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O.C. RELIGION | GETTING RELIGION

Salvation of a Mobile Home

Church Members Repair Woman's Dwelling as Part of 'Testimony'

October 28, 2000|WILLIAM LOBDELL

"[E]veryone knows how much good some people do, but there are others whose good deeds won't be known until later."

--1 Timothy, 5:25

*

This really isn't much of a story. By that I mean only that it's the sort of thing that happens all the time. And that doesn't make it particularly newsworthy. You probably know the first thing they teach you in journalism school: Dog Bites Man, no news. Man Bites Dog, news.

But I never went to journalism school, so you're going to get this story. It's from the Dog Bites Man genre on the religion beat. It's the kind of thing that happens hundreds of times every day in Orange County, propelled by people's religious beliefs.

And I guess, when you think about it, that's the story right there.

Mardell Bryant, 57, has lived in a rather anonymous mobile home park in Santa Ana since 1982. She's on a fixed income and gets around on crutches, the result of having polio as an infant. She lives a quiet life. On Sundays, she attends the neighborhood Baptist church.

Finances for Bryant are tight, so tight that when the exterior of her mobile home, a double-wide, started showing its age, Bryant couldn't afford to get it repaired. She had no extra money.

Then she got a form letter from the landlord: Fix your home, or we'll do it for you--and then bill you. You have 60 days.

She now faced the possibility of being kicked out of her home. So she went to the most logical place she could think of to get help: her pastor.

"She told us, 'I don't know how I'm going to get this done. I don't know who to turn to,' " recalled Robert Lopez, associate pastor at Bethel Baptist Church in Santa Ana.

Lopez quickly assured her the church would figure out a way to take care of her problem.

"It's part of the church's responsibility to look after each one of its members," said Jeff Higgins, principal of Bethel Baptist Schools, who along with Lopez, spearheaded the effort to help Bryant. "It's part of what the Lord wants us to do. Whenever one of our members is in need, we try to respond to that need as fast as we can."

The help was a godsend for someone in as vulnerable a position as Bryant--limited income, disabled and looking at losing her home of 18 years.

"I didn't have any sleepless nights," Bryant said. "It was just an answer to prayer. The situation was just a horrendous thing."

Lopez got busy looking for help. He contacted officials from Habitat for Humanity and the city of Santa Ana to see if Bryant could get relief. But those programs, even if they could help her, wouldn't be able to fix her mobile home until well after the 60-day deadline.

So Lopez and Higgins took on the project themselves.

They rounded up a group of guys from church--carpenters, electrician, painters--and formed a work crew. Higgins put $1,700 in building materials from Home Depot on his credit card.

And 16 volunteers started the repairs last Saturday. In a fury of sawing, nailing and painting, they managed to replace three walls of siding before, as Higgins says, "We ran out of sunlight."

They'll be back today to finish the job. And when the good guys ride off into the sunset, Bryant will have new siding, skirting, deck and carpeting.

"I was amazed, absolutely flabbergasted," Bryant said. "It looks just like a new mobile home. And I'm just really thankful."

Bryant wasn't the only one who benefited, Lopez and Higgins said.

"Some of the best times the men in our church have is when they are working together," Higgins said.

Neighbors in Bryant's mobile home park were stunned by the small army of workers.

"It's a community outreach. Several neighbors came out and talked with us," Higgins said.

"One of our goals is to evangelize a community. This is a good testimony for us."

Said Bryant: "My neighbors just couldn't believe it."

Maybe that's news after all.

William Lobdell is the religion reporter-editor for the Times' Orange County edition. His column runs Saturday. His e-mail address is bill.lobdell@latimes.com.

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