Lights and Shadows

‘Tis the season of mulling apple cider, pine scented candles, parties with friends and big family meals with that once-a-year peanut butter fudge or fresh coconut cake from a generations’ old recipe.

For you all as faith leaders in our communities, it is also a season of great juggling between your own friends and families and the congregations you serve. Planning and leading multiple worship services for a single day may certainly be enough of a challenge but there are all the extra things that come along with the season: caroling, visiting, coordinating Angel Trees and other special missions, Sunday School or Life Group parties every night of the week, and the one millionth game of Dirty Santa as if it is the hottest new game around (Amen?)! On top of it all, the kids are out of school for two full weeks, hopped up on sugar and winter freedom while your family tries hard to maintain not only its sanity but its own traditions and make its own memories, get the shopping done and spend at least one full day together.

No doubt, it is both a wonderful privilege and an awesome responsibility to pastor and care for people—all the people in your life—during this most holy time. In my ministry, there were always folks for whom this was indeed the most wonderful time of the year and for others it was the very most painful time of the year. As people of faith and as faith leaders, we must make room both for hope and for hurt, for the light and the dark. Walt Disney has said, “Life is composed of lights and shadows, and we would be untruthful, insincere, and saccharine if we tried to pretend there were no shadows.”

As the days grow shorter and the nights grow longer, as you close your services with dimmed lights holding candles or waving glow sticks, that tiny little light is our hope. One flicker cannot wholly eliminate the darkness but it absolutely pushes it back; it makes a hole in the dark. When the menorah’s candles are lit, we remember the miracle of light in the dark. One day’s oil gave eight days of light. And in the Gospel of John, my favorite verse says, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

This year, we have stood in the shadows—tragedy upon tragedy in our nation and all around the globe. We have stood in the shadows with our people, people who are grieving, people who have lost jobs, people who feel too guilty to be forgiven, people who have battled addiction and people who are just so beaten down and alone. We have stood there in those shadows with them. This season as we hang twinkle lights, as we light candles in the windows, as we decorate our homes with the voltage of Clark Griswold, I pray you all continue to find and to offer even a small light of hope in the darkness.

Thank you for building homes, communities and hope with Our Towns Habitat!

Now and Not Yet

A little confession: it was October 18th, and I went there. I came right out and said it, let’s go ahead and put up our Christmas tree! Nevermind it had been ninety degrees just the day before and the homes in our neighborhood were adorned with pumpkins and mums, spider webs and caution tape. But on October 18th, it was a cool, crisp morning and the radio personality lowered the boom—only ten Fridays left until Christmas!

Overruled by my Grinch of a husband, we did not break out the ornaments in October. Now November is finally here with Christmas music playing in every store, the shelves filled with stocking stuffers, and I can hardly wait a moment longer to throw glitter and tinsel around like confetti! Oh, it’s coming!

But first, Thanksgiving. Every Thanksgiving, my little family watches the Macy’s parade and the football games in the shadow of our Christmas tree. We eat our turkey, our potatoes, and our green beans in the glow of small white lights and the scent of a fir tree. We name our blessings and we make peanut butter bird feeders while the rest of our family plans the Black Friday attack. Thankfully in our family, the holidays are peaceful and quiet—for the most part.

In 2 Corinthians, however, the apostle Paul intentionally spurs a bit of a family feud: who will be the most generous in their gifts, the Greeks or the Macedonians? He has been bragging to the Macedonians about the generosity of the Greeks, both their readiness and their joy to give to the people of faith in Jerusalem. Paul, then, admonishes the Greeks to go ahead and give so generously so as not to be embarrassed if the Macedonians were to come with him on a trip. He writes:

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us. Your ministry of this service to God’s people isn’t only fully meeting their needs but it is also multiplying in many expressions of thanksgiving to God.
(2 Corinthians 9:11-12, CEB)

Through the gifts of prayer, volunteer labor and financial support, your generosity and the generosity of your congregations are producing a thanksgiving to God! With each home that is built, you are not only meeting the needs of individuals and families in our community but you are also delivering a well-built sermon of God’s love for all people. And by helping to meet their needs, we at Our Towns Habitat offer our deepest thanks for your work and for your commitment to put God’s love into action for all of God’s children.

I pray you all have a wonderful and restful Thanksgiving with your families and friends!

Our mission is to keep sowing seeds

“To Plant a Garden is to Believe in Tomorrow”
-Audrey Hepburn

Shortly after moving into our own new home in late May, we fenced in the backyard for our then 7-month old puppy Lizzy. We have decided, though it’s not what the shelter told us, that she is predominately Jack Russell and she surely needs the room to run off the crazy.

Unfortunately, the backyard remained a soupy mess of mud and, after spending what felt like our life savings for the fence, we weren’t able to let Lizzy out to play without her turning into a page from Harry the Dirty Dog. So mid-September, my husband and my father-in-law set out to till the backyard, sow more grass seed and fertilizer, put down straw and water. Every single day since, we have looked out that back glass door trying to catch sight of a new sprig here or a new patch there.

Having spent twelve years as a local church pastor, I remember long stretches when ministry felt like throwing out seed that just didn’t take. It is no joke that Sundays come faster each week when you are leading a church. No matter what else occurs Monday through Saturday, worship still must be prepared for Sunday. There are always more visits to be done than can be done; there are always more studies to teach, more books to read, more conferences to attend, more meetings to schedule and more outreach in which to engage. And while our congregants never seem to tire of the “you only work one hour a week” line, the truth is the work is never finished and the pain of our people is never wiped away.

During this Pastor Appreciation Month, while I will not be sending you all new bibles or knick-knacks, I do want to share this word of encouragement with you: your work matters. Just as Jesus shared with the crowds, some seed will be eaten by the birds; some seed will fall on rocky ground; other seed falls among the thorns; and still other seed falls on good soil and produces a bumper crop!

Whether you see the sprigs pop up or a new patch suddenly appear, Our Towns Habitat sees your work in walls being raised, floors being installed, vinyl siding being hung and trim being painted. We see people smiling and crying. We know they will cook chicken soup for their sick children and play Santa on Christmas Eve. We know they will eat birthday cake and play in the yard. We know they will tuck their children into bed at night, knowing they are all safe and sound.

That is just a part of the work you all do. By helping to sponsor and build safe, decent homes for families in our community, you are not just building a home. You are, more importantly, building hope. And isn’t that precisely what we are called to do as people of faith?

In Jesus’ parable, though the sower knew that not all the seed would grow, he just kept right on sowing. That sower tossed out all kinds of seed all over the place. He throws it everywhere! Because your work matters, keep sowing those seeds! And if you ever need to see hope up close, I invite you to drive by one of our homes and know that this little girl Persia, and so many other boys and girls and moms and dads, are safe and happy at home.

The World I See

August is always such a busy month! In our home, August is also a special month filled with cake, ice cream, friends and presents. On August 7th, my daughter Molly turned 8 years old, and she’ll soon start third grade.

While most 8 year olds may be busy playing video games or riding bikes, Molly (like Belle, the princess she most loves) tends to have her nose stuck in a book. If not, she can be found writing her very own books complete with preface and author’s note.

Her latest book is titled “The World I See.”
In it, she talks about the world she sees: a world where people fight and argue with one another, a world where innocent people get hurt or even killed, and a world where so many children go to bed hungry. She then tries to imagine the kind of world God dreams to see: a world absent of chaos and hate, a world where innocent people go unharmed, and a world where the hungry have plenty to eat. Finally, the author’s note concludes: “Being a human isn’t easy. If you try to change the world…you will. And others will follow. I’m Molly and I won’t let anything stop me.”

At Our Towns Habitat, our vision is a God-sized vision: our vision is a world where everyone has a decent place to live. This vision is the heart of our work and the goal toward which we and our partners strive every single day. In the Old Testament, as far back as Genesis 12:3, God calls Abraham to leave his home, his family, everything he has ever known and go to an unknown land. As part of this radical call, God makes three promises to Abraham. First, Abraham will be given land, a land that God will show him. Second, Abraham and his family will become a great nation. And lastly, God says to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” All the families, everyone, will be blessed by the faithfulness and righteousness of Abraham. Everyone.

In the New Testament, Jesus is found time and again eating and drinking, healing, and forgiving those who were considered the worst of the worst. Jesus ministers to everyone, regardless of age, race or nation, everyone.

Alan Hirsch, leader in the missional church movement, is known for writing, “It’s not so much that the church has a mission, it’s that the mission of God has a church.” The mission of God is loose in the world precisely because of the love of God for everyone. God’s mission of love, of service, of humility, of Kingdom building on earth as it is in heaven,–isn’t that the kind of world we long to see?

One home at a time, one family at a time, one board at a time, even one nail at a time, with every dollar so generously given and with every volunteer who steps foot on a build site, this is the world we are helping to build: a world where everyone has a decent place to live. By working together, and with the help of God, we can indeed change the world.

Elevation Love Week demonstrates God’s love in action

Elevation Church’s Love Week is seven days out of every year dedicated to service, compassion and giving. The congregation partners with more than 200 charities to donate time and effort to those who need it most.

Love Week 2017 began on July 22 and will end July 29, and Elevation Church has once again partnered with Our Towns Habitat for Humanity to aid us in building homes and renewing hope in our communities.

This year, Elevation Church graciously donated $50,000 to Our Towns Habitat. By volunteering on build sites, church staff and members can see their donation at work.

“It’s great to see it in action,” said Elevation staff member Valerie Hunter, who was volunteering for the staff build day. “This is what my money is going toward.”

It’s worth getting your hands dirty to serve God by building a home for a family in need, she said.

“In church, we give our resources, but using your hands and feet is a whole new step,” Valerie said.

Staff member Roseanna Parker has participated in other Elevation Love Week events before, but today was her first Habitat for Humanity build.

“It’s our responsibility to serve our community; this is our calling,” she said.

Being active in your faith by physically serving people in your local communities through Habitat for Humanity proves to be a humbling and rewarding experience.

“You can look at a finished house and say, ‘I helped build that house,’” Elevation staff member Jeremy Fiske said. “It’s an easy and tangible way to be the hands and feet of God.”

The hands-on service of Elevation Church members this week, with Our Towns Habitat and its other partner charities, is a perfect example of the Habitat mission–seeking to put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope.

Come be a part of something greater by volunteering with Our Towns Habitat. Visit our Volunteer Opportunities page or contact Volunteer Program Manager Cathy Petriano for more information. Learn more about Elevation Church’s Love Week here.

About The Author: Madison Seals is a rising sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she is majoring in Editing and Graphic Design. She has been a volunteer with Our Towns Habitat for Humanity from a young age, supporting the organization through fundraising efforts before she was even old enough to volunteer on a build site. 

Amy Freeze Works to Build Faith & Community Relations


The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. In Amy Freeze’s case, the grass might be the same, but the view is certainly different.

Amy has joined Our Towns Habitat as the new Manager of Community & Faith Partnerships. Before joining Our Towns, Amy served 12 years in ministry as a pastor with the United Methodist Church. In her new role, instead of leading congregations, she will work with them and their pastors as they serve in the ministry of Habitat.

“It helps to understand the dynamics of the church, how decisions are made, and the challenges pastors face,” Amy said. “Pastors are always looking for ways to get people out of the church building and into the mission field, to grow as disciples. Habitat offers a very accessible way for congregations to fulfill that Biblical mandate of loving God and loving your neighbor.”

Amy most recently served as pastor of Christ United Methodist in Drexel. Prior to that, she was pastor of Broad Street United Methodist in Mooresville and an associate pastor at First United Methodist in Newton. During her time in the ministry, she focused heavily on serving those in need and vulnerable populations.

At Christ United Methodist, she led the church’s Habitat team of 25 volunteers and partnered with the local elementary school to help provide food and clothing for children in need. At First United Methodist, she organized two mission trips to assist with Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.

One specific experience from Amy’s time at Broad Street United Methodist really stuck with her, and was one reason she wanted to work with Habitat. While volunteering at the local soup kitchen, she met a single mom of two children, whose home was in horrible disrepair. The family did not even have a fully-functional bathroom. Amy led the church to partner with two other churches to help renovate the woman’s home.

“It really stuck with me, to see how happy those kids were in their home, and how thankful that mom was, that people she didn’t even know came together to love her, give her a life and give her hope,” Amy said. She sees the mission of Habitat in the same way.

And clearly the propensity to serve runs in the family. Amy’s daughter Molly, 7, is already an active philanthropist. One Sunday morning, while getting ready for church, Molly saw a commercial for the organization No Kid Hungry that moved her to tears. Feeling led to help hungry kids, Molly and Amy researched the organization after church and created a donation sign-up form and collection envelope. Then Molly went to work fundraising, asking “anybody who breathed” to support her cause. Soon, she had raised $268—enough for 2,680 meals—to donate to the charity.

For Molly’s next charitable endeavor, she plans to open a Habitat ReStore in the Freeze family’s new home to help support Our Towns Habitat.

Our Towns, Thrivent Financial & Local Faith Community Team Up to Build 3 Homes

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Our Towns Habitat for Humanity is partnering with Thrivent Financial to build homes for three families in our service area, through the Thrivent Builds Homes program. Thrivent Builds Homes is one of three Thrivent Builds programs which partners the financial, volunteer and advocacy resources of Thrivent Financial together with the affordable housing construction leadership of Habitat.
These three builds will all be in partnership with churches and other houses of worship in the communities where the homes will be built. Thrivent members and volunteers from the faith community will work side-by-side with the future homeowners to build their new homes.

Thrivent awarded $75,000 to support construction of these three new Habitat for Humanity homes, and this funding will be matched by donations from the faith community. Our Towns will build one home in each of our current active build neighborhoods—Poole Place in Cornelius, Burke Crossings in Mooresville and Partnership Way in Statesville.

Construction began for Fabiola’s home in Cornelius home in early May. Building and purchasing this new home with an affordable mortgage allows Fabiola to move her family out of overcrowded conditions—she and her four sons currently share a two-bedroom apartment—and into a decent home. Fabiola has already earned many of her sweat equity hours helping in the Our Towns Habitat office, and has quickly become a familiar and friendly face for all the staff.

Volunteers will frame the walls of a Statesville home for Rafael and Elvira on June 3. Rafael and Elvira also face overcrowding, living in a two-bedroom apartment with their two sons and daughter. Their daughter is confined to a wheelchair due to cerebral palsy, so she faces great difficulty navigating their tiny, non-accessible apartment. Rafael and Elvira have already earned more than 600 sweat equity hours—50% more than the 400 required hours—before construction even begins on their own home.

In late August, we begin building a home in Mooresville for Larry, a single dad with five children, ranging in age from 2 to 16. Larry has been on disability since 2008, but has faced physical challenges for quite a bit longer than that. In 1994, he broke his left femur and six bones in his left foot in a car accident and had to re-learn to walk. Larry and his children currently live in a mobile home that is overcrowded and in need of serious repairs.

Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity is an ongoing partnership between Thrivent Financial and Habitat for Humanity International. Thrivent Builds Homes focuses on building new homes alongside future Habitat homeowners who will pay an affordable mortgage for their home and will contribute hundreds of sweat equity hours in the construction process or complete other tasks. Thrivent Builds Repairs is a program that focuses on helping complete external repairs on existing homes, and Thrivent Builds Worldwide sends teams of volunteers across the country or across the globe to build homes with Habitat families.

Gary Samuelson, a financial associate with Thrivent Financial said “The Thrivent Builds program provides us with more options to serve our area. The support we receive from the local community for projects like this is incredible and we look forward to working together in 2017 to make a difference.”

“We are so grateful for Thrivent’s support of our efforts to build homes in partnership with families working toward strength, stability and self-reliance” said Jeff Porter, Our Towns Habitat Executive Director. “Together, we are helping a family and strengthening the community.”

From the national partnership’s inception in 2005, Thrivent Financial and its members have now committed more than $226 million and more than 5 million volunteer hours. This has resulted in thousands of families and individuals living in safe, decent and affordable housing, as well as hundreds of communities banding together to make a positive impact. In 2017, Thrivent has committed nearly $14 million to support the Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity partnership, along with thousands of Thrivent members and other volunteers who will provide their hands and their hearts for construction.

Faith partners sponsoring and/or volunteering on the Cornelius build include Davidson College Presbyterian, Life Fellowship, Grace Covenant, Mt. Zion United Methodist, Bethel Presbyterian, Community in Christ, Hopewell Presbyterian and St. Alban’s Episcopal.

Sponsoring and/or volunteering on the Statesville build are First Presbyterian, Fairview Baptist, Grace Baptist, Western Avenue Baptist, Diamond Hill Baptist, Broad Street United Methodist, Holy Trinity Lutheran, Mountain Road Baptist, First Baptist, Pisgah Trinity United Methodist and Congregation Emanuel.

In Mooresville, Central United Methodist, Williamson’s Chapel United Methodist, St. Mark’s Lutheran, Prospect Presbyterian, Christ Community and First Presbyterian are all providing sponsorship and/or volunteer support.

Additional support is being provided by the Leon Levine Foundation, Wastequip, Kewaunee Scientific Corporation and the Mooresville Rotary Club. We anticipate even more partners will join us in these efforts as the three home builds progress.

Thrivent Teams Up with Our Towns, Faith Community


Our Towns Habitat is partnering with Thrivent Financial Services and the local faith community to build three new homes before the end of the year. Thrivent is awarding a grant of $75,000 to co-sponsor construction of new homes in Cornelius, Mooresville and Statesville.

As a faith-based financial planning company, Thrivent has a strong focus on service and a long partnership with Habitat. Thrivent is partnering with Habitat affiliates nationwide through the Thrivent Builds program. Thrivent’s grant will be matched with funds pledged by local congregations representing diverse denominations and faiths.

Thrivent members and church members will also volunteer on construction of these three homes, working side-by-side with future homeowners as they build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter.

Construction on the first Thrivent home will begin this May. Construction on the final home is expected to be completed this fall.

“We are so grateful for Thrivent’s support of decent, affordable housing,” said Executive Director Jeff Porter. “The Thrivent Build homes are a wonderful opportunity for us to bring people from different faiths and backgrounds together to work alongside a future homeowner building a better life. These builds are a chance to focus on what unites us more than what divides us.”

Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity started in 2005 with a mission of providing affordable housing to families–a cornerstone of becoming financially secure. It also gives Thrivent members meaningful opportunities to volunteer and make a difference in their local communities. Together, Thrivent and Habitat for Humanity have partnered in communities across the US and across the globe to make a real difference for families and individuals.

“The Thrivent Builds program provides us with more options to serve our area,” said Gary Samuelson of Thrivent Financial. “The support we receive from the local community for projects like this is overwhelming, and we look forward to working together.”

Davidson United Methodist Church begins building 19th Habitat home

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Davidson United Methodist Church is one of Our Towns Habitat for Humanity’s most loyal partners. This year, the church is sponsoring its 19th home with Our Towns. Through financial support and committed volunteer labor, church members have changed the lives of 19 families, as together they build strength, stability and self-reliance through shelter! DUMC volunteers started working on their newest Habitat home this March, on the church’s Day of Caring. About two dozen volunteers came together to frame the walls that will become a home for Jessica, Max and their six children.


Raising the Walls – Mooresville Faith Coalition

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Thanks to Central United Methodist Church, Williamson’s Chapel United Methodist Church, St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, First Baptist Church, and West United Methodist Church as well as the Town of Mooresville who have come together to build this new Habitat home in Burke Crossings in Mooresville.
If you’ve ever felt the urge to come out and support Habitat in some way, now is the time! We need Saturday construction volunteers. You would be on site from 7:45-1:00 (with a snack break at 10). This is a great way to spend a Saturday morning by meeting new people, learning new construction skills, and helping to build a house. With the accompaniment of a parent or guardian, youth ages 12+ can work on landscaping and punch and clean days, and youth ages 14+ can work in a variety of tasks including foundation prep and painting.

All volunteer groups requesting a TEAM BUILDING DAY should contact Cathy Petriano at 704-896-8957 x108 or Youth ages 16+ can work on all sites, but are unable to use power tools or work on roofs. To sign up, go to and register at the Volunteer Up tab. Soon enough you will be wielding a hammer and helping create a new home for a member of our community.