Casterline, Sue Kelley, Erv Koch, Shirley and Carl Kaiser, Austin Herr, Barbara Reinbrecht, Joan Reichert, Vicki and Mike McGaw, Dick Berg, Lowell McCollough, Bakulu Ngiriko, John Ngemba, Barb and Dale Nitzsche, June and Gary Canute, Mayele Ngemba, Esther Ngemba, Darrell Gearhart, Jennifer Cristman, Lucia Ngemba, David and Amy Sunkle, Len and Pat Schmidt, Roger and Carol Hall, Donald and Peg Knueve, Dave and Roberta Perkins, Jerry and Pam Wolf, and Bob and Connie Lewis have been involved.
The project has also attracted people from outside our church, including some from Cleveland Habitat: John Dagil (who commutes from Solon and contributed a huge amount of time), Debby Boyne (huge amount of time) and her mother
(curtains), John Schickel (huge amount of time), and Jim Rafferty, as well as Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins and the Cleveland Leadership Center.
We have cleaned out years of dirt and coal dust, patched crumbling plaster, painted all first floor walls and trim, constructed additional structural support for the roof, rebuilt rotten portions of the porches, rebuilt the bathroom walls and floor, tiled the shower, set the bath tub, rehabbed the kitchen cupboards, installed new kitchen cabinets, installed new kitchen and bath countertops, leveled the kitchen floor and installed floor underlayment, fixed the support for the basement stairs, upgraded some of the electrical circuits, plugged holes in the foundation and siding to improve heating efficiency, bricked up basement windows for security, painted the basement walls and floor, rehabbed or replaced interior doors, installed new windows throughout, patched holes in the chimney and inserted a chimney liner, gathered nice used bath vanities and sinks, purchased, on sale, new floor coverings for entire first floor, painted the entire exterior of the house, covered all the exterior trim with aluminum, rehabbed the outside entrance to the basement and trimmed trees.
We were the grateful beneficiaries of donated landscaping (Premierscape), donated furnace work (Bob Freeman Heating and Plumbing), donated materials (Home Depot), donated plumbing advice (Advantage Plumbing), donated gutters and downspouts (Anonymous). We have raised and spent $32,000. All of the money has come from outside the church budget in the form of personal donations from people who feel that this is a concrete way of making their faith real.
We tried to do the minimum necessary to obtain an occupancy permit from the city of Cleveland. We recycled bath and kitchen cabinets, sinks, toilets and the bath tub because it stretched our finances. All the repurposed items are in excellent condition. We attempted to make a highly efficient investment as quickly as possible to enable the Ngemba family to move in and thereby reduce the crushing $1000 monthly rent they have been paying. It is a way of allowing them to get a toehold in this country, to pursue education (a budding immigration lawyer, a neurosurgeon and a couple of nurses) as they pick up the pieces of lives shattered by war and persecution in their former homeland. They intend to repay the church as best they can from the rent savings and we envision putting their payments back into a revolving Christian Outreach fund to use in future similar projects. 

Those of us who are working at the house feel like it is a special, tangible and meaningful form of worship.  Being inspired on Sunday morning is important, but you can’t beat getting something concrete done.  It is not traditional church sanctuary-type worship, but it is worship. We are following the teachings of Jesus; we are helping our neighbor – our church family members. What we are doing is probably a big part of the way the future of the Christian church will look as fewer people respond to Sunday morning Christianity. And, just like our adventures at Lotts Creek, in West Virginia, Tennessee, New Orleans, and at Back Bay, it is fun.