Mission Possible: Dying man’s wish comes true

Jimmy Parton watches as members of Gastonia, NC, churches
make repairs to his home.

By Susan Passi-Klaus

The Western North Carolina Conference and United Methodist Communications’ Rethink Church sponsored a conference-wide Impact Day on October 1st.  Members from four hundred-twenty one churches came together to accomplish 183 projects serving approximately 230,000 people.

In the Gastonia district, polio victim Jimmy Parton was used to people offering to help him. Sometimes those good-intentioned people would follow through, but more often than not, they wouldn’t. That is until Pastor Clyde Penry paid Jimmy a visit.

The Codes Enforcement Department of Gaston County in Western North Carolina had called Penry to see if the pastor could round up a team of handy do-gooders willing to help bring Parton’s dilapidated house up to codes. It’s not the first time Penry’s congregation at Myers Memorial United Methodist had come to the aid of those in the community. Several times a month they rev up their mobile box tool truck and send their Mission Possible team out to tackle projects that include everything from roofing to building wheelchair ramps.

“Mission Possible has changed the way our church looks at reaching out to others,” Penry said. “It involves everybody in the congregation, whether they provide money or they do the work itself. I use a quote from St. Francis that explains this ministry best. It says, ‘Preach the Gospel always and when necessary use words.’”

Now Jimmy Parton didn’t ask for much. Until he got sick, he was the head of the household who handled everything.  He just wanted the broken window in his bedroom fixed. But there was much more that needed to be done. Not one, but 12 windows needed to be replaced. The kitchen needed to be rewired. Lights throughout the house needed to be replaced. The front door, held together with duct tape, and an interior door needed replacing. The outside of the house needed repainting and the yard was in dire need of attention. Perhaps the greatest challenge was the need to raise the floor under Parton’s hospital bed up 18 inches—while he was still in the bed.

Parton had lived with the need-word for a long time—most of his life, in fact. Since the age of three he had battled the polio and for the last 10 years, the 67 year-old had not been able to walk at all. As if that was not enough of a cross to bear, he had also been recently diagnosed with acute leukemia and colon cancer. Last fall, doctors told him he didn’t have long to live and he went home to his ramshackle old house to die.

Jimmy lived on Maple Street in Gastonia for most of his life. This was home and he shared it with his blind daughter, Devon Park and his niece Kim Price, who acted as their caregiver despite her own health issues. Jimmy wanted to provide a better place for his family after his death.

“Before this happened to him, he was a very strong-willed person,” Kim Price said. “He knew what was going on. He was very smart, like an old soul. He never judged anybody. You cannot imagine the number of people he let live here in his home even though they did many things that hurt him. They took money from him. They took advantage of him. But he would still let them stay here because he had a big heart. I think that’s the quality Rev. Penry saw in him and why he wanted to help Jimmy.”

In light of Parton’s failing health Penry was reluctant to begin such a major project.

“I was concerned that we would only make his situation worse,” Penry said. “But it ended up bringing him peace knowing that the living conditions for his daughter and niece were being improved. In fact, even though he was on heavy medication, he stayed awake, alert and watched us work the whole time we were there.”

No one was more surprised than the pastor when the work was finished in just a day.

“It was amazing,” Penry said. “There were college kids, teenagers, older people. People from other churches would show up. Some would leave. Others would come. Even after the initial work was done and I thought we were finished, people stepped forward and said, ‘What more can we do for them?’

And more was done. A new stove and microwave were purchased, as was a ceiling fan and dryer. 

“If you had seen the kitchen floor, how nasty it was and I walked in there and saw this elderly lady down on her knees scrubbing the floor,” Penry said. “I thought, ‘Jesus is one happy person!’

“I know my church and their response to mission,” Penry said. “But I was so impressed to see that as a connectional church we had 12 or more churches represented. It made me proud to be a United Methodist. Not many denominations can pull together the way that we did.”

And Jimmy Parton watched it all from his bed beside the new window in his room. 

“It was a miracle,” said his niece, Kim. “He was looking around. He stayed awake the whole time. He drank a whole quart of milk and up until that time we couldn’t even get him to sip water.  I think he was just so happy that he could see that they were creating a better place for us to live. I can’t put into words what they did for us.”

That was Saturday. Sometime during the night Sunday, Jimmy died. 

The Rethink Church movement has reached over 2,000,000 people in the United States in the two years since it began. Impact Community grants are provided to United Methodist congregations for the sole purpose of caring for their neighborhoods.

Learn more about Impact Community grants at http://www.umcom.org/impactcommunity.




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