“Mrs. Mary” was a longtime volunteer with Mississippi Christian Family Services (MCFS), an organization serving people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Rolling Fork, Miss. With her husband John Verhoog, Mary was a member of Exeter (Ont.) Christian Reformed Church. For more than 20 years, she and John traveled from their home in Exeter to winter in Mississippi. While there, both of them served in MCFS’ Thrift Store, and John led group devotions and Bible studies. When Mary died of cancer in October 2017, she asked that donations be given to MCFS. This past October, her family did more than just donate money in her name.
John and Mary Verhoog’s nine children, along with five spouses, six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren, gathered in Rolling Fork with John, 87, to construct a four-bedroom supervised group home for MCFS. Tom Verhoog, John and Mary’s son and also a member of Exeter CRC, said, “Our family grew up moving around the U.S. and Canada as Dad served different churches in the Reformed Church of America. So our siblings are spread out over the U.S. and Canada, and one lives in the Ukraine. The last time we were all together was at Mom’s funeral, so we used this time as an opportunity to get together to do something really special to honor our mom and our parents’ love for the work at MCFS.”
The children on site were from 8 to 12 years old. Some family members stayed for two weeks, while others were able to contribute during the first week or the second week. None of the family had formal building experience, but Tom said years of running farms and maintaining properties equipped the various siblings, in-laws, and grandchildren for the task.
Leigh Anne Tilghman, executive director of MCFS, said a local construction firm took responsibility for oversight and carried out demolition and foundation preparations on the building site in August ahead of the October build. Tilghman said the organization has been deeply blessed by the gift of this building, which was dedicated on October 12. “Watching them unite for this project was, by far, the most extraordinary thing I have ever seen,” Tilghman said. “Their love for each other and for Jesus oozed from each of them—all of us at MCFS learned from observing their interactions with one another.”
While working on “Mrs. Mary’s House,” the Verhoog crew stayed in MCFS volunteer quarters and were fed and encouraged by members of Rolling Fork United Methodist Church, the congregation where John and Mary worshiped in Rolling Fork.
John Verhoog plans to return to his volunteer post in Rolling Fork again this January. Though Mrs. Mary’s House is not yet open—Tilghman said a few minor things need to be completed and occupancy applications made—the organization looks forward to providing supervised housing to four additional individuals in a place where many live in extreme poverty. “Once the house is finished and applications submitted, we hope that God will provide us with the residents,” Tilghman said.