Dave and Melissa Eller and their four children left in May, 2001, for Kenya where they would spend four years doing missionary work.
“We felt God was calling us to go to the mission field,” Dave Eller, 44, said. And when the family returned to Edmonds in June, they found those who had supported them on the mission, had done much more work to ease the transition.
“(The team) took on the role of supporting us in prayer and emotional support,” Dave Eller said of a “sending team” made up of families from their Mill Creek church, North Creek Presbyterian, and families from other area churches. “They helped with logistical support here that needed to be done in our absence.”
The team kept the congregation at the church updated on the family’s well-being, and met once a month while the family was gone, Melissa Eller, 42, said. They also put together the family’s schedule, arranged where they would stay, car rentals, housing, meetings, discussions, travel and schooling.
“(The team) would send items that we couldn’t get in Africa, like chocolate chips or a novel that had just come out,” Dave Eller said. “We opened a school (in Africa) so the church pulled together and did school kits for all the kids and sent them over.”
While in Africa, the family worked with World Concern, a Christian relief and development agency out of Shoreline that does work in communities around the issues of poverty, education, water, nutrition, small businesses and relief.
The money for the family to move and live in Kenya was about $60,000 a year. World Concern handled the donations and established the family’s budget based on need.
“The sending group and church were our primary supporters,” Dave Eller said. “Most of our financial support came from them and friends.”
Dave Eller worked in business as a buyer for 18 years and currently works for World Concern. He said the agency focuses on sending people with professional skills overseas to work in areas of development.
“They felt that it was a match for my business background,” he said. “We really want to go with professional skills and transfer those skills to the people who are there as opposed to coming in and doing it for them.”
While in Africa, he helped start a small micro-credit loan project to help poor people who were trying to run a small business.
“They would borrow anywhere between $50-$200 to run a business,” Dave Eller said. “Whether it was in the market, or a blanket on the ground and selling tomatoes.”
Dave and Melissa’s children, Andrew, 16, Angela, 14, Amy, 12 and Ashley 9, attended a small mission school in Kenya. The school was run by missions with an American curriculum.
“Through the schools they did service work out in the community, (including) house building and helping out at the many orphanages,” Dave Eller said.
Living in Kenya is drastically different from here, he said, adding that police, fire, water and electricity exist, but are inconsistent and cannot be relied upon.
“You also have a higher rate of crime and a constant presence of poverty around you that really can weigh on your heart,” he said. “… in a big way I learned humility and learned I can’t fix everything. (I had to) learn to accept that there’s a limit to what can be done.”
Melissa Eller added, “(moving and living in Kenya) definitely strengthened my faith and helped me understand more about the world, who I am and how I fit into the world, independence and a sense of understanding.”
For the four years while the Ellers were gone, a family rented and lived in their Edmonds home. Starting around January, the sending team came up with an idea to help get the Ellers ready to move back in.
“The idea grew,” Dave Eller said. “They asked if it was OK for them to come in and do what they could with the house. We said sure, do whatever you want.”
Sherri Reid, of Woodinville, 40, helped coordinate the tasks and budget for the renovation, calling it a “common person’s extreme makeover.”
“You look at something finished and it’s hard to know, but it’s extreme,” Dave Eller said. “Everything is different, they really cleaned up and made it a whole different feel and look.”
When the team started, it drew plans and scale diagrams of each room in the house and started collecting the needed items.
To furnish the house, the team used donated items, things purchased from garage sales and incorporated bits of what the family brought back from Africa, Melissa Eller said.
“They knew we had some paintings that we wanted to bring back,” she said, “so they had us send digital pictures of those and they chose three for the living room and chose the colors around those.”
Money for the renovation was paid for by donations and World Concern provided the family with some financial help, Reid said.
“The whole thing wouldn’t have been done had they not done it,” Dave Eller said. “We certainly coming from the mission field didn’t have the resources, energy or time (to renovate the house ourselves). Even getting it together to live in would have been a challenge.”
More than 100 people, including children, all with various skills, donated their time to help with the house, he said.
“(The team) actually went to mobilize the whole church and people outside the church,” Dave Eller said. “They told the church that this is something (they) want to do, and they had a huge outpouring of people willing to come and help and donate different pieces and things.”
A friend of a member of the sending team handled the electricity in the house, changing light fixtures, outlets and wiring. Dave Eller’s sister, Shara Soike of Kennewick, 45, changed all of the curtains in the house and did many of the accent pillows. Other people used their woodworking, painting and sanding skills to complete the house.
“There are little stories throughout the house of people who saw something that they felt should be done and they had the skill to do it,” Dave Eller said. “They found solutions to things that we hadn’t been able to figure out. So many different people came with different abilities, skills and ideas.”
One major change, he said, was the front door, which the team had to use four coats of paint to finish. Also, the church’s garden group redid the garden beds around the entire house.
“It was just amazing. We lived here for six years and it’s an entirely different feel and existence; it’s very comfortable,” Dave Eller said.
Melissa Eller added, “It feels very familiar, but it’s all been renewed.”
When the family members came home June 30, they found the house ready to live in – the beds were made and the cupboards were full of food.
Angela, the Eller’s oldest daughter, said it was nice to be able to move in and not have to worry about finding a bed or getting the house ready to live in.
“It’s stressful moving already, and not having to worry about getting all of those things, it just made it go a lot smoother,” she said.
Meg McClure of Everett, 52, and part of the sending team, said the renovation surpassed what they had imagined it would be.
“It just feels like a big hug, it feels like love,” Dave Eller said. “Everywhere you look around … there is something that makes you think of someone. Now, especially as we’ve learned the stories about the bathroom vanity or the carpeting downstairs, it all makes you feel connected with others.”