Church cherishes family's immovable faith

By Justin Boron

They lost almost everything, but still had money to give.

The Zardies' homes were likely filled with water, and like so many of the New Orleans evacuees arriving in Atlanta, they came with little more than the clothes on their back.

It at least appeared that Hurricane Katrina had taken everything from them. But what the storm's 130 mph winds couldn't move was the family's religious conviction.

One week after Katrina hit, the Zardies family tithed, making its weekly monetary contribution to God at a Riverdale church called the Lakewin Christian Center.

Their reasoning for giving what money they had, even when they were suffering the most, is a testament to their faith in God.

"It's not ours anyways," explained Denise Zardies, 52, the oldest daughter in the family. "It belongs to Him."

The Zardies came to Clayton County with 21 family members and were staying in a shelter last week. Eventually, they were able to get a hotel room.

But because of their faith, they will soon have a house to live in.

When Wanda Hughes, 33, a member of the Lakewin congregation, heard about the family, she knew she wanted to help.

She said she met them and wanted to bring them to the Sunday service.

But they couldn't attend because they had to find medication for the family's 68-year old matriarch, Gloria.

So, instead they sent their tithe with Hughes.

Wednesday, the family was able to attend the evening service at Lakewin, and in the span of about an hour, the congregation had built them a new home.

Flooding the church with generosity, members of the congregation each made an offering to the family.

First came contributions of furniture, televisions, linens, and household appliances. Then, one by one, people donated money until the checks and cash added up to more than $2,200, said Harry J. Riley, the church's pastor.

To top it off, Mytrice and Kevin Smith told the family they could stay for free in a rental property they owned in Riverdale.

Mytrice Smith, 47, acknowledged that the family may have already started looking for other forms of public assistance. But she said, "God can move faster than the government."

Riley said he didn't quite expect the outpouring that he saw. But he said he knew everybody had the heartfelt desire to be there for the Zardies family.

"They're the one that had the greatest need," he said . "But they didn't back off what God had called them to do."

Riverdale City Councilman Kenny Ruffin, who attended the service, said he was stunned at the congregation's generosity.

"It inspires me. Right now, you guys inspire me," he said.