Operation Finally Home
About the Guest
Dan WallrathDan Wallrath has been building custom homes for more than 30 years. He has served on numerous boards within the building industry, including the board of directors of the National Association of Home Builders. In 2005 he founded Operation FINALLY HOME, a nonprofit organization providing custom-built, mortgage-free homes to military heroes and the widows of the fallen. He was named a CNN Hero in 2010 and was featured in a CNN documentary about Operation FINALLY HOME in December 2013. Dan and his...more
A friend contacted Dan Wallrath about remodeling their home for their son, who had sustained a severe head injury in the war. Find out how making this home wheelchair accessible changed several lives.
Operation Finally Home
Bob: The men and women who serve us in our armed forces have taken an oath to protect and defend this nation. For some of them, fulfilling that oath involves significant sacrifice. Some of them come back as wounded warriors with wounds that make it hard for them to provide for their family on an ongoing basis. Dan Wallrath, a homebuilder in Texas, is someone who is very aware of the challenges facing these wounded warriors.
Dan: The economic stress and pressures that these families go through, on top of all their injuries—it’s just—it’s incredible. It’s just incredible. When they realize they’ve got a mortgage-free home, you can literally just see the burdens lifted from their face.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, May 25th.
Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey. I’m Bob Lepine. With Memorial Day just ahead of us, we’re going to pause today to hear about what one man is doing to care for wounded veterans. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, it has occurred to me, as I watch families raising the next generation—seems there is a difference in how children today view members of the military than children a generation or two ago did. It just seems that there is a—there’s not the same level of respect that was certainly present with my mom and dad in the midst of World War II.
Dennis: And my mom and dad as well.
Bob, because of what we do, here, on FamilyLife Today, we have the privilege of going some places that I would never have the privilege of going.
One of the places I found myself in, well over a decade ago, was in a three-star general’s office in the Pentagon. This was a key leader in our armed services—Marine Corps. He shared with us how, every day, he would get a list of the soldiers who had lost their lives in the last 24 hours. At the end of the time, he said: “Dennis, you run into some military personnel from time to time. I want to give you something for yourself, and I want to give you something to press into the palm of one of our servicemen or women who have heroically represented our country. It’s a…”—I’ll ask our guest here, Dan Wallrath—he joins us here on FamilyLife Today. Welcome.
Dan: Thank you. Glad to be here.
Dennis: What’s this called, Dan?
Dan: A challenge coin.
Dennis: A challenge coin. So, it’s got United States Marine Corps on the front. Then, on the back, it’s got three stars—
—which is pretty cool—flight officer.
At one of our conferences, I ran into a military man, who was getting ready to serve his fourth deployment. I got a chance to tell him how proud I was of him / how grateful I was and press one of those coins he gave me into his palm.
I’ve thought often about our service personnel and why it’s so important for those of us—to your point, Bob, that you made earlier—to thank them when we run into them. When we find out that they have served our country, just to say, “I just want you to know I appreciate you, your service, and your protection of my family and the other families of our country.”
And we’ve got a gentleman here who—God turned a homebuilder into a home builder. [Laughter] Dan Wallrath joins us on FamilyLife Today, and here is who Dan is.
Dan was building custom homes for over 30 years in the Houston area, been married to his wife Carol since 1970—has a couple of sons / four grandchildren. He was kind of phasing out, and God tapped him on the shoulder about a need. I think you, as a listener, are going to find this story really compelling. He’s written a book called Building Hope.
I want to start, Dan, by just taking you back to your meeting with Carol. You actually were interviewed by a dad, who was a preacher; and you weren’t going to church at the time. You were 18—was that right?—17/18?
Dennis: He gave you a prerequisite for taking out his daughter.
Dan: He did. Back when I was in high school, I caught the eye of this beautiful, young lady; and I, unfortunately, didn’t have a great childhood. I was raised by an abusive, alcoholic father.
So, life, in my younger years, wasn’t that great. I was just really enamored by Carol. So, I got up enough courage and asked her out, and she took me to her house. She introduced me to her parents. Her dad was a Baptist preacher, and a former Marine, and a big, old boy. [Laughter]
Dennis: And he kind of knew where you’d come from.
Dan: Yes; yes. He knew my—
Dennis: So, he’s looking out for his daughter.
Dan: He was. He knew my family, and I was coming from a pretty rough background. He knew who my dad was. He told me—he said, “Son, if you’re going to take my daughter out on Saturday night, you’re going to be in church on Sunday morning; or you’re not coming back.”
Bob: And he didn’t mean any church—he meant his church.
Dan: His church.
Bob: He’s going to be looking at you and preaching at you on Sunday morning.
Dan: Absolutely; absolutely. [Laughter] And he did, which was such a blessing. Sitting under his ministry, I was saved at 17 years old.
We’ve been married 46 years, and we’ve just had such a wonderful marriage and had a blessed life.
Bob: You thought you were winding up your working career. You’d spent 30-plus years building custom homes. You were at a point where you could pull back and retire and live off what you’d earned, and God had a different assignment for you; right?
Dan: He did, and I didn’t realize it at the time. Back in 2005, we were talking retirement, like most folks.
Dennis: Yes; let me just butt in here for a second. There are a lot of people, who pause and stop and think about hitting the retirement button, and they do so without taking a step back and looking at their mission—
Dennis: —why God’s got them here. What caused you, ultimately, to reflect on your mission and why you were here?
Dan: You know, I think—you know, God gives each and every one of us a talent in life; and He expects us to use that talent.
That never really dawned on me that much—just being very active in our church—not asking, “Why?” very much; you know?—just reaping the benefits of His blessings.
Then, one day, when I had a friend of mine call me—he said that he had a friend of his whose son was a Marine, and his son was serving in Iraq. They had been on a mission, and they had run over an IED. His son had sustained some severe head injuries, and my friend asked me—he said, “You know, would you go talk to these folks about remodeling their home?—because they are going to bring their son home.”
His name was Joe—I said: “Joe, why in the world did you ask me? I don’t remodel homes. I build custom homes.” He said, “Dan, I don’t know!” He said, “When my friend asked me,”—he said—“your name was the first one that popped in my mind.” He said, “I have no idea.” So, I told Joe—I said, “Joe, I’ll go; and I’ll visit with the family.
“I’ll tell them that I know a good remodeler that can help them.”
I made an appointment with the Schultz family—went over there / met Mr. Schultz. The first thing he did was start talking about his Marine Corps son, who he was very proud of, you know, and his service. He showed me a picture of Stephen, his son—21 years old, probably had 17-inch biceps. I mean, a waist—probably a 26-inch waist—just a good-looking kid. I mean, if you had to draw a picture of a Marine, there he was.
Then, he surprised me—he showed me a picture of his son, again—in the hospital, in the wheelchair, up in Bethesda—and he was half the size. He had that look in his eye that there was brain damage. He started tearing up, and I started tearing up. I said: “I know a bunch of good guys. We’ll get this thing taken care of for you, because your family has sacrificed so much—your son.”
Dennis: That quick—you decided you were going to do it!
Dan: Yes; I was tearing up.
I let my big mouth take over, and I volunteered for a $100,000 remodel job for free. I went back out to the truck—and I just took a moment and had a talk with the Lord and said, “Lord, what in the world have I done here?” But I had a peace about it. I knew that everything was going to be okay. I had no clue where this thing was going.
I was a past president of our builders association at that time—went to our next meeting, and I told our group—which the builders association was made up of a lot of builders, subcontractors, suppliers—everybody—the bankers, developers in the Houston area. I got up—never been ashamed of my faith—I told them—I said: “You know, the Lord kind of led me over there and gave us this opportunity to help this family. I think we need to do it.” And everybody: “Yes! Let’s do it!” It was right in the middle of the war—things were pretty hot and heavy over there.
We went over and remodeled the home—it turned out great—I mean, everybody stepped up. We got the job done for the family and was able to get the home ready for Stephen to come home. We widened doorways and made ramps, and we ripped out the shower and put in a roll-in shower—you know, just on and on. God really touched the hearts of so many folks—they just answered the call, and we got the job done.
Dennis: I’ve got a correction to make. It wasn’t a big mouth—[Laughter]—t was a big heart. I’ve got to wonder—here’s the question for you: “What did the big heart do when that young man rolled into that home—
Dan: Oh, goodness!
Dennis: —“for the first time?” Take us there.
Dan: He came home, and just—the look on his face. One person asked him, when he came in, “How’d the home make him feel?” He said, “Well, it made me feel normal again.” That was pretty powerful—
—that little bit of work that we had done just gave him a little bit of—sense of normality again; but that was our first experience of being able to help one of those young men.
Bob: And you thought, at the time, that you were doing a favor / a good deed—you were helping out someone in need. That would be a one-time deal, and you’d move on to retirement.
Dan: Absolutely; absolutely.
Bob: But that was not God’s plan; was it?
Dan: No; it wasn’t. We finished that project, and I thought I’d put it behind me; but I never had anything hit me like this—I couldn’t eat / I couldn’t sleep. My mind—I couldn’t think about business. I’d go to church, and I’d think about these families that were like the Schultz family—that their whole lives had been turned upside down—and thinking that the government was taking care of them, and helping them, and things like that, which was not so true.
I went back to our group and I said, “Look,”—I said—“you know, I think we can do another project—we can build a house.” Everybody at the builder’s association said: “Yes! Let’s do that.” So, we did. We built a house. To my surprise, the first home we built—it cost me $6,000 to build the home—was all after we completed it. I knew God was up to something. I didn’t know what; but, you know, you don’t build a $200,000 house for $6,000.
Bob: This was because people were donating—
Bob: —time and supplies?
Dennis: They just came out of the woodwork.
Dan: Yes; all the subcontractors and suppliers—folks that I’ve used—I was very—they were loyal to me, and I was loyal to them. These guys have been working with me for years, and years, and years. So, when I reached out to them for help, they jumped at the opportunity.
Bob: Did you know who you were building this second home for?
Dan: We did, and that’s another—another God story. When we first started, we didn’t have anybody in the military on our board / of our building board; and we didn’t know anything—
—nobody knew anything. It was so important for us to reach out and help the correct families / the right families; because if we helped a family that might not have needed the help or whatever, it could have really devastated our program—not knowing that at the time—but God just—He put the right family in our path.
So, we built our first home for a young man that—a Marine—was serving in Iraq. While he was there, he contracted a rare liver disease that he had picked up, they think, from the drinking water. It attacked his liver, and he had to have a liver transplant.
Dan: If he didn’t get it, he was going to die. At the last minute, they rushed him back to California; and he got a liver. When we heard about him, they were living in an apartment in Pearland, Texas, down around Houston.
They were having to live in a clean apartment, which—I mean, it couldn’t be an old apartment, where there is mold and mildew or anything like that because his immune system was so depleted that anything—he would die if he caught anything. They were from Louisiana; but they had to live in the Houston area, close to the medical center because that’s where he was getting—he had to get treat—he couldn’t get treated at the VA—he had to get treated at the medical center.
When we heard about the family, we went over—and I’ll never forget—and we didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t know what questions to ask, and they didn’t know why we were there. We just told them we wanted to help them. I’ll never forget—I said: “You know, we want to help you guys. If we could do anything, what could we do for you?” They had an old futon that they were sitting on—that’s the only furniture they had—and they had a mattress, I think, for a bed. I’ll never forget—she says—Melanie—she says, “You know, we’d love to have a couch!” That’s all they wanted in life—was a couch. And here we were thinking about trying to figure out a way to build them a home.
Dennis: But they didn’t know that?
Dan: No; they didn’t know that. We decided we were going to build a home for them, and it was such a blessing to surprise that family—a young family. The look on their faces—the economic stress and pressures that these families go through, on top of all their injuries, is just incredible. When they realize they’ve got a mortgage-free home, you can literally just see the burdens lifted from their face. I mean, it’s just—you can see it. That was the first time I saw that, and it was amazing to witness that.
Unfortunately, they lived in the house probably a year. His liver started failing, and Chris passed away. I’ll never forget—we went to the funeral, and the funeral was in Lake Charles. Melanie was there, and she called me aside—she said, “Mr. Dan, what do you want me to do with the house?” I said, “Well, Melanie, what do you mean?” She said, “Well, we probably need to give it to another family.”
[Emotion in voice] Pardon me—anyway, I said / I told her—I said, “Melanie, you know Chris has given his all, and your family has sacrificed so much.” I said: “That’s your home. You keep that home.” Melanie lives there—she lives there today.
Bob: From a remodel to a first home—what began as an idea has turned into a full-time initiative for you—Operation FINALLY HOME is what you give leadership to. How many homes have you provided for servicemen over the last 11 years?
Dan: Well, right now, we’re working on—I think, it’s over 200 homes that we have delivered or we have under construction, right now, in 34 states. God is really blessing. We deliver a home about—I think, it’s every ten or twelve days.
Bob: And you told us earlier that, when a family gets a home, there is something different that happens for that—
—you really are giving them, not just wood and concrete—you’re giving them a life.
Dan: Oh, absolutely. This is one of the things that I think you guys can relate to, and I can relate to. You know, we’re raised, as men, to—and I think this is something God puts in us—the desire to provide for your family. When, all of a sudden, you are injured in battle and you lose that ability to provide for your family, that is devastating to these young men; and they feel that they are less of a man now—it’s terrible.
I’ve had them say this to me in a hospital—they’ll say they realized that, now, they are a burden to their family; and if they die, they get a benefit—there’s a benefit to their family.
I’ve had them tell them they’d be better off dead than be a burden to their family.
When they receive a new home, they realize that this is something—because of their service—that they’ve received; and it just gives them a new a hope, a new life, a new beginning. And like I was telling you all earlier, we at Operation FINALLY HOME tell them that: “This is not a gift from Operation FINALLY HOME; this is a gift from God. God saved them on the battlefield. He’s saving them, again, by giving them a new home; and they need to find out what their purpose in life is—know that God loves them, and that He’s got a plan for their life, and they just need to know what it is.
Dennis: As I was thinking about our conversation today, Dan, I thought about a passage of Scripture that I think you embody. I think there are listeners who need to embody this Scripture just like you have—it’s Matthew, Chapter 9, verse 35—
—it’s talking about Jesus here / it says: “And Jesus went throughout all the cities, villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. Then, He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly for the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.’”
Dennis: You call it your big mouth—[Laughter]—I said, “No; it was your big heart.” What God did was—He turned a homebuilder into another kind of a home builder.
I just wonder, Bob, if there aren’t listeners, right now, who, maybe, have stood at a fork in the road—
—like Dan did—or maybe, they are standing at one right now, and they need to say, “Yes,”—they need to step out in faith. What you don’t know is—we had a little time with Dan before we came in the studio. What he said was: “I stayed in the pew, for decades, going to church. I’ve never seen the miracles that I’ve seen in the last decade or so around the birthing of this ministry and the impact it’s having on human lives.”
The question is: “What’s your mission? What does He want you to do?” Maybe, it’s just something really simple. You’d say, Dan, that’s a pretty simple step—could have been costly; you know?—you remodeled the house.
Dan: God didn’t reveal all this to me at once. If He had, I think it would have scared me to death / I’d run away. He presented an opportunity to me; and I said, “Yes.” Then, He burdened my heart; and I said, “Yes,” again.
You know, I’m probably—I said this earlier—I’m probably one of the most unqualified persons in the world to be doing this, but that’s who God uses—is the unqualified—that’s who He qualifies.
If I had to say anything to anybody, it would be just: “Don’t be afraid to just say, ‘Yes.’ He’ll provide—I mean, it’s just so obvious. I never / never ever knew the blessings, and the opportunities, and the people He has put in my path since I said, ‘Yes.’ There’s nothing I did—absolutely nothing. All I did was say, ‘Yes,’ and hold on—that’s it.” [Laughter]
Bob: You have catalogued what that ride has been like in a book that you’ve written called Building Hope: What Happens When God Changes Our Plans to Accomplish His. It’s a great story of God at work through a willing individual—somebody who has said, “Yes,” like you said—and how that’s been used to bless a lot of people.
We’ve got copies of Dan’s book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Again, the title is Building Hope. You can order a copy of the book and read some of these stories when you go to our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to order your copy of the book, Building Hope. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; and our toll-free number is 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, I’ve been thinking about how—well, the title of Dan’s book is Building Hope. In some ways, we’re in the same line of work. While you are building physical homes for a lot of wounded veterans, our goal, here at FamilyLife, is to help build the foundation for homes all across the country and, really, around the world.
Our goal is to help provide the spiritual foundation that is necessary for men and women—moms and dads / husbands and wives—to build a marriage and a family on that foundation because our belief is that godly families can change the world, one home at a time.
And we’re grateful for those of you who are involved with us as monthly Legacy Partners, donating each month to help support this ministry. During the month of May, we set a goal of trying to raise $1.1 million to have funds necessary to help us continue working on projects we’ve got underway during the summer months. We’ve heard from many of our listeners—from some of you, who are first-time donors to the ministry. Thank you for getting in touch with us; but before May is over, we want to, once again, encourage you to consider making a donation to help us reach our funding goal for this month. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY; or you can mail your donation to FamilyLife Today at PO Box 7111, Little Rock, AR; the zip code is 72223.
Now, tomorrow, we’re going to hear some of the stories of some of the families that Dan Wallrath and his organization have helped over the last several years—great stories. Hope you can tune in for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas; a Cru® ministry. Help for today. Hope for tomorrow.
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