By Loretta Fulton
Photography by Beth Dukes
Patty Davis knew something was afoot when she learned that a Bible with her name on it came as a gift, along with the free housing she was getting while undergoing cancer treatments in Abilene.
Ray Garcia knew something was up when his wife suffered a stroke while the family was traveling from California to Florida, which led to meeting some incredible people in Abilene.
As a result, Garcia has adopted Abilene as his home away from home, although he still lives in California.
“My heart’s in Texas now,” he said. “It’s definitely in Abilene, Texas.”
Davis and Garcia are just two of the faces behind the story of Houses for Healing, the brainchild of Brian Massey, a local pastor who believes the church extends far beyond its walls.
Houses for Healing provides a free place to stay for people from the surrounding area who are undergoing long-term medical treatment in Abilene. The houses also are available for people from farther away, like Garcia, in case of an emergency.
The patient and family members can stay in one of the four houses located on north Hickory Street, a couple of blocks south of Interstate 20.
Local churches work with Massey to stock the houses with necessities, provide transportation to the people staying there, purchase groceries and gasoline if needed, and offer prayers and comfort.
“This is the most awesome ministry I’ve ever been around,” said Davis, who lives in Rising Star and lived in one of the houses while undergoing cancer treatment at Hendrick.
When the cancer first appeared in 2017, Davis drove back and forth after each treatment. But when the cancer recurred in October 2018, Davis learned about Houses for Healing and was astonished that such a ministry existed. She kept putting off calling Massey, thinking others might need the free lodging more than she did. But then she changed her mind.
“I finally called, and he was so wonderful,” Davis said. “That had me crying.”
The houses are classified as “tiny houses,” each measuring 392 square feet. Small as they are, each is fully furnished and stocked, including a full kitchen and washer/dryer. Currently four have been built and more land will be needed for future houses. Massey’s dream is to eventually have 20 Houses for Healing located near Hendrick Medical Center and Abilene Regional Medical Center.
The small, colorful houses draw attention from passersby, but the ministry behind Houses for Healing is the real eye-catcher. It came from Massey’s deep, long-held belief that a ministry to the sick was needed in Abilene. The city is filled with nonprofits and church ministries of all sorts, but what Massey envisioned was missing. By the time ground was broken for the first house in September 2016, Massey had put much thought, prayer, and sweat into the project.
At the time, Massey was pastor of Sonrise Ministries, which now exists only as a nursing home ministry. The congregation merged with Hope4Life Church on Rebecca Lane and Massey serves as one of the pastors.
The seed for Massey’s concern for the sick was planted early. When he was growing up, his family would visit nursing homes on Sunday afternoons. In 2005, the family spent Christmas at Baylor Hospital in Dallas while Massey’s mother underwent treatment for leukemia. A church in the Dallas area provided an apartment for the family to stay in.
“It was a saving grace that helped them get through that,” Massey said.
Now he is returning the favor many times over. Massey connected with pastors in some of the larger communities in the Abilene area, such as Sweetwater and Brownwood, to get them to serve as the local point person. Whenever ministers hear about someone in need from their community or a smaller one nearby, they vet the applicant and then pass on the information to Massey.
But the grace that flows from Houses for Healing doesn’t stop there. If all four of the houses are filled, the ministry provides funds for people to stay either at Hendrick League House or the Civic Plaza Hotel. But that can only happen if the ministry, which relies on donations, has funds available.
“We’ve had to say ‘no,’” Massey said.
One person who heard the word “yes” was Patty Davis, whose story began in November 2017 when she was diagnosed with sarcoma in her right thigh. With the help of family and friends, she made daily trips to Hendrick from her home in Rising Star. In October 2018, doctors told her the cancer had spread to her lungs and she would need to make daily trips again for chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
She learned about Houses for Healing through Cancer Services network in Abilene. Davis and her sister were in Mardel Christian Store the day before she was to move in. Her sister overheard someone at the counter mention Houses for Healing.
It turned out that the woman who mentioned Houses for Healing was from Wylie United Methodist Church, which sponsors the house Patty would be moving into the next day. The woman and others from the church were at Mardel’s to pick up a leatherbound King James version of the New Testament, with Davis’ name engraved on the front, a gift that Houses for Healing gives each occupant.
“I’ve never had one with my name on the cover,” Davis said.
The route that Ray Garcia took to Houses for Healing was a long and winding one. He and his family were traveling in their motorhome from their home in Pomona, California, in November 2018, to visit family in Ocala, Florida. His wife, Claudia, had suffered three strokes in one day a year before but had been cleared to travel.
While traveling to Florida, the family detoured through Coleman to visit a friend of Ray’s and planned to continue their trip to Florida after a brief stay. But Claudia suffered another stroke and had to be flown from Coleman to Hendrick Medical Center. Ironically, the family had stayed in Abilene briefly over Labor Day Weekend the year before, 2017, when they got sidetracked in Houston by Hurricane Harvey and had to alter their route back to California. When they landed in Abilene again in November 2018, Garcia, a pastor, started seeing more than coincidence.
“I realized God had something going on here,” he said.
Little did he know. Garcia and his children, plus a sister-in-law who came in, stayed with Claudia in Hendrick’s ICU until she died on Nov 27. Besides Garcia and his wife, a daughter, Samantha, 19, a son, Josh, 17, and their dog, Deacon, were traveling to Florida. Josh is autistic and needs a regimented life, his father said. Deacon is his service dog.
During the time that Claudia was in ICU at Hendrick, Garcia didn’t think it would be a good idea for Josh to be confined to the RV and that is when he learned about Houses for Healing.
“It was just God’s plan,” Garcia said.
The family stayed in one of the tiny houses until eventually heading back to California. But Garcia was so impressed and moved by the kindness of Massey that he plans to start something similar to Houses for Healing through his ministry, Praise Chapel Covina. He also now is a member of the board of directors for Abilene’s Houses for Healing.
Massey deflects praise for his Houses for Healing whenever anyone tries to give him credit. The glory goes to Jesus, he insists, and he is only the conduit.
“I believe the Lord has given this to Abilene,” he said. “This is a model for the greater body of Christ.”
HOUSES FOR HEALING
To learn more about Houses for Healing, go to www.housesforhealing.com. The ministry is for patients from the surrounding area who are undergoing long-term medical treatment in Abilene. The patient, and family members, can stay in one of the tiny houses for free. Local churches provide support, such as grocery shopping, running errands, and providing transportation. An application can be downloaded from the website.