Sharrie Ybarguen and her children were in need of a place to call home. Grace Presbyterian Church in Corpus Christi, Texas, was seeking a family to give a home. God provided all the necessary resources and brought them together.
Through the church’s “Welcome Home” program, Ybarguen and her two children – Christian, 8, and Geneva, 6 – now have a place to call home, completely furnished, renovated and stocked with food.
“This family and project literally have been embraced by grace and so have we,” said Catherine Albert, director of Outreach Ministries for Grace Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation of approximately 180 members located along the coast of south Texas.
The grace and love shown by people she didn’t even know certainly is not lost on Ybarguen.
“They’re definitely working for the Lord,” Ybarguen said of Albert and those church members who gave her new home a complete transformation. “I didn’t know there were people like this in the world. They are thoughtful, caring people who want to help their community and provided assistance to a single mom in need. They gave me hope when I thought there was none to be found.”
Helping find a home
Homelessness is an issue in the Corpus Christi area, and Albert was hopeful that Grace could partner with other non-profit organizations to begin putting a dent in the problem. She found the opportunity through the local Salvation Army, an organization she serves as a member of its board of directors.
Albert was introduced to Ybarguen, who had been part of the Salvation Army’s Bridge program that provides temporary housing in shelters for homeless people and training for participants seeking assistance with jobs, budgeting and other issues.
Ybarguen, who is disabled and cannot work, had been involved in an abusive relationship when she lived in San Antonio for more than eight years that nearly destroyed her and the children, and it was her reliance on God that delivered her from that situation to a point where she could begin anew.
“Even after we left him that man kept stalking us, trying to control us” Ybarguen said. “We decided to leave everything behind and move to get away from him and start over.”
But she and her children had no place to go once they made their way to Corpus Christi. They were part of the Bridge program for about three months.
Once the Bridge program is completed, the Salvation Army allows participants to find a new home, pays the deposit for it and gives them an opportunity to pick out furniture from the organization’s Thrift Store.
It took Ybarguen a month to find a townhome she could afford to rent for her family. The landlord actually lowered the rent on the home to help her make the monthly payments, and the Salvation Army provided her with a few furniture items. It was up to her to find a way to have the furniture moved into the townhome and get established in the new residence.
That’s where God’s grace made its presence known through Grace Presbyterian Church (GPC).
Albert met with Ybarguen and asked if the church could assist with moving the furniture she selected to the new townhome she was seeking to move into with her children in a day’s time.
“She just looked at me, crying, and said, ‘God answered,’” recalled Albert, adding that Ybarguen told her she had asked God to help her figure out how she would manage to get the furniture moved.
Little did Ybarguen know that so much more was in store for her and the children, through the grace of God.
Instead of simply moving furniture, plans already were in the works to renovate the townhome, from landscaping outside to hanging new doors, putting on fresh coats of paint and upgrading light fixtures throughout the home, even providing some additional pieces of furniture. It was sort of an “Extreme Home Makeover – Grace Presbyterian Church style.”
“I just thought they would set up the few pieces of furniture we had, but it was way more than that,” Ybarguen said. “They stocked the whole house. It was a completely ready-made home to move into. It was amazing what they did, way more than I ever expected or thought they were going to do.”
There was plenty of assistance from church and community members as well as businesses. One person who saw the story on a local news station gave Albert a check for $200. People shopping for the family at a local department store shared the story with employees, and a discount already in place was doubled.
A sod company provided sod for the yard, after a landscaper eliminated weeds and debris in preparation. A carpet cleaner made sure the floor covering was clean when the family of three arrived. It all was done at no cost.
That work was done to complement the efforts of church members, who spent time preparing the townhome for Ybarguen and her children, who had spent a few 10-hour days cleaning the new residence. But Ybarguen’s efforts barely made a dent in the needs for the home. Grace members took care of the rest, hanging mirrors, getting the furniture in place and sprucing up the home.
New bedding, kitchen and bath accessories were purchased, outfits were bought for the children and the pantry was stocked with food. More than $3,000 was raised in a week’s time to assist the church in meeting the family’s needs.
“We didn’t know what we would have to do or what it would cost, but God provided for all the needs,” said Albert, who led a similar effort at another church with a Christmas home makeover. “To do all that in a week … there’s no way that’s not God, no way.”
She continued, “It was a big task. But it was something we really wanted to do. I’ve found that most people want to do this kind of thing, and it really transforms people’s lives. And not just the person who benefits but the church as well.”
Ybarguen last saw her home on Wednesday, April 23. As she took care of final paperwork and made preparations to leave the Salvation Army’s shelter, members of GPC were busy getting it ready for a housewarming party to say “Welcome Home.”
On Saturday, April 26, she was treated to a spa day with a little rest and relaxation. The day of the move, Ybarguen and her children were taken to the local aquarium and lunch as final preparations were made at their new home.
The family had no idea what was going on at their new home, until Sunday, April 27, that is. On that day, Ybarguen and her children witnessed God’s extraordinary grace and love through the efforts of people they had never met.
When they arrived on Sunday, the Ybarguens were met by dozens of people who volunteered their time to make the life of a single mother and her family a little brighter. Fresh paint was on the walls of a clean home, including a sky image depicting a fresh start with the word “HOPE” on a living room wall. A home-cooked meal was on the table for the family to enjoy, and numerous goodie bags with housewarming surprises were there for them.
“It was a complete shock,” Ybarguen said of her reaction to seeing the home after GPC volunteers finished with it. “I was completely amazed and had no idea what they were doing. The place was a mess when I first rented it, and they transformed it. It is beautiful. It went above and beyond all I ever imagined. It was like every Christmas I ever had combined into one.”
For Albert and the volunteers from Grace Presbyterian Church it was merely a matter of answering God’s call.
“To me this says that we are followers of Christ, and this is what He asks us to do,” Albert said. “How did you relieve the suffering of your brothers and sisters in need? That’s what we are asked. We do that by doing the God-sized assignments He calls us to do and taking on a level of suffering we know we can’t do ourselves but can through Him. In this particular case, there’s no other way it can be done without God. People will look at this and say, ‘That’s God at work.’”
Strong showing of support
Albert said it was refreshing to see so many people from GPC come together to support the initial effort of the Welcome Home program, which will be a part of the church’s outreach ministry in the future, perhaps as many as three times a year.
“People committed – financially and with their time and talents – to a vision of being a transforming power in the community,” she said. “Many people may not believe the church is relevant, but this proves otherwise, for those in the church and those watching.”
Ybarguen is a believer.
“I really thought my situation was hopeless, but this shows there is hope for everyone,” she said. “Nothing is ever hopeless. This proves to me that God works through people to restore that hope.”
Albert is hopeful that Grace’s effort to embrace people in their time of need will serve as motivation for others to follow suit in similar ways, and she even expressed a willingness to share GPC’s efforts and the steps it took to assist the Ybarguen family. Those interested can check out the church’s Facebook page or send an email to Albert at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Once our people understood our assignment from God, they took it to heart,” Albert said. “We’d like other congregations to know they can assist in this way. There are so many opportunities to do things like this. Sometimes churches are hesitant or afraid to do something like this, but we’re willing to share our experiences.”
It’s those kinds of experiences that allow God’s people to be embraced by grace.