Helping make a future home, a better life

Volunteers with needs of their own live out the Gospel message

Story and photos by Meghan Eldridge, Summer Intern

Bicycles, soccer balls, and water guns lay strewn across the front yard. Cats, chickens, and the occasional chipmunk scurry through the garden. Like their great-grandson, Austin, zooming around the gravel driveway on his bike, Cecil and Linda Criss are almost always in motion.

Longtime volunteers Linda and Cecil Criss, shown with great-grandson Austin, identify needs in their community.

The Crisses have lived in the Wallace community since the late-1980s, when they returned here to care for Cecil's ailing mother. After her death, the couple, who have been married 30 years, bought and moved into the home where Cecil was born in 1945.

They became members of the Little Rock Camp Church 11 years ago and are actively involved in outreach efforts serving those in need in the area, even though Cecil has leukemia and they are raising their two great-grandchildren.

Six summers ago, the couple became involved in World Vision's efforts in the Wallace community. They began volunteering as representatives for their church to help identify needs that volunteer mission teams could help fulfill.

For the past three years, the Crisses have tried to convince a local man named Tommy Carroll to allow a team to work on his family's home for a week. This summer, he finally agreed.

A mission team from Connect United Student Ministry in North Canton, Ohio, installed insulation and drywall in an unfinished prefabricated structure that Carroll bought to eventually be his family's new home. The team also added supports in the ceiling.

Tommy and Mary Carroll received help from a mission team in preparing their future home.

"Tommy's [current] house was falling down," Linda Criss said. "Those people are in such need, we asked World Vision if they could do a little extra for them."

Over the course of the week, the structure was transformed as it began to take shape as the future home for Tommy and his wife, Mary, and three of their grandchildren. All 20 of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren live nearby.

For the Crisses, any project that helps improve the life of a family, particularly one with so many children, makes a big difference, Cecil Criss said.

This year, the Crisses themselves received help from a World Vision mission team. New laminate flooring was installed in their kitchen to replace worn out linoleum that was partially rotted.

The couple has raised their great-grandchildren—Tristan, 10, and Austin, 5—since the children were born. Despite the occasional challenge of being a full-time parent at nearly 70, Cecil (called "Pap" by Tristan and Austin) and Linda ("Grandma") wouldn't have it any other way.

"We wouldn't let them go for all of Texas," Cecil said.

The Carrolls' home is deteriorating. Volunteers helped make their future home more liveable.

The family's refrigerator is adorned with school art projects and grade reports. The Crisses' lives don't involve much downtime, but their love for the children is evident by the way Linda calls them "my babies."

Cecil was diagnosed with leukemia six years ago. After an initial six-month chemotherapy treatment, he was considered cancer-free. Now the cancer is back for a third time. He and Linda pray he'll be with them long enough to raise Tristan and Austin.

Cecil's outlook on his life is not without hope, though. Whether he beats cancer another time or not, he considers himself lucky, he said.

"I would like to live long enough to take care of these kids and to get back into outreach, if the Lord will grant me that," Cecil said. "Either way, though, I love the Lord and I'm a winner."

The opportunity to serve is one the Crisses have taken seriously over the course of their lives, and their involvement with World Vision is one of the main avenues through which they carry out that call as Christians. They consider themselves servants, Cecil said.

Tristan, 10, and Austin, 5, live with Cecil and Linda Criss, their great-grandparents.

"We can't give enough praise to World Vision and all of their supporters," he said. "It takes every bit of them, and it's really an awesome thing and a touch that keeps on giving. It's a great thing, people coming to know the Lord."


How you can get involved

Learn more about World Vision's mission trips in Appalachia and other parts of the U.S.