Church means to move on despite marred mission

December 04, 2005|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

The Firm Foundation Worship Center in Carroll County is continuing its mission to help those in need, undeterred by what many in the small congregation felt was a rebuff from the most recent recipients of their kindness.

Church members spent last week repairing a home lent for two months to a family that fled hurricane-devastated Louisiana. The family returned to the Gulf Coast last week, leaving the home in disarray, littered with trash and unwanted clothing. Graffiti were spray-painted in black letters on the exterior white siding.

"This family has been through a lot," said the Rev. Tom DiMaggio. "I hope they find help in Louisiana."

The lion's share of the cleanup is done and DiMaggio said the departure of the Brown family and the damage to the home have not discouraged him or his wife, Pastor Marge DiMaggio.

"There are a lot of misconceptions about what happened, how and why," said Marge DiMaggio. "People will still find us and ask for help. You have to keep helping. If you don't, you build a brick wall around your heart."

Keith and Sandra Brown and seven of their eight children arrived in Westminster with nothing. The church gave them free use of the spacious farmhouse and paid all the utilities. The congregation had also found the family a car, furniture, appliances, clothing and jobs; helped the children with placement in county schools; and arranged free dental and eye appointments for all of the Browns.

"When there is a need, everybody in this church family jumps in," said Marge DiMaggio.

But the relationship between the Browns and the church began to unravel weeks ago.

"They acted like they were living there," said Sandra Brown during a phone interview. "They treated my husband and me like we were children."

The Browns left last Sunday during church services, without goodbyes or thank-yous, the DiMaggios said.

"We wanted to send them back with a truckload of stuff, but they didn't communicate with us," said Marge DiMaggio.

The Browns said they had arranged for their older sons, who had found jobs and remained in Westminster, to clean the house. Elijah Brown, 19, did help with the effort. Josh Brown, 22, who admitted to spray-painting the new white siding, has promised to repair the damage.

"We have put the family in God's hands," said Tom DiMaggio. "The hurricane season is over, but the winds of need are still blowing. The business of this church is helping. We don't stop giving."

The church is already arranging for another family in crisis to use the home.

"If you don't practice what you preach and forgive, then your church has no value," Tom DiMaggio said.

JoAnn DiMaggio, youth pastor at the church and daughter-in-law of the senior pastors, said the Browns "are people we cared about and tried to help. This was a blessing to all those involved."

Dwelling on what happened will not help anyone, she said.

The Browns have moved on, too, said Sandra Brown, who has written thank-you notes to the many who assisted the family during their stay in Carroll County.

"I felt really blessed in Maryland," she said. "People we hardly knew gave us so many things and I thanked them every time I saw them."

Ronald Click, a Westminster contractor who volunteered to accompany the Browns on their return trip, said the family faces long and costly repairs to their home in Gray, La.

"The place is barely livable, and they really need help," Click said. "This whole place looks like it is coming back to life. People are getting their lives back together, but they will have to have a lot of help."

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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