THE HAY HOUSE MINISTRY: Dream and reality, "The House that Jesus Built."
Building a Straw Bale House is the culmination of several dreams; Joe and Laurie's dream to build their own house, the dream to build in straw bale, and the dream to use every bit of what they have to help and serve others. The first two are straight forward so let me tell you about the third.
Joe is a Pastor. Since beginning in 1994, together Joe and Laurie have ministered in four churches across three denominations, always in small country towns. It is demanding work and, in the country, it can be lonely. Within three years of starting, Joe had burnt out and ministry came to an abrupt end. At that time, doctors were unsure whether Joe would ever be able to return to ministry. Apart from anti-depressants, there was not a lot of help available at that time and recovery was slow and difficult, taking its toll on the whole family. However, finally, Joe eventually began to heal and God sustained him and our family through his recovery. From this experience, the dream was born; to create a place where pastors and missionaries who were at risk of burnout could come to rest, be encouraged, and be restored.
In 2002, Joe and Laurie were able to purchase 164 acres of agricultural land near the tiny town of Popanyinning, a couple of hours drive south of Perth in Western Australia. It took them several years, but they were finally able to transport down a 1930’s cottage from Perth which they have partially renovated and live in. It is referred to, affectionately, as ‘the shack,' meant to be a temporary residence but the home they still live in, to this day.
Doing everything on ‘the cheap’ is a hard and time-consuming path and much time and energy have been put into farm infrastructure and gardens. With plenty still to do, they have established a small, diverse orchard and large organic vegetable area, as well as fencing and sheds, while continuing in ministry in two local churches, and often while also working other jobs. Joe, a man who has always given his best and most in everything he does, has spent many years working up to 3 or more jobs at a time from cleaning to ministry, to see this dream and ministry fulfilled.
Sadly, in late 2009 after caring for her for almost a year, Laurie's mother Roma lost her battle with cancer, just a few years after her husband Bruce lost his own. This was a devastating time for Joe and Laurie, who felt the loss of both of Laurie's parents still quite young, very deeply. By early 2014, Joe and Laurie were able to receive their inheritance from Laurie's parents, through the sale of Roma's home, which finally enabled work to begin on the straw bale home.
The home itself is large, and designed for communal living, but with ample areas for quiet contemplation. It will be a place for sharing. Joe and Laurie have been hands-on builders. Other than those tasks which require tradesmen by law or are totally outside of their ability, they have painstakingly built almost the entire home by hand, from building the frame, laying the straw bales, making the wooden jarrah windows, including the glazing, and finally rendering the walls. The journey has not been without challenges, least of all some serious injuries which threatened to derail the whole dream.
There are three which stand out: First, Laurie fell into a hole while they were building and broke both her leg and her ankle. She spent almost a year recovering from this fall, unable to put a large amount of weight on her leg and spending a lot of time in bed recovering (which, if you know Laurie, is enough to drive her mad). Second, Joe’s fall from a ladder, which resulted in a head injury taking another 12 months to return to somewhat normal, and third, Laurie’s cancer, their new setback, and challenge.
Joe's fall happened in 2015. As Joe and Laurie were just beginning to clad the roof of the house, Joe fell from a ladder and sustained a serious head injury that threatened his life. Laurie found him unconscious, and he was emergency flown to Perth, where he spent a week in the hospital under careful observation. Joe's head injury was severe; at that time doctors were unsure whether he would recover, and if so, whether he would sustain long term memory loss including the ability to speak, walk and read. Joe spent a long year in recovery, unable to work. But again, God sustained him and while Joe still suffers some long-term effects from his fall, his healing is considered "miraculous." Praise Jesus! Joe and Laurie were blessed to have family and friends come to our rescue and over a series of weekends the roof was fully clad for them. Had this not been the case the exposed wooden structure would not have survived the winter and their hard work would have ended there.
Joe and Laurie continued as best they could and six years from the beginning, in 2020, they began to see the finish line in sight - finally! What they could not foresee was the new challenge that lay ahead. After nearly six months of struggling with ill health, dramatic weight loss, and weakness, Laurie has been diagnosed with stage 4A ovarian cancer. Unless God intervenes, she is not expected to go into remission. Family and friends have come together once again to endeavour to finish the straw bale house so that Joe and Laurie can enjoy the fruit of their labour together. The dream to extend hospitality and support to others however, lives on and with completion of the straw bale house, not only will Laurie's dream and their life's work be completed, but together, they can see the ministry of the straw bale house begin, by sharing it with pastors and missionaries in need of God's sustenance. This is why we've come to call the straw bale home, "The house that Jesus Build."
At this time, Joe and Laurie's daughters Alice, Elizabeth, and Sally, have put together this GoFundMe Fundraiser to raise the funds needed to finish the straw bale home so Joe and Laurie can see the Hay House completed, spend time together in it, and to finally open it to others in need to complete their original ministry vision. With Laurie unable to do much work on the house due to her illness, and Joe unable to work his usual jobs while caring for Laurie, these funds are needed to hire workers to complete the house above and beyond what we as a family can do by-hand. Including labourers and supplies, it's estimated the home can be completed with $50,000 and we intend to hire the newly Christian men of Shalom House, a residential rehabilitation centre located in the heart of the Swan Valley in Perth Western Australia, to give back to God in another way during the final stages of building. Any remaining or additional funds raised will be utilized in two ways; to complete the renovations of "the shack" so this space can be used as an additional space for pastors and missionaries staying at the straw bale home ministry, and any remainder to be given back to groups and missionary couples in need.
As Joe and Laurie's daughters, we thank you for your generous donation and consideration of this fundraiser as it's so close to our hearts. We have watched our parents give back over the years over and above what they could afford, and help so many people along the way. We've watched them continuously take in those in need and provide a warm home and meals to children and adults alike. Offer support to recovering addicts to get back on their feet. Provide pastoral support and counselling for individuals, couples, and children, and those who have lost parents and those in palliative care. We've watched them uproot their own lives to care for both of Laurie's parents as they journeyed toward the end of their lives. We've seen them inspire and sustain churches all across Western Australia in their ministry, and have been inspired with their strength as they've courageously fought every obstacle thrown in their way. With full and passionate hearts, we thank you for supporting them in the way they have never hesitated to serve and support others. We are so grateful; this means so much to us and our families.
With thanks, may God bless you and keep you in the palm of His hand.
Alice, Elizabeth, and Sally - and families.
- Bernie and Shirley van Niekerk
Fundraising team: The Cacic Family (5)
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