On a crisp autumn day, raucous music lifts over am overgrown sugar cane field in Port Allen. Weed partially block the view of a small country church, but nothing can dull the sounds coming from inside. That's where Vickie Mangham – Sister Vickie to everyone at Faith Street Ministries – sings. She doesn't always hit all the notes, but in her song is a celebration. Sister Vickie celebrates the trying times in life and asks for patience. She's had plenty of both.
"All of a sudden, the house kind of shook a little bit," Sister Vickie says when remembering the beginning of her latest trial. It was September first, 2008. Hurricane Gustav tore across the Louisiana coast. Sister Vickie and her teenage son Stephen sat huddled in their tiny brick home on Ted's Lane. Gustav blew a hole in her roof. Then, the ceiling collapsed.
Sister Vickie and Stephen evacuated to a neighbor's home. It was a time to lean on her faith in God, but that can be hard to do when your church was also destroyed by the storm. "It's like your whole life is kind of crumbling around you," she says.
With no insurance to begin work on her home, and no job to raise the money, Sister Vickie poured herself first into helping fix her church. "She'd just come by and help out and was always here when we needed her," says Faith Ministries Pastor Rickey Howell. Whether it was painting doors or lending an encouraging word, Sister Vickie worked from her wheelchair. "She's always had her physical ailments," says Howell, "but she's never let that be a handicap for her."
Arthritis put Sister Vickie in a wheelchair more than 20 years ago. She can only walk a few steps at a time, but she didn't let that stop her from working. It took almost three years to rebuild Faith Street Ministries. But Sister Vickie couldn't live in a church.
While she worked on the church, Sister Vickie and her Stephen bounced from family to friend and back again. "I don't want to cause anybody any extra hardship because I'm there." They never stay put more than a month or two. "We're always packing," she says. "All of my clothes are still in little totes and stuff. I'm going to forget what it is to hang clothes on a hanger. It's hard to know that you don't have your own place. You have a little nook or a room in somebody else's home.
It's been a hard four years and her home on Ted's Lane still sits empty as Sister Vickie has tried to save and scrimp to get the money to repair her home, but Sister Vickie hasn't lost that song in her heart.
Today, there's a different kind of song playing in Sister Vickie's neighborhood. It's a song of progress. It's a song played on table saws and Frank Kirkland keeps time with a hammer. Ceramic floors are going in to Sister Vickie's old bathroom. It's a far cry from day Kirkland walked into Sister Vickie's life.
"Have I ever done a job this big before? No sir." But Kirkland is quick to add he's never been told he's had to. He got his first look at Sister Vickie's home in February 2012 after sitting empty, wet, and open to the elements for more than three years. "All the sheet rock on the walls was infested with this mold and mildew." Kirkland says being kind in his description. This was, after all, someone's home.
Kirkland loads a trowel with mortar, spreads it across a freshly-cut tile, and then painstakingly sets the tile in place. It's unfamiliar work to him. Kirkland is an electrician by trade. He's become Sister Vickie's angel by calling. He and Sister Vickie met while working on the church. He had heard about her home. "I wouldn't want to live like she's living, and I don't think nobody else would."
One day, Kirkland asked to see it. Sister Vickie hesitated at first. Sheet rock hung from ceiling to floor. Kirkland says the smell was overbearing, but he climbed over and crawled under boards until he had seen enough. "When he walked back out," Sister Vickie says, "he said, ‘Well, God just told me this is my next project, Sister Vickie, so guess what. We're going to start working on this."
For the last nine months, Kirkland has spent every Friday afternoon and all day every Saturday working on Sister Vickie's house. And he hasn't charged her a dime. "I just felt that the Lord had told me to go help this woman and he would send somebody to help." Kirkland says. And He has. Some days Kirkland has a helper or two, but most of the time it's just him – answering a higher calling and a prayer long prayed.
If patience is a virtue, Sister Vickie may be a saint, and Frank Kirkland her handyman from heaven. "He's just a wonderful guy," says Sister Vickie this Thanksgiving season, "and I'm thankful God put him in my life."
Kirkland hopes to have Sister Vickie back in her home by Christmas, but he's reaching the limits of his skills. He says he needs someone who can hang cabinets to help him, and the money Sister Vickie has been able to save is almost gone. Kirkland says if you feel the calling to help, you can contact Dina Smith at (225) 235-1317 or (225) 301-5920.
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