It all started on a rainy, cold day in 2010. Ashley Curry, currently Vestavia Hills’ mayor, was driving on Highway 31 when he saw a gentleman walking alongside the road in the rain. Curry stopped and gave him a ride, and the idea for what would ultimately become the Vestavia Hills United Methodist Church Car Ministry was born.
Curry, who has been a member of VHUMC since 1980, told his Sunday school class about the man, who turned out to be homeless, and the members decided to come together to help him find lodging and employment. Once the gentleman had lodging and got a job, he needed reliable transportation to get there, so the class donated around $500 to buy him a car. “I think the best way to think about it is to put yourself in the position of the person. If you didn’t have personal transportation and were at the mercy of mass transit in our area,” Curry says, “you’d have a very hard time getting around.”
Seven years later, what started with one person and one car has now turned into a full-fledged budget item at the church. Just last year alone, the VHUMC Car Ministry placed and repaired 38 cars for people in need across the Birmingham area. As of July 2017, they had already placed and/or repaired 20.
For around 12 church members, Thursdays are “Car Ministry Thursdays” where they work to match cars with needs. Volunteer Judy Meyer has been serving for two and a half years now. “I cannot even tell you how many thank you notes and phone calls have come in—what’s now happening in the family’s life because of that car,” Meyer says. “One gentleman was finally able to visit his mother he hadn’t seen.”
The car ministry receives referrals from area churches and agencies for people who need transportation in order to get to a job. The potential recipients fill out an application, which requires a $20 application fee, and the application goes into a queue of generally around 30 people at any given time who are waiting for a car. It can take six months to a year to receive a vehicle depending on the needs of the individual. But for those involved, it’s about far more than a process. “We really witness God’s hand at work in all of this,” says Rachael Hayes, VHUMC missions coordinator. “We are just the hands and feet. His hands are in it in ways we can’t even imagine.”
The ministry relies on donations (often church members will donate used vehicles or give monetary donations) or will purchase used cars from surrounding auto repair shops or The Foundry Ministries since they have worked with some people in The Foundry’s program. And 100 percent of funds donated to the ministry goes straight to getting a car.
The Car Ministry also works with three auto repair shops and owners to identify reliable used cars for the ministry to purchase, assess the condition of purchased and donated vehicles to determine if they will be reliable cars, and make repairs if needed. “They all give us honest assessments, do good work, and are all Christian people who support the ministry and will back up their work,” Curry says.
Mike Busenlehner, owner of Vestavia Auto Service since 1996, has been working with the ministry since it started. He says his shop determines if the cars are in decent shape or what repairs they might need, and Curry notes Busenlehner has been very helpful in repairing and finding vehicles for the ministry. Second generation auto repair shop owner Sandy Pool, of RSP Enterprises in Pelham, will often come across cars customers want to sell and refer them to the ministry, and the ministry has made purchases through him. (Pool’s dad actually owned a shop in Vestavia from 1957 to 2002, as did Sandy from 2007 to 2012—and Sandy was also a member of VHUMC at one time).
The repair shops have connected with the ministry in a variety of ways. For one, Curry met Josiel Daniel of Advantage Paint and Body, LLC, in Springville, Alabama, when he saw a car for sale on the side of the road and stopped at the business to buy the car for the ministry. They have now worked with him for several years, and he will come to the church to look at cars for them as needed.
Curry, whose one act of kindness began this outreach seven years ago, notes there is a scriptural basis for the ministry. In Matthew 25, Jesus says that when he was hungry, you fed him; when he was thirsty, you gave him drink; when he was a stranger, you invited him in; and whatever you did for the least of his brothers and sisters, you did for him.
“I think we are making an impact, and I wonder why I didn’t think of doing this 20 years ago,’” Curry says. “Anytime you help people—and it’s not always convenient—you end up being the recipient of the blessing. It’s been a blessing to see how this has changed people’s lives.”
One Man’s Story
“Who gives a car away?” says Roderick Johnson, describing how he felt when he first learned of the VHUMC Car Ministry.
Since moving to Birmingham in 2013, Roderick had found himself routinely riding the bus. In order to get to an appointment downtown, depending on where he was coming from, he would sometimes have to walk almost a mile to the bus stop, wait anywhere from around 20 to 45 minutes, sometimes in the hot sun and sometimes in the freezing cold, and then take two more transfers in order to get downtown and on the trolley. In short, one appointment could take up most of his day.
Then he met Ashley Curry and learned about the VHUMC Car Ministry. “That man is an outstanding person,” Roderick says, “You don’t meet people like him every day…My heart goes out to the church and people there.”
Roderick received a vehicle from the ministry two years ago this summer, and now he often attends a service at VHUMC on Sunday nights and spends a lot of time at the church. He currently works part time in the kitchen, helping with dinner at the church on Wednesday nights.
“It has really changed my life,” Roderick says. “When I first got the car, I would get out of my bed and come to the living room and peep out the window, and I said, ‘Is this a dream?’ It’s still out there. It’s been a blessing…I’m grateful.”
To learn more information about this ministry, visit vhumc.org/get-involved/missions/church-outreach-opportunites/, or if you are interested in donating or learning more, call VHUMC’s Benevolent Care Phone Line at 769-0142.