Martha “Chi Chi” Pauley is a fixture in Bland. Known to locals as a kind character with a good heart, Pauley can usually be spotted making her rounds in town, chatting with fellow community members, who she often calls by affectionate nicknames.
“She’s kind of like the heart and soul of the community,” said the man Pauley calls “Pastor Boots.” “She’s just a joy everywhere she goes, she just brightens everybody’s day and everybody loves her. Chi Chi’s not hard to be nice to.”
That’s why when Pastor Boots, whose real name is Kevin Richardson, walked by Pauley’s home in mid-March and noticed her porch in disrepair, he decided then and there it was going to be fixed.
Richardson didn’t know at the time how he would make the project come together. He had a Lowe’s credit card and knew how to use it, he said, but didn’t have the skill to build a porch.
Before he could think about all that, though, he had to first get Pauley to agree to let him do it. A proud and independent woman, Pauley likes to get things done herself.
“I looked at her Sunday after service and I said, ‘I would like for you to let your pastor do something for you,’ and she said, ‘what’s that?’”
Surprisingly, Richardson said, the usually resistant Pauley said “OK” to letting him fix her porch.
“That was the easiest ‘yes’ I think we’ve ever gotten out of her,” Richardson joked.
Richardson told the congregations at the three churches in his Methodist charge about his plan. He’d intended to finance the project himself, but donations for Pauley’s new porch began to pour in and the congregations soon collected more than enough money to cover the project.
“It happened kind of mechanically, we went from having to clue to everything falling into place.”
Richardson discovered he had expert builders in his congregation and soon learned that the Bland Ministry Center also had a mission group coming in early April.
The mission group and other volunteers wrapped up the project on Thursday. It took just four days to complete. Enough money was collected to rebuild Pauley’s originally uncovered porch and add a roof to it. To garnish the newly built porch, Richardson and his wife donated an extra porch glider they had to Pauley.
“The Lord did bless me,” Pauley said. “I couldn’t believe it. I just praised the Lord.”
Richardson said enough funds were left still to tackle Pauley’s back porch later this year. He hopes to see that project finished before he is transferred to a new charge in June.
Giving back to the community through a repair or renovation project has become a sort of tradition for the pastor. Before he left his last charge in East Tazewell, Richardson helped renovate the parsonage there. The parsonage in Bland has also seen some recent renovations to the bathrooms. Richardson and his wife, who Pauley nicknamed “Beautiful,” took on that project last month.
“We like to leave things better than we found them and leave the community a little better than we found it,” Richardson said. “It’s just a gift back to the community for them allowing me to be their pastor.”
Bland Ministry Center Director Dee Dee Hoosier echoed those sentiments.
“It’s kind of our mission,” she said. “The Bible says to take care of the widows and the orphans, for they will always be with us. The community has always been generous to our ministry, so we’re just trying to give back. It’s just about paying it forward and taking care of those who need the help.”
The center’s home repair program serves those within a 40-minute driving radius who are in need of repairs. Projects range from maintenance and lawn care to roofing and installing wheelchair ramps to new church construction.
Volunteers from all over the United States come to the area each spring and summer to assist with the projects. The group that helped build Pauley’s porch was from Dublin, Georgia. The youngest member was 7 years old.
Richardson believes community work like the home repair program should be more prevalent in church communities everywhere.
“This is what God called us to do. We’re the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. This should be so ordinary that it doesn’t make the news. To me, if the church wants to be relevant, wherever they are, this is what we do. In my mind, that’s what a church looks like. A church looks like a front porch on somebody’s house who couldn’t build it themselves.”
He also believes God will guide his servants to the right projects.
“I walked passed I don’t know how many people’s houses. I walked six miles that day, but it was that house, that porch, that person. I’m amazed. If God wants something done, he doesn’t have any problem getting it done.”
Hoosier said those interested in contributing to the Bland Ministry Center’s home repair program can do so by either purchasing Lowe’s gift cards or by writing a check to the center, designating the funds for the repair program.
Jasmine Dent Franks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.