- Associated Press - Sunday, January 10, 2016

MAPLETON, Iowa (AP) - When a member of St. John’s Methodist Church bought and donated a small house next to the church, the initial plan was to tear the home down to add parking space for those attending church services and events.

But church members and the pastor at the time decided the house could serve a much greater purpose.

“The former minister said there’s too much life left in it. Let’s use it until it falls down. Well, this little house has a lot of life left,” St. John’s pastor Jena Manchester said.

That life has become one of helping others in need.

Dubbed God’s Little House, the two-bedroom structure has provided a rent-free, temporary home for people since 2008.

The Sioux City Journal (https://bit.ly/1PfK5ny ) reports that guests have stayed there after losing their home to fire. Others after their home was destroyed by the tornado that struck here in 2011. Some were just passing through town and needed a place to sleep.

God’s Little House is available to them for as long as they need it.

“It’s an emergency unit. They don’t have to be from any religion. They don’t have to be from any town. If they have no place to stay, we won’t push anybody out,” said Lawrence Nelson, president of the board that maintains the house.

As word of what St. John’s was doing spread, others in the community asked if they could join in.

“When the rest of the churches found out, they wanted to be part of it,” Nelson said.

Mapleton’s five churches — St. John’s Methodist, St. Mary’s Catholic Church, St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, St. Peter’s United Church of Christ and Faith Bible Church — each provide two members for the 10-member board of directors. They work together each summer in the concession stand at the city’s ballfields to raise money to maintain the house. Donations come from churches, individuals and businesses in Mapleton and beyond.

“Everybody in town is doing their best to make this thing workable,” Nelson said.

It’s worked, all right.

Because of the community’s generosity, the house has been completely furnished down to sheets and blankets for the beds and a baby crib, towels for the bathroom and dishes and utensils in the kitchen. Those who stay at the house pay no rent, only for the utilities used during their stay. When the house is vacant, the city picks up the tab for the utilities.

“They can’t believe we have everything they need,” Nelson said of guests’ reactions when they take up temporary residence.

Their gratitude for the free lodging is often shown with a thank you note and donation left behind when they leave.

The home has been used 18 times since 2008. In some cases, the people were from out of town, strangers in need of a place to sleep and nowhere to go. In each case, someone in town steered them toward Nelson, who opened the door to God’s Little House for them, no matter the time of day.

“That’s exactly what we’re here for,” he said.

God’s Little House is a big reason for Mapleton residents of various religious backgrounds to come together and offer shelter to those in need.

“It makes a feeling of oneness. They’re proud,” Nelson said. “It makes me feel a little taller.”

It’s a big feeling Nelson and the others get. All because this little house is open to anyone who needs it.


Information from: Sioux City Journal, https://www.siouxcityjournal.com

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