"God's work at (Hope House) is as powerful as we have ever witnessed," said Robert Hess in a letter to the congregation. Hess and his family were the first to stay at Hope House after his daughter was in a car accident.
"What a wonderful, peaceful home it turned out to be," Hess writes. "The first night at the Hope House, with Chelsea very critical, the church cat came up to the screen porch and peered in. We let him in and he allowed us to pet him. What a comfort! The next morning while sitting in the rocking chairs, a red cardinal shared glances with us for several minutes. There was no doubt in our minds that these were signs from God to comfort us.
"In the following days came all the wonderful food and cards. The Hope House experience soon became overwhelming with all the love and compassion from everyone. To come back to this quiet, peaceful home full of love is truly a gift of God."
Hess' letter is typical of the many that MPPC, a member of Charleston Atlantic Presbytery, has received from visiting families. Since its opening in February, 16 families have stayed at the Hope House.
The letters are quite a tribute to a home that for many years sat uninhabited in the Old Village neighborhood of Mount Pleasant. They also serve as a testament to the vision and commitment of MPPC.
The folks at MPPC will tell you that they have received as much from running the Hope House as any family that has visited. They are also quick to point out that they merely provide the sweat while God provides the inspiration.
From a parking lot to a haven
MPPC acquired the building that is now the Hope House several years ago when the church needed additional parking. Along with the land that was later transformed into a parking area came the turn-of-the century home.
"We picked up 10 to 12 parking spaces, but (were) left with a house we did not know what to do with," said Elizabeth Grantham, a member of the MPPC Hope House Committee.
"Two or three years ago, we decided we wanted to be more of a missional church," she said. "We started thinking about what would be the best purpose for the house and how it would best serve the church and reach out to the community."
The church formed a Mission Impact Team, and as it began exploring uses for the house, it soon became clear that it could be transformed into a hospitality house for families with a loved one in the ICU at a local hospital and no affordable place to stay.
"The Charleston area has such a large medical community, and some accommodations are available to families," said Grantham. "There is the McDonald's House for the families of children who are patients. There is the Hope Lodge for the families of cancer patients. What we found was that there was no place for ICU patients and their families."
Uncertainties and "God winks"
The excitement the ministry team had about renovating the old house into a haven for visiting families was quickly replaced by uncertainty and apprehension. While the team members were certain that God was leading them in the right direction, they felt overwhelmed and weren’t sure where to start.
The Hope House project actually began when the church scraped together $400 from its budget. That money quickly evaporated as small tasks were completed on updating the house.
Despite dwindling funds, work ventured on. Every time workers needed more money or a few extra hands, the necessary resources were found.
"It was amazing seeing how the Lord was working the make the Hope House a reality," Grantham said. "We saw it in so many ways that we started calling them ‘God winks.' It was God telling us that we were doing the right thing."
Among the "God winks": having exactly enough material to make bed skirts, finishing the paint job with the very last drop in the can and matching gived material for chair covers perfectly with the curtains.
As the house began to take shape, a member of the team mentioned the National Association of Hospital Hospitality Houses. The team later learned that NAHHH was holding its upcoming annual conference in Minnesota. Grantham and team member Peggy Lee decided to attend, but the team had to find money for travel expenses.
Another "God wink" soon appeared when another member discovered he had just enough frequent flyer miles to get Grantham and Lee to Minnesota for the conference.
"It was so wonderful," said Grantham of the conference. "So many people were willing to share. We brought back an enormous amount of information. We had been a bit discouraged, not knowing where to begin, but the trip brought inspiration and excitement and a feeling that this was something we could really accomplish. It gave us a sense of direction."
The Lord's perfect timing
After the conference, the mission team joined NAHHH and prepared the house for its first visitors. But last October, the team decided that the house wasn't as far along as they had hoped. After prayer, they agreed to slow the renovations and let God lead the process.
God soon did exactly that — the day after the decision, the team was contacted by the Hess family. Knowing the family was in crisis and was in need of a place to stay, they agreed to open the house to the Hesses.
Following the visit, it became clear that the Hope House had found its purpose.
"For me, the Hope House has been a glimpse of the gospel where God's spirit has moved a group of people to reach out in love to strangers in need," said the Rev. John Hage, MPPC's associate pastor. "The ministry team has opened their hearts to God's call and they have responded as that call has emerged."
The church dedicated the house in January and opened it in February. Since then, the Hope House has hosted 16 families. For nine of its first 15 nights, the house's bedrooms were full, and at one point, eight people lived there together.
"It was without question very chaotic with so many people in the house at once, but at the same time it was amazing to see how well these families got along in the face of a difficult situation," Grantham said. "There were a couple of instances where family members sat around the kitchen table and talked until well after midnight. The fellowship with someone going through the same thing brought some relief and peace to these folks in their time of need. We simply sat back and watched God do His work."
A home away from home
The church understands that visiting families have more pressing responsibilities, so guests are not required to do much cleaning during their stay. They are, however, asked to maintain their bedrooms and do a few small chores if time permits.
The upkeep of the house falls mainly on the shoulders of the Hope House Care Ministry, which has about 40 members. The ministry is composed of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds and is separated into three teams.
The care team consists of retired Stephen Ministers, who are available for confidential listening and spiritual guidance. The food team makes sure the house is stocked with single-serving meals. A check-in/check-out team assist families with getting adjusted in the house upon their arrival and helping pack when it's time to leave.
The Hope House asks for a $5 per night donation, but it is not required.
Families are referred to the Hope House through social workers and chaplains at local hospitals.
Ministry team member and primary decorator Beth Moore said creating the Hope House has been all about "the power of caring."
"I have never experienced the same feeling of attachment to a project before," she said. "I've never felt as guided by Christ as I have working on this house. The spirit of Christ has surrounded our ministry team and led us down this incredible path. It has changed all of us and confirmed the need to stay focused on MPPC's calling to be a missional church. Our ministry team has become such an example of brothers and sisters in Christ. God has truly shed His grace, care, blessings and spirit on us."
MPPC plans to create a circular prayer garden that will connect the Hope House with the church. It will offer guests a quiet and serene place to pray and commune with God.
"Hope House has been and continues to be a passion, a vision, a mission and so inspirational to both us and to the families in crisis who stay there," Grantham said. "Where there is Hope, there is God."
Editor's note: This is the latest in a series of stories about congregations engaged in significant outreach and evangelism ministries, reflecting the General Assembly’s commitment to "Grow Christ’s Church Deep and Wide." ― Jerry L. Van Marter