From condemned to cozy: Mission team goes 'above and beyond' in restoring disabled Hawkins vet's home

Jeff Bobo • Jul 22, 2017 at 12:00 PM


ROGERSVILLE — Six months ago, a building inspector condemned the home of elderly disabled veteran George Yonas, who refused to leave because he “didn’t have no place to go.”

Thanks to a church mission group that renovated George’s condemned Surgoinsville house this past week, now there’s no place he would rather be.

A mission team from the Summertown Baptist Church (SBC) near Nashville arrived at George’s home Monday morning as part of the Rogersville-based Of One Accord ministry’s Operation Good Neighbor (OGN) program.

George stayed at a friend’s fishing cabin over the next four days while the SBC volunteers worked almost nonstop.

Upon returning home Thursday night, 76-year-old George discovered that his condemned home was completely transformed.

“That ought to do me the next 100 years,” George said after seeing his new front exterior for the first time. “It’s pretty. I love it.”

When he walked into his new kitchen for the first time, George exclaimed, “Boy that looks good. I won’t know what to do now. My goodness, that looks good. All I got to do is put my deer heads back up.”

His trophies had been stored in a back room while the renovation took place.

Every summer the OGN brings church mission groups from across the Southeast to Hawkins County to perform badly needed home repairs and renovations for the disabled, elderly and disadvantaged.

And every summer, at least one mission group arrives to find a home in far worse condition than it anticipated.

This year that group was the SBC, and upon completing its four day mission Thursday night, it was apparent to everyone that the volunteers had gone far above and beyond the call of duty.

The original plan was for the SBC to repair water damage in the ceilings and floors and replace windows and doors.

On Monday morning when the SBC began assessing the project, however, volunteers found extensive water, termite and carpenter ant damage throughout the front floor joists, up the front wall and into ceiling rafters.

They tore out the entire front bedroom wall, replaced all the rotten joists and rafters and built a new wall.

They also took up the concrete front porch, which had been pitched inward toward the house and was sending rainwater into the basement.

That water had caused the floor joists to rot and attracted termites, which were discovered alive and well by the mission team and promptly exterminated.

The team poured a new concrete porch pitched away from the house and then installed vinyl siding on the front of the residence.

Last year, George received a new metal roof. Prior to that, however, leaking caused the ceiling to collapse on him and his dog Bear while they were in bed asleep, leaving a 4-by-8 foot hole in the ceiling above his bed as well as other water damage to the ceiling throughout the house.

Mission team members hung Sheetrock on the ceiling in his bedroom and living room and completely gutted and refinished his kitchen.

SBC Pastor Howard Kitter makes cabinets as a hobby, and he outfitted George’s kitchen with brand new handmade cabinets; a new kitchen sink; and new insulation, wiring and outlets.

Volunteers also collected enough donations Wednesday night to buy George a new refrigerator, stove, microwave and ceiling fan, and they stocked his new cabinets and fridge with groceries.

Kitter said his church was called by the Lord earlier this year to do mission work in Appalachia, and through mutual acquaintances he was put in contact with OGN Director Mickey Wilcox.

“Mickey told me he’d been praying about somebody stepping up to begin working on George’s house,” Kitter said. “We feel like the Lord led us directly to this house that way, so that’s what we decided to do. When I mentioned it to the church, it was 100 percent. They wanted to do this.”

SBC brought 39 people to Hawkins County this past week, 11 of whom worked on George’s house.

The others did a variety of mission work such as conducting a youth soccer camp at Surgoinsville’s Riverfront Park, performing food and hygiene product distributions, volunteering in nursing homes and working at the Shepherd Center in Rogersville.

Overall, the church raised $25,000 during the past four months for last week’s mission trip to Hawkins County.

Why did they do it? Kitter said the answer is simple.

“Anytime you walk in obedience with the master, it’s a great feeling,” Kitter said. “That’s what it’s about. That’s all we want to do. We just want to do what the Lord called us to do.”

He added, “We’re here to be a witness for Jesus, and if we have an opportunity to share, we share.”

Kitter’s original goal earlier this year was to raise $5,000 to work on George’s house, so he asked the church to pray about that. The plan was to take up a love offering, but about a week after he set that goal, someone wrote a $10,000 check to cover the entire cost of materials for George’s repairs.

Of that donation, $4,000 was set aside to help the next mission group fix George’s foundation. The roots from large trees in the backyard had bowed his block foundation and put it at serious risk of collapsing.

That was the main reason the house was condemned originally.

The house is currently resting on temporary supports until the foundation can be repaired. Wilcox said wet weather has delayed the work, but a second mission team is on standby and will start as soon as it’s dry enough — possibly within a week or two.

A third mission team is scheduled to come in later this summer and do some finish work on the interior of George’s house.

But no one expected the SBC to complete as much as it did last week. Not even the volunteers themselves.

“The further we got into it, the more we discovered had to be done,” Kitter said. “All of these people are some of the best. They can do anything you ask them to do. We may not do as a professional would do it, but we’ll give it everything we’ve got.”

Church members said their mission work gives them an opportunity to give back a little for the blessings God has bestowed on them.

“God always takes care of us,” said mission team member Buddy Yarborough. “We can never repay him for what he gave us: dying for us. This is just about trying to give back to somebody. He gave a whole lot for us, and we’re just trying to give back a little bit.”

Mission team member Scottie Gray said it was “breathtaking” when they arrived at George’s  house and realized the amount of work that was needed.

“I didn’t really know what to expect, but when I saw it, I knew it was a place we could really pitch in a helping hand,” Gray said. “I’ve always been involved in missions in various, different ways, and this is another way me and my wife could help. When we heard about this, we knew that God was leading us here. We can never repay what Christ has done for us, but this is a way that we can show God’s love — just being able to help.”

OGN had been working for two years to find a mission team to repair George’s home. Wilcox said neither he nor George realized the extent of work that was needed until this past week.

“That first day when they peeled that (front exterior) off and they called me to come look at it, I was a little taken aback,” Wilcox said. “But we’re here to serve and improve the quality of life for people who can’t afford it. We have a lot of seniors in our community who can’t afford this work, and by the time they realize these repairs have to be done, they’re too old to do anything, or their finances are in a place where they can’t do anything. Then what do you do? We don’t have safety nets like a lot of major metropolitan areas might have, but we have the Kingdom of God. We have missionaries who are willing to come from all over and do this kind of work.”

As he checked out his renovated bedroom, George was thrilled with his new windows. He likes to lie in bed with Bear and look outside.

“Buddy, I sure do appreciate it,” he told the mission team.

When asked what he expected to find when he came back home, George replied, “Not this much. I didn’t even think about it being like this. It’s pretty. I love it. I sure am proud of it. I’ll take care of it.”

He joked, “I may even hire me a maid.”