“You might see people patching a roof over here, cleaning up the yard over there, fixing the locks two houses down,” says Sue Byrd. “It’s amazing to see.”
Byrd and her colleague, Ray Andrade, oversee the Nehemiah Project, a division of Fayetteville Urban Ministry that provides emergency home repairs to low-income, mostly elderly residents. It was Nehemiah’s ongoing project list that spawned the beginnings of Operation Inasmuch in the 90s.
Now, what started as a handful of tasks for members of Snyder Memorial Baptist Church has grown to include dozens of churches, all giving their time and skill to help those who need it most.
“It’s every Christian denomination you can think of, working side by side,” says Byrd. “Baptists, Presbyterians, Pentecostals … they all have the same mission.”
That mission, and its name, comes from words spoken by Jesus Christ in the New Testament:
“...Truly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:40
With these words in mind, volunteers see one another’s faith in action.
“We see it as a mandate from Jesus Christ to do His work,” says Byrd. “To be His hands and feet and do what He would do.”
As participation in Operation Inasmuch grew in its first few years, Byrd and others had an idea that changed everything. Instead of sending crews to homes scattered all over town, each year they would focus their efforts on a particular neighborhood. This approach also gives Byrd and Andrade a chance to be more proactive in their work. Instead of waiting for requests to come in, they go door-to-door and ask homeowners what projects they may like done for free.
“Many times, they are skeptical at first,” says Byrd. “You can tell sometimes that they’ve lost hope because they just can’t believe that someone would want to help them for free.”
But when Byrd and Andrade return with hundreds of volunteers in tow, skeptical caution turns to sheer gratitude.
“They are just overwhelmed,” she says. “They come alive and really speak from their souls about what it’s done for them.”
Byrd says she is especially pleased to be helping the older members of the community.
“They have worked hard all their lives and made Fayetteville a better place,” she says. “They deserve any help we can give them, and we learn so much from them in return.”
As church leaders have moved on to new churches in other states, they have taken the movement with them. Because of that (and a book on the subject by Snyder’s former pastor, the Rev. David Crocker), Operation Inasmuch projects are now popping up across the southeast and beyond. It is now headquartered in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Byrd is happy to know that more communities are seeing the effects of Operation Inasmuch, but she hopes that it will continue its success here in Fayetteville. There’s never a shortage of volunteers, of course, but Byrd says a local office and a full-time staff would help enormously with the day-to-day tasks leading up to the big event each March.
In the meantime, she and Andrade do enjoy the perks of their involvement with Operation Inasmuch.
“We get to sit at their tables and get to know them,” she says. “And if we see them around town, they come right up to hug us and say thanks.” n
Lia V. Tremblay is a freelance writer with ties to Fayetteville, NC.