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Man on a mission (with a playhouse)

Many may have seen a bright yellow and blue playhouse with flowers on the side being hauled around town all week. 

That would be the “Sonshine Cottage” on the back of the truck driven by the Rev. Dr. Russell Lee of First Presbyterian Church who says he has been practicing driving with this mission playhouse before beginning the trek to the playhouse’s new home in New Jersey.

The playhouse was built my members of First Presbyterian Church, and they plan to take it with them as part of their mission trip to New Jersey. 

The mission trip will last a week beginning Saturday when church members leave at 8 a.m. to venture on an eight-hour drive to Chatham, New Jersey, where several youth and adults plan to help victims of Hurricane Sandy. 

This “Sonshine Cottage” is going with them every step of the way, and when it arrives, the missionaries will decide if it will go in a church playground, city or town playground or maybe in someone’s yard. 

 “We are trusting in faith that we will meet someone up there or some group that can use it,” Lee said. “We hope each time they go in it, they will think about faith.” 

Board by board, children, youth, church members and deacons took the time to offer their individual skills or to learn a new skill while putting this playhouse project together. 

The idea began when members of the church decided they wanted to find a way to make a connection between faith and everyday life. 

According to Lee, most think the Christian faith is just about believing in Christ while loving other people in your heart and in your head. 

“But when you can do something physical that can help somebody else, that kind of connects the faith world and everyday life,” said Lee. “Everybody can take their skills and put them into action for someone else, and that’s what we do on a mission trip.” 

Members of First Presbyterian Church decided they wanted to build something that could be used in a continuous way by children and would be a witness to other people. 

After noticing a playhouse in Danville, a member of the church drew up plans based on that one while making modifications along the way to fit the church’s purpose. 

Then one Sunday morning, wooden boards were placed under the pews, and everyone was asked to sign or write a note. Those boards were then used as the framework; another act of worship Lee called “connecting faith to wood.” 

Two weeks later the youth built the walls, two weeks later the siding was put on, and then the roof was put on two weeks later. 

Spreading the project out to involve as many people as possible proved to be the most challenging part of the experience. 

“We could have done it in two weeks, but we didn’t,” said Lee. 

While taking the time to include as many hands as possible and teaching skills along the way, the project has demonstrated the skills of others and made many memories as the project progressed.

Parents witnessed children ages 3 to 5 painting for the first time as they covered the trim in bright white paint. 

Lee said it was funny to watch as they laid a tarp on the ground, sat the children on their knees and watched as they painted all the trim in about 30 minutes.  

“Of course we had people come in after and do other coats of paint because it wasn’t finished, but there was paint on it. There was some paint on other places but mostly on the wood. It allowed the little kids to get a feeling of helping someone. It went well,” said Lee. 

A lot of the teens were taught how to use hammers or electric screwdrivers for the first time as they helped to build the walls. 

“In today’s world, not a lot of youth know how to use a hammer or other tools because they don’t depend on using it in their everyday life, but when you get in another arena where they have to learn a skill to help someone else, it benefits both someone else and themselves,” said Lee. 

Also while building the home, they ran into a few surprises. When Lee went to purchase the roofing for the house from Jones Building System, they decided to donate it. 

After that, the church members realized they would then have funds to put windows in the playhouse, something they didn’t originally plan on. 

But when Lee went to Dan River Windows Company to purchase the windows, they said, “Just figure out what openings you have, measure them, and we will build the windows to put in the openings and donate them.”

“It was a neat way of community involvement that we didn’t intend for, but it worked out in the process. They saw we were doing something for someone else and wanted to help. We are thankful for their donations and for the church and the community,” said Lee. 

Once the playhouse was complete, it took the use of an 8-foot 4 X 4 and another piece of wood as well as five people to turn the house around and lift it onto the trailer. 

“That was a big accomplishment in itself because before it was halfway finished it took eight people to pick it up. It probably weighs over 1,000 pounds,” said Lee. 

Once “Sonshine Cottage” was loaded on the trailer, Lee decided it was best he ride around town with the playhouse, so he could get used to having a trailer behind his truck. Also, he wanted everyone to see what God had done. 

Everywhere he has gone this week the playhouse went with him, so locals could see that the mission project took shape, and Lee said when he makes that eight-hour drive on Saturday, it will be a form of witness to anyone “Sonshine Cottage” passes.  

“It’s not like we are saying look what we did, we are trying to say look what God did and look how God’s people can help others,” Lee concluded.