It started as a note on my desk a week before last Christmas, “Becky. Ramp. Ask Dan.”
I walked through the office to our Connect Director, Dan, to follow up. Becky had approached him in the Summit Lobby to ask if the church knew of a trustworthy company that could help build an accessible ramp for her elderly parents. A few minutes later, I sent two emails. One to let Becky know I was looking into it and to hear more about her parents. The other to a few Summit partners that worked in the construction and engineering fields, as they likely had connections to help Becky’s parents out.
Becky replied back and told me her father, Bill, had been a chaplain locally for Good News Jail and Prison Ministry for over 40 years, retiring in 2015 at the age of 90. Good News is the organization that helped us launch—and still helps—our 33rd Street Campus in the Orange County Jail. This hard-working man of God was trying to find time to build a ramp himself, even as health and mobility issues made it difficult. Becky wanted to take this burden off her father’s shoulders.
Over the next few weeks, emails flew back and forth through cyberspace. Each of the people I had on that second email asked if they could help build the ramp. Some of them knew of Chaplain Austin. All of them together had the right skillset to do the job properly and wanted to make this happen.
Jeff, one of the Summit partners I emailed, is a professional engineer who has volunteered in many roles at Summit, from leading at niceSERVE and jobSERVE to serving on Summit’s Operations Team. He is one of my go-to guys when I’m trying to figure out more complicated construction projects for niceSERVE or a local nonprofit. He volunteered to take point, scope out the work, and coordinate this group of Summit guys. They were joyfully rallying to give back to a family that had been serving those in jail for longer than many on this crew had been alive; Chaplain Austin had decided long ago to be all-in for reaching those who were often forgotten and far from God.
I connected Becky to Jeff’s team and realized that I was witnessing something God had been orchestrating for a while as it came together beautifully through the community here at Summit. A little over a month after a note landed on my desk, a group of men met early in the morning at the home of a sweet elderly couple to build a ramp because their daughter reached out to her church community for a recommendation.
This story, though, was never meant to be just about building a ramp. A month and a half after the ramp was completed, Chaplain Austin passed away. Those of us who got to know this amazing man, his wife, and his family through this experience are heartbroken and grieving his loss.
We were made for relationships and community. We were also made with unique gifts and talents that shine brightest when shared for the sake of community. Chaplain Austin was a man who lived his life on mission for the sake of others. A life well-lived, such as his, sets one apart and changes the world for the better. It draws people close. I cannot begin to fathom the way God crafts the story of the world, but I can see what a gift those of us who were welcomed into Chaplain Austin’s life were given, even for the small glimpse we had. The ramp, that is used daily and allows his lovely wife to remain in their home, was just where our lives happened to intersect.
Because service reflects the character of God, we aim to be a church that cares deeply about service. Our church-wide service week, niceSERVE, is May 15th-20th. Join us as we serve our community together!
Liz Cronlund is the Community Development Coordinator for Summit Church. If you would like more information about ways you can be a part of serving our city, email her at email@example.com.