The House to House Christian mentoring ministry serves as a witness to a community that is dark and broken. A community where there is hopelessness, drugs, crime. Or people feeling stuck. The ministry reaches into this community on the under-resourced west side of Montgomery in a way that rebuilds and strengthens homes, both the physical structures and more importantly, the families who live in them.
“At my core, I love the fact that the intangibles work for me,” said Cornelius “CJ” Jackson, executive director of House to House. “People say we are bringing about the change. We are giving and providing people hope where they might not have it otherwise.
“Not that we are the only source of it, but when we’re given the opportunity, we say, ‘Send me, I’ll go.’”
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)
Founded in 2009 as a part of Common Ground Montgomery, a youth development ministry, House to House began by building relationships with the parents of neighborhood youth. Learning the tremendous the need for decent, affordable housing, the ministry purchases and renovates abandoned homes.
They do this to address the need for affordable housing but also to have a legitimate reason to engage in authentic relationships with neighborhood families.
The vision of House to House:
… to demonstrate the kingdom of God in Washington Park so that everyone we connect with – construction volunteers, mentors, donors, and the families we serve – will be drawn to a closer walk with Jesus. The love we will show our neighbors will begin with living next door and working to understand their needs and earn their trust. As needs become known, we will work with our neighbors and their strengths and resources to address these needs. We will ask God to help us find the solutions and, when we can’t, we will trust God’s sovereign power and grace to move according to His plan. In addition to problem-solving, we will seek to share the abundance of the kingdom with our neighbors and celebrate the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
“I think that if I gave people who have poor housing a house and there’s no heart changed, we’re not doing anything,” Jackson said.
Jackson began volunteering with Common Ground Montgomery and House to House in the early 2000s, just after he said he was released from prison. He later began working part-time with the ministry, and then served for two years as its director of discipleship before becoming its executive director.
He is a product of west Montgomery, having grown up in Young Fort Village (Cedars Park), Gibbs Village, and Smiley Court.
“I do get a little joy in knowing I get to go back to a place that used to be a home to me and get to have an impact,” he said. “My story has a lot of layers. My life was broken and dysfunctional. I used to sell drugs in west Montgomery. I went to prison for that.
“I represent the guys that sit on the stoop and play dominoes and don’t work every day. I may represent some kids whose dads aren’t home. I’m an African American male who might have all those connections, but I hope now that I’m different. I walk with people in that broken phase of that life. I get to tell them that, and they ask how I do this, and I say, ‘God.’
As a Christian ministry, we know that the Great Commission requires us to ‘go and make disciples’ of Christ. We take four weeks at the beginning of our Foundations class to teach and proclaim the gospel. Mentoring is discipleship. A saving knowledge of Christ is the best foundation on which to build a mentoring relationship. In addition to sharing our faith in Christ, mentoring also involves showing a family how to establish and follow a budget and many other life skills. The most important thing a mentor can do is simply be there for their disciple-in-training – to walk alongside.”
Through House to House, up to 35 homes have been turned over to families – with most of the residents being single moms, including one mother of six. A high percentage of residents are under age 30 – with three who are elderly. Almost all the moms survive on “barely living wages,” Jackson said, adding the younger moms work factory jobs and at McDonald’s. There are less than a handful of homes with married couples, but no homes with a single man or a single woman.
House to House builds authentic relationships with prospective residents in the classes they teach. When a student becomes qualified for a house by demonstrating their ability to manage their household budget, and other requirements, resulting in their nomination by their mentor, House to House will determine the family’s needs and try to match these needs with a house in the neighborhood.
When a match is found, they find a way to pay for the renovation which, in some cases, requires as much as $50,000. In some cases, House to House pays for the renovation with a loan which they commit to repay knowing that the rent payment makes this possible.
The ministry, Jackson said, is “unapologetically Christian. We don’t expect from our tenants or students that they be Christian. I just don’t hide my faith. Over time, these people who might not necessarily be a fan of Christ, we just grow together in community, and in relationship with each other.
“As far as we get them, we just do life together. I enter into relationships with folks, and we just do messy relationships and you look up one day … and all of that has culminated into closeness. It’s just gospel, being that presence. They might not go to church on Sundays, but I’ve got five or six guys … I’ve discipled them. You end up just being a witness and presence without the words.”
Jackson said House to House is changing lives, the narrative. The ministry gives people something different to look forward to. Something different to lean into.
“We’re giving people the option for a different ending to a story,” he said. “I believe housing does so much. When you can give people access to things, you become support for them and to them. We get to change the end of a lot of stories.
“The housing gives confidence to the parents. It’s home. A place you’re proud to bring your friends to.”
Jackson plans to continue “showing up” through his work because “God kept me during my mess during prison. And I’m going to tell kids to not quit that job, or the girls to not have more babies. People still need to see that God is in the business of saving lives. I want to just be a witness of Christ in such a real and palpable way. I need them to say that they’re going to try my God.”
How to help
On the House to House website
(www.h2hlife.org), you can donate, and also find ways to volunteer.
Call 334-730-3736 for more information. Any classes mentioned on the House to House website meet via Zoom, and not in person.
** Pictured is House to House Executive Director Cornelius Jackson and Father Andrew Rowell of Christchurch.