January 2008

Much has happened since our last post. We learned this week that the Tucson police had arrested a person in the utility truck – but not without a chase – and a tree. That explained the flat tires, bent rims and damaged front end. It also explained why some of our tools were recovered. We have been given a new truck that is much newer, bigger and more comfortable for my back than our first one. CHRPA is talking with Southwest Gas about getting another hand-me-down truck donated, but in the meantime they are minus one truck in the midst of their busiest season, i.e. with the most volunteers needing trucks.

We have spent a lot of time – and money :O( – replacing many of my stolen tools and have our truck relatively well equipped again. From time to time I remember yet another tool that I have lost. I had brought a carpenter’s tool belt along, just in case we had a carpentry job in between all our electrical jobs. In the apron was a very old brass plumb bob (some may not know what that is) that belonged to my father. Clearly that was a tool that could never be replaced. When we sorted through all the tools that were recovered I found my carpenter’s apron, and in the pouch was the plumb bob! :O)

In 1987 I was working my first major MDS project in Maine and it seemed like just about everything that could go wrong did. I was getting very discouraged. A veteran MDS leader came up from Pennsylvania to help me and said something that I never forgot. He said “Whenever we are involved in any project and the adversary isn’t out there furiously trying to subvert our efforts, we have to wonder whether Jesus is in it or not.” It’s difficult to find that reassuring when we are in the midst of trials, but nevertheless the past weeks have affirmed for us that this is indeed God’s service.

In our first post I said that the theft of our truck and the loss of my tools felt like the adversary had won a skirmish. Now, a family is taking hot showers for the first time since they’ve lived in their home. Their roof doesn’t leak, their plumbing works, the lights work, they are warm and they have a refrigerator and a kitchen range. All things that most of us take for granted. The mother was so excited about her new range that she wanted to roast their first Thanksgiving turkey. She wanted Eli to explain to her how to do it. All that feels like a huge victory to us. :O)

We have been here just over two weeks now, and I could begin this entry almost as a carbon copy of the previous one. Elinor and I have spent much of our weekend cleaning out our “new” truck and stocking it with tools and supplies. This is actually the third truck for us (sigh), but that’s another story. (we had been using the director’s truck and he was riding his bicycle to work) Today is an extra day off for us, MLK day, and unlike the last Monday I wrote about, this time our truck was still here – the last time I looked. Other than our Sundays, we really haven’t had a day off yet, and the shock and discouragement of the stolen truck still lingers.

This past week has brought good news and bad news. On Wednesday we got news from The Tucson police that our utility truck had been recovered. The bad news was that when Scott (the director of CHRPA) went to reclaim the truck he found it to be beyond repair. All four tires were flat, and even the rims were bent. It appeared that the truck had run into a tree or a pole as well. The good news was, miraculously, most of the supplies and wire was still on the truck, as were many of the tools! We wonder if it wasn’t a joy ride for some young kids, rather than the targeted theft that we first thought. (there were also whiskey bottles found in the truck.) The bad news was, that the thieves seemed to be attracted to my tools. Some of the new tools that belonged to CHRPA were still on the truck, while almost all of my power tools and four tool boxes were gone. Of course CHRPA is out one truck now, too.

We spent much of the week working at the home we wrote about in our first entry. First, the roof leaks were repaired, and Eli replaced many of the ceiling lights that had been filled with rain water. Elinor and I replaced the old, fused electric panel (the melted one) :O( with a new one with a larger capacity and circuit breakers. While I removed the old propane water heater and installed an electric water heater, Elinor chased a bunch of faulty circuits and switches in the house and repaired them. While we were making the electrical repairs, other volunteers were repairing the plumbing, the toilets, sinks and installing a tub surround for the shower. While all that was going on, Scott was advocating for the family with Family Services for Pima County and found that the family was qualified for a new refrigerator and kitchen range. On Wednesday we picked up the appliances and delivered them to the family. We wired a new electric circuit for the range and completed our wiring jobs.

Our Taftsville faith community has been very supportive of our service work both financially and in prayer. We hope that we can keep everyone informed about our work with Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona here in Tucson. That’s quite a mouthful to say, so we all just say “Chirpa” here. Unfortunately as many of you know, our experience here thus far has been disheartening.

Dec. 27, ‘07- Jan. 3, ’08: We made the long trip . . . Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Texas, Texas, New Mexico and finally Arizona. Totaling just over 3,000 miles from New Hampshire. Temperatures remained cool. Low’s in Texas and New Mexico at night were 16 degrees and 18 degrees! We laid over for a day in Texas and a day in New Mexico to try to rest up a bit. The trip was uneventful – which was nice – no problems with the RV on the way.

Jan. 4-5, ’08, Friday & Saturday: We settled in at our site in the church parking lot. The Shalom Mennonite Church is at the front of the lot. The Voluntary Service (VS) House is at the back of the lot and the Community Home Repair office is also near the back of the lot. Our RV site is somewhere in the middle of it all. Ted spent two days transferring his tools that we had brought along, into the truck that we would be using. He also cleaned the truck up, looked through the inventory and filled the truck with some additional CHRPA tools, parts, wire and cable. Then he filled it with gas, put new wiper blades on, etc.

Jan 7, ’08, Mon.: Our first day on the job with Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona (CHRPA). We gathered at the CHRPA office to receive our work orders, then each crew heads out to load up their vehicle with tools and parts for the job they have been assigned. There were around 15 of us including staff, long-term VSers (young people usually in their twenties that volunteer for one or two years) and SOOPers ( short term winter volunteers like us).

When Ted and I went out to get into our truck, it was not there. Ted has been known to play some practical jokes on other volunteers and staff in the past so we immediately assumed that this was pay-back and someone was playing a joke on us. We looked everywhere for the truck, then made the rounds of people trying to find out who was responsible. Everyone denied having any involvement and everyone seemed a little too serious. No joking here. Finally we realized that the truck really was gone . . .and our tools with it. The awful truth began to soak in. The other crews left for their job assignments. We were left standing. The police were called and a report was made. Everyone felt sick and I am sure Ted and I looked sick.

Here is Ted’s description of the events and how we felt:

Some of you who work in the trades understand the real impact of having the tools of your trade stolen. They’re like old friends and buying new ones is never quite the same. Elinor’s brother calls me a
“tool junkie” and Monday I felt so helpless without so much as a screwdriver. Randy told me that George referred to them as “tools of Grace”. That nearly brought tears to my eyes – I’m always going to
think of them that way – including our new ones. Without using those words, I think that’s what Elinor and I have always intended.

Monday night (Jan. 7) I couldn’t sleep, and lay awake counting tools instead of counting sheep. Every other thing, I remember yet another tool that I had in that truck. Everyone here feels terrible about it, knowing that we had brought a huge load of our own tools down so that we weren’t taking tools from the other volunteers. I feel like I’ve had my legs cut off. We finally went out on our first job today (Tuesday) and every time I needed a tool I started for the truck and remembered: “Oh, I don’t have that anymore.” :O(

We learned something new about the theft this morning (Wed., Jan 9). One of the other older volunteers asked me this morning where I went with the truck Sunday afternoon after church. I said I hadn’t used the truck Sunday afternoon. He looked down at the floor and shook his head and said “I watched the guy drive your truck out of the yard. I thought it was you. I’ve been awake all night thinking about it.” So they took it in broad daylight at 2:30 Sunday afternoon right out of the church parking lot while we were right there. Elinor and I were in our RV, not 20 feet from the truck. It’s so frustrating because we hadn’t even been out on a job yet. I had spent two full days servicing and cleaning the truck and loading all our tools, CHRPA’s tools, and something like $800 worth of Romex and cable on the truck. CHRPA had just received a grant to buy tools and had put a bunch of brand new power tools in. They were still in the wrappers – hammer drill, circular saw, sawzall…..on and on. So clearly someone was watching me load the truck and targeted it, because ours was the oldest and dumpiest of the fleet. But the others weren’t loaded with tools and wire. CHRPA has been working here in Tucson for over 20 years, but being a non-profit, doesn’t have a big bank account. They rely on donated trucks from Southwest Gas and Tucson Electric Power. The truck we used was an ’88, and not in great shape, but now we are using the boss’s truck and he’s been riding a bicycle to work.

Our first job has put things into perspective for us. The young couple (20s) with a daughter in kindergarten have no heat and no hot water. They can’t afford the deposit and other expenses of having a propane tank put in. They don’t have a kitchen range, and heat water on a hot plate for bathing and washing dishes. The water line to one toilet is broken, so they flush with a pail of water. In the other bathroom the toilet isn’t attached to the floor, the float valve was broken, and they had a string coming out through the hole in the tank where the handle used to be – tied to the flapper – to flush. The mobile home is an old one (1970) with all aluminum wire, and they had used an electric space heater to heat the bedroom and it overloaded the circuit, but rather than blow the fuse it heated the panel until the screws were red hot and the insulation on the Romex melted. (no, there wasn’t a penny behind the fuse) Their roof leaked so badly in the past that the ceilings are sagging and they had to take the glass globes off of the ceiling lights because they were filling with water when it rained. They repaired it as well as they could although it still leaks at one or two places. AND ALL WE LOST WAS A FEW TOOLS.

We are putting in a new service for them and ran the conduit and feeds today (Wed., Jan. 9) . Tomorrow Elinor and I will replace the service panel and will also install a small electric hot water heater. One of the younger volunteers is repairing the toilet and putting in a new bathroom sink
(theirs was broken) and repaired the roof today.

We can all use your prayers. It sometimes feels like we came to serve the community and the community stole our tools. Frankly it’s sometimes hard to make the distinction between those we are here to help and those who stole from us. But our present job makes our calling clear. :O)

Our clients have been eager to help out in any way they can. Robert dug the trench for the conduit and built a platform for the water heater. He wondered out loud how much all this work would have cost. I laughed , shook my head and said, “Too much!” His wife reminded him that they had called an electrician and were told that it would cost $170 per hour plus travel. Impossible with an annual income below $8,000. Robert shook his head and said simply, “You are heroes.”

We’ve bought some new tools so that we could begin some work, and so far just replacing hand tools and some wire we’ve spent over $1600. The director of the CHRPA program feels that they should absorb the cost of our tools, but they don’t have a lot of money either. We estimated that CHRPA lost about $1300 worth of tools and $800 worth of wire and perhaps another $800 worth of parts. Initially we estimated our own tools at $4,000 but now that we have been looking at prices in the stores we realize that is probably on the low side.

Before we went to work on Thursday morning Scott told us that Sonya (CHRPA Administrative Assistant) took a phone call. On the other end was the voice of a little girl. Her first question was, “Do you help families?” Sonya replied, “Yes, what do you need?” The girl answered, “It’s cold at our house.” (It had been 35 degrees the night before.) Sonya asked if her mother or father was there and she heard the girl knock on a door and call her mother saying, “Mommy, I called one of those numbers and the lady wants to talk to you.” The mother is a widow with three children. Another SOOPer and a VSer were sent to repair their furnace on Thursday.