Day 6: Building



It was mid-1996, I was still dating James and studying accounting at WTAMU.  James’s parents, Don and Diana Lane, and his brother and sister were beginning a big faith adventure.

This faith adventure started with a building.

Don’s was weeks into his recovery from a life giving liver transplant when he began this search for a building.  He was beginning to get a vision of a new ministry, a new church, and he just needed a place to begin.

He found an old building in the heart of downtown Amarillo listed for sale.  He took Diana to see it with the realtor, and water was gushing out the front door.  Homeless men had gutted sinks to sell out of the bathrooms, and when the owner turned the utilities on for the showing, water went everywhere.

The realtor on the listing was Corkey Campbell.  Corkey was a great man of God, his life had been redeemed when God rescued him from alcoholism.  He was given an overwhelming sense of compassion.  The Lord took Corkey home a few years ago.  His funeral was my favorite.  I know that sounds weird to say, but it was.  It was story after story of amazing testimonies that varied from wild cowboy living to wild, people-loving living.  I can’t undersell how unique a man Corkey Campbell was.

It’s probably not usual for the same family to be headed downtown to buy commercial property and also headed downtown to visit the office where food stamps are approved, but is exactly what was happening in the Lane family.

Don needed certain prescriptions post-surgery.  Some of those prescriptions were new and outrageously expensive.  To qualify for prescription assistant programs by the pharmaceutical manufacturers, the family had to first qualify for food stamps.

Qualifying for food stamps wasn’t a problem for the Lane family.

It was 1996, and downtown Amarillo was an unpopular place.  There was no plan of revitalization.  There were barely any businesses taking advantage of the empty buildings.  There was a jewelry store, a few lunch spots, a t-shirt printing business, and that was about it.

The demand for a building built in the 1920s in downtown Amarillo was nonexistent.

Don and Diana toured the building, and Corkey bought their lunch.  Don asked if the owner would be willing to let the Lane family move into the building and make some repairs in lieu of rent.  The owner agreed for one main reason.  Homeless men were living in the building at the time.  I’m sure the owner was worried about the damage these men were doing and the possibility of fire during the upcoming winter.

A few weeks later, Don and Diana moved their furniture and all their worldly goods into a big open room upstairs.

(Side note:  If the realtor had know Don would continue to let a homeless man named Nick live downstairs, he might have been less cooperative.)

I remember the first time I saw the building.  Downstairs was covered in weird murals of truck tires and much of it was garage like.  The upstairs had layers of function on it.  You could see decades of changes piled on the walls as the building was morphed from one purpose to the next.  The front room had once been beautiful, under wood paneling and drop in ceilings were these plastered arches and beams.  Ached windows were filled with cinderblocks.  The whole front facade of the building had been covered in 1950s pink and blue rectangles of fiberglass.  Underneath was them laid beautiful red brick.

There was a large room in the middle of the upstairs were the Lanes would move in temporarily.  That massive room became their interim house.  On the walls hung huge photographs of the room filled with desks topped with typewriters.  This had been someone’s workplace, and now it was my boyfriend’s home.  The Lanes lined their beds up in the corners of the room and made a makeshift living room in another corner.

There was no kitchen and one working bathroom.  Well... it worked after James and his brother Donnie had their first impromptu lesson on plumbing.  The building was like emersion foreign language learning, but construction instead - plumbing, electrical, wall framing, drywall, floor refinishing, and painting. 

I’m sure every one of James’s family member’s wonders why I didn’t break up with this boyfriend immediately.  I never even considered it.

I remember this time as fun.  We wrote funny sayings on walls we knew were going to be torn down or painted.  We had movie nights.  We climbed on the roof and watched fireworks, threw water balloons, or dreamed of rooftop gardens.  We made stupid home movies.  We met people who were such characters, we could supply comedy troops with material for years.

We felt as if we owned downtown.  It was so unused, so vacant, that you could lay in the streets for hours without fear of any car coming.

One night a homeless man did just that.  It wasn’t out of a sense of whimsy fun, but out of a complete dark, drug addicted fog.  He was wrapped in a blanket rolling in the street moaning.  I had lived a very sheltered life in the suburbs until that point in my life.  I wasn’t familiar with the hurt homelessness or drug addiction could bring.

I remember crying and praying for this man with such compassion that night.

When Don couldn’t get him out of the middle of the road, he called the cops to come and take him somewhere where he could have a chance to get clean.  Although the police station was literally one block away, it took almost an hour for them to come and get him into the police car.

Sometimes now I remember that night.  Now that I have become familiar with the hurt of the streets, I never want to loose that compassion, that urgency to pray that I had as a teenage girl.

Don was able to put an offer in to buy the building.  Corkey had to loan Don the $10 earnest money to make the offer official.

Corkey may have been the only supportive person in those early years in the building downtown.  I remember giving one man, interested in the ministry we wanted to start, a tour with James’s dad.  He worked in some type of construction role, and he told Don, “I’ve torn down better buildings than this.”

I was in awe of how someone could be so negative when it was so plain to me that God was beginning a good work within these old walls.

With that building, God was placing us in the heart of our city and giving us a mission to reach it.  

The city of Amarillo is measured out from the center of downtown.  It is on a grid of numbered streets running east and west and president’s names running north and south.

The building sets only 3 blocks away from the beginning point of that grid.  Every road in our city flows from that point.

Years later, God would give Citychurch that building, debt-free.  He would also give us adjacent buildings, the adjacent parking lot for a park, and several other building within a block of our first building in the heart of Amarillo.  As incredibly grateful I am for those properties, I am much more thankful for the vision of ministry that God gave Don and the rest of our family.

Buildings are neat, but it is souls that are eternal.  Lives, people, families, children - these are the things God cares about.  And these are the things I want to care about too.

As I begin to tell you the testimony of the beginning of the ministry that would become Citychurch, I want to assure you that I was changed through these adventures of faith.  These early times for me were times of preoccupation with college, times of worry about money and future, times of apathy towards spiritual matters, times of insecurity about how little scripture I knew, times of skepticism towards typical church and denominational associations, and times of just plain selfishness.

Every word of Paul’s prayerful letter to Timothy rings true with my own heart.

I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.
— 1 Timothy 1:12-17 ESV



I love music.  It's one of the things that I find fun about life.  I like to share a song with each blog post.  Here's one that is appropriate.