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People: Potter's Hands

By Lisa Littlewood
In 2005 the story of a hard-pressed local man on the outskirts of Buffalo made its way through church prayer lines and into the heart of a younger, more fortunate man from the town of Lockport.
     The story went like this—Stephen Curtis* had fallen on hard times. He was a diabetic with mounting medical issues, who lived in small house just outside of Buffalo with his wife, and several of his children—two of whom were school aged and another, older, living upstairs with their own children.
     While all of the details were not fully clear, what was clear was that Curtis’ diabetes and related health issues reached a point in which he was unable to work, pay for crucial prescriptions, or make rent on his house. Much of what filled the house was rented and on the verge of being taken away, and family members, including Curtis’ elementary aged daughter, were sleeping on mattresses on the floor (Curtis and his wife also slept on a makeshift bed made from scrap boards and bricks).
     When things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse Curtis received the devastating news that his teenage son had drowned in the Black Rock River. Curtis, heartbroken, did not have enough money pay for a funeral.  
      Dave Budz, the young Lockport man, heard Curtis’ story through a prayer update that he received via email from his home church each week and was compelled to action.
     “I see this email,” said Budz, “and that was the day that God spoke to me very, very clearly. How can I sit there in this nice, average American home and attend church each week, but not do anything? We often pray, but don’t do anything about it.”
     Budz called more than a dozen colleagues and friends, shared the story and started asking the question ‘What can we do?’
     The group started collecting donations from anyone who would give them—one friend had donations coming from friends and family as far away as North Carolina, while another, a school teacher, received donations of clothing and housewares from families in his school.
     The group collected several beds, major appliances (including a microwave, refrigerator, washer and dryer), and other small household items to be delivered to the family. One friend offered the use of their large box truck for pick-ups and deliveries, and two generous church members stepped forward and offered a combined $1,500 to help the family.
     Having taken in all of these donations without ever having met Curtis or visiting his house there was some hesitation that what they had to offer might not be exactly what the family needed or could use. As it turns out all fears were quelled within minutes of their arriving—the coincidences could not have been more evident.
     The group had the exact number of beds for each person in the house, including a girl’s dresser and mirror perfect for Curtis’ young daughter (who was around 8 at the time), and a donated television turned out to be just the right size for an empty entertainment center in the living room.
     “Everything was exactly what they needed,” said Budz, “And to see the look on his daughter’s face when she ran into her room and saw a bed and a dresser with a mirror—it was really great. ”
     The Curtis family was incredibly moved by the acts of people they had never met prior to that day. Stephen was able to pay for his son’s funeral with the money that was donated and was also able to restart his medication, which allowed him to eventually go back to work.
     Budz credits every last coincidental detail to the supernatural. “God poured it on in this first experience to make sure something like this would grow,” he said. “It was such a contagious feeling, helping this family. I realized ‘this has got to be done—we’ve got to do more of this from now on.’
     What started as a prayer request from a stranger turned out to be the inspiration for something much larger. Through conversations and planning with like-minded and
inspired individuals at Dave’s church, a new service group, or ministry, was formed in the months that followed—The Potter’s Hands ministry currently has over 240 volunteer members (across several area churches), completes 20+ projects a year, and operates a 2,500 square foot storage facility to house ongoing donations for people in desperate and needy situations.
     Those who have served with The Potter’s Hands will be quick to tell you that it is not just the lives of the people being served that are changed—those who are doing the serving find themselves just as encouraged, moved and inspired to help others more often with each task that they do.
     As Jim Phipps, a retired marine and one of the ministries co-coordinators puts it, “God puts us where he wants to put us so that we can learn what he wants us to learn.”
     The ministry bases it’s work on a piece of biblical instruction offered in the book of Matthew. “In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.”
      Phipps can attest to that fact adding that one of his favorite aspects of the work is when someone asks him “Why are you here today? Why would you take your time to do this?” giving him an opportunity to share his faith story with those he is helping.
     While part A of the Potter’s Hands Ministry may be to provide to those in need, part B, and really what it is all about, is that those being helped would see the light of Christ in the works being done and be moved spiritually in their own lives.
     “Anyone can go and do the deeds that we do,” says Budz, “but the deeds are just a vehicle to share the love of Jesus. I was such a selfish Christian before this experience—just living my own life and simply praying for others. I had never experienced the feeling of walking side by side with Jesus and doing work with him. It is a contagious feeling.”
     Construction projects completed by The Potter’s Hands ministry have ranged from building picnic tables at Broadway Hope Ministry, to more complicated endeavors such as joining with Habitat For Humanity to build a “House in a Box” which was shipped to a family in Alabama after Hurricane Katrina.
     A number of churches in the greater Buffalo area have also benefitted from The Potter’s Hand’s volunteers. Projects have included work on a youth center at the Victory Assembly of God in Buffalo (the church plans to use the center to help reach inner city youth), assistance with remodeling at North Tonawanda Abundant Life Church, helping to build a stage in the sanctuary at Renovation Church in Buffalo, and assistance in painting the inside of Wheatfield Neighborhood Church.
     While The Potter’s Hands has strict criteria and an extensive application process for the work they agree to take on, they are open to serving people and organizations from any church and in every community.
     “Our criteria is strict so that we never abuse the donations of time and talents freely given by the members of The Potter’s Hands,” says Budz. “Projects come primarily through word of mouth. We have been around for six years and are certainly not short on projects.”
     “The possibilities are endless if the body of Christ would all be obedient,” he said, “A completed project means that someone has had the opportunity or will have the opportunity to hear and see the gospel of Jesus. When we help someone in need and they, in turn, praise God, then we have been used by Him and that is an unexplainable feeling.”

*Stephen Curtis is a name used to protect the man’s identity