By Vicki Brown
Word&Way Associate Editor
DEXTER — As the area's economy continued to decline, Steve Easterwood asked himself, "What can our church do to help?" First Baptist Church, where Easterwood serves as senior pastor, responded, "Let's give away a house."
"It's a real blessing for me, an answer to prayer," Wade said.
The De Soto native moved to Dexter in 1993 to be near two brothers. Living in a tiny, drafty trailer, Wade couldn't envision finding a better place at an affordable rate. Though she enjoys having friends visit, she was too embarrassed to invite them to her former residence.
First Baptist's desire to make a significant difference in the community provided Wade's opportunity.
"We have a lot of mission work going on [through the church]," Easterwood explained, including house construction in Nicaragua. "I thought, 'We have a lot of tough economic times in Dexter...and we need to do something local.'"
First Baptist's missions committee endorsed the idea, and the church named a task force, half its members to hammer out construction details and the other half to determine the recipient.
Several church members, some who are builders, donated time and energy to make the project — dubbed Grace House — a reality. Deacon David Fleming served as general contractor and did much of the work himself.
Local contractors also gave time and materials. "Many do not attend church but contributed anyway because they saw the dream," the pastor said.
The church purchased the lot and bought additional materials and supplies, completing the home debt free.
As work progressed on the house, task force members charged with naming the recipient, developed an application and spread the word through local media. One of Wade's friends heard about it and encouraged her to apply.
In September, Wade had begun asking the Lord to provide a different residence. She didn't learn about the Grace House project until November, and although she went ahead and applied, she didn't think she would be chosen.
A certified medication technician, Wade works for a local nursing home. Though she struggles financially, she earns just slightly more than current guidelines allow to qualify for any government assistance. She thought that likely the church would choose someone else.
"I would probably never be able to afford to buy a house on my own," she said. "And I didn't think I had a chance at all [for Grace House]."
But after interviewing all applicants, the task force narrowed its choice to two families, ultimately choosing Wade and son T.J. "One of her coworkers said to me, 'No one deserves this house more,'" Easterwood said.
The church didn't give the home outright, but added a few stipulations that will benefit the family a second time. Wade is required to live in the house for at least eight years. During that period, she will pay the church $300 per month, with the money to be used to pay taxes and insurance coverage. Funds remaining after those annual costs are deducted will be escrowed.
"At the end of eight years, the family will own the house free and clear and will receive the balance in the escrow account," Easterwood said.
Although she still pays monthly for a place to live, Wade estimates she will save close to $100 each month in utility costs. The escrow money likely will be used for college, either for herself or for T.J.
Thankful for a place to call home now, Wade also sees a longer-term benefit — "I will have something to leave my son," she said.
While considering possibilities for their next local ministry project, First Baptist members recently learned that a major manufacturer would lay off 500 workers in its latest downsizing move. They are waiting for God's plan to minister to those affected.
"With the Grace House project, we were just trying to do what Jesus did," Easterwood explained. "He came upon people with needs and he met them. It's really pretty simple."