HELPING OUT IN EAST ST. LOUIS
The mid-morning summer sun had already seared the battered pavement when Lorraine Evans walked down the middle of 40th Street and asked about the men doing repair work at a nearby house. “I just want to say ‘thanks,’ show my appreciation,” Evans said on learning that the men were with Laborers For Christ - the Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) ministry working for Unity Lutheran Church and Lutheran Housing Support.
Evans, who grew up here and was in the neighborhood visiting her daughter, flashed a smile when she recognized the name of the church a few blocks over. “What a great idea!” she said.
When Ken Wilbur told his pastor in Nokomis, Ill., he would be working several weeks in East St. Louis, the pastor responded with a half-laugh and a “We may never see you again!”
But the reputation of a city known all too well for violence and crime didn’t faze Wilbur and fellow Laborers who have been replacing windows, installing doors, painting and caulking here since early May. “We’re doing it for God. You don’t have to be inside a church to work for God,” said Wilbur.
A grant from the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League enables congregations and community partners to assist low-income, disabled, or elderly homeowners.
When Laborers arrived at the first house in East St. Louis, the homeowner began to cry. “She was so happy to see us,” Wilbur said of the woman who is raising her young grandson, a student at Unity Lutheran School.
As they work, Laborers get to know the homeowners - including this grandmother who volunteers at the Unity school lunch program and is a waitress who shares her home with four children (in their teens and up) and her uncle, a Vietnam veteran with disabilities.
It’s not yet noon, but Bob Bohnhoff is sweating through the words printed on his Laborers For Christ T-shirt: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Col. 3:23). A retired real-estate appraiser from Dieterich, Ill., he joined Laborers For Christ in 2011 as a way “to do something constructive and beneficial.”
Each day starts with prayer and devotions for these men, who range in age from 56 to 82. As they work, they often get questions from neighbors and passersby about what they’re doing. And if someone asks why, they have no trouble answering.
“This is our way to serve the Lord,” said Ron Horstmann, who treks here five days a week from Fenton, Mo. “He knows our influence on those we serve.”
Bob Bohnhoff, left, and Joe Feigl install a new door at a home in East St. Louis, Il