SURGOINSVILLE — Life in a wheelchair was already hard enough for 78-year-old retired veteran Elmer Ritchie, whose living room and kitchen floors were collapsing due to water damage and rot.
Then his 81-year-old wife, Elzie Jane, stepped into one of those holes and fell, breaking her hip.
It's a terrible situation, but one that seems tailor-made for the Calvary Baptist Church (CBC) from Columbia, Mississippi, which has specialized in helping Hawkins County’s elderly and disabled for more than a decade.
When Pastor Millard Moak visited the Ritchie residence near Surgoinsville in February, the project checked every box for the type of mission he was looking for.
‘Helping people in the name of Jesus’
"He's a disabled veteran, and he and his wife are both in wheelchairs," Moak told the Times News on Tuesday. "They just couldn't do for themselves. She was actually in the hospital (in February) because she fell through and broke her hip. I just got to meet Mr. Elmer, and he said anything we could do he would appreciate. There's more that needs to be done, but we can only do so much."
Moak added, "We just love helping people in the name of Jesus, to let them know that God hasn't forgotten them, and we don't forget them either, even though we don't know who they are until we get here and meet them."
CBC arrived in Hawkins County last Thursday and will be working on the Ritchie house all week.
As of Tuesday, they had torn out the old, rotten particle board flooring and carpet from the living room and kitchen, installed new plywood flooring, and were in the process of building new kitchen cabinets and painting walls.
Operation Good Neighbor
The CBC brought 34 people to Hawkins County, including 15 youths –– seven of whom were on the construction project.
Some of those teenage boys on the construction site were involved in an "earth moving" project outside the Ritchies’ back door on Tuesday in preparation for construction of a new wheelchair ramp.
There's already a ramp to the front door, but the new rear ramp that will be constructed by the CBC will give them access to their carport.
‘There's nobody there to help them’
Like many mission teams that come to Hawkins County through the Rogersville-based Of One Accord ministry's Operation Good Neighbor, CBC saw an additional need and went above and beyond the original scope of the project.
The living room furniture was in very bad condition, so the mission team threw that out and will replace it with two "new" used recliners and a couch.
But, the most important thing they needed to address was the floor. Moak said his first impression of the the residence was, "In my opinion — condemnable."
"The floors were falling, had already fallen in one time, and there's nobody there to help them fix it," Moak said. "You couldn't stand on it without falling through. We tore out cabinets where water leaks had rotted, we rebuilt new cabinets and put it down 30 inches so they can reach it from their wheelchairs."
‘Make their lives a little better’
On Tuesday, CBC mission team member Tim Wascomb was helping build custom kitchen shelves and a sink at 30 inches above the floor so that the Ritchies can wash their hands from their wheelchairs.
"This is not much different from what we see every time we come up here," Wascomb said. "Elderly people who are handicapped and need help, and we do what we can do to make their lives a little better. It's wonderful to help people. The biggest thing is, as Christians, if we can't meet their personal needs first then how can we meet their spiritual needs. So we meet that (physical) need and we open the door for spiritual needs. That's what we're up here for. Showing the work God's given us, and giving some back."
CBC brings a mission team to Hawkins County every other year, and this is the church's seventh visit. It takes two years for them to raise enough money for each trip. This year's projects cost about $10,000.
They expect to be finished Thursday evening and hope to be there when Mr. and Mrs. Ritchie return home to see the finished project.
The Ritchies are staying at a motel in Rogersville until the project is completed.
Other members of the CBC mission team were conducting a Vacation Bible School in Allandale all this week, as well as a women's Bible study.