For the first five minutes after seeing her new house, all Donna Tidwell could do was smile and say, “Oh my gosh.”
Her old house was falling apart so Pastor Troy Brewer and church members gave the church cleaning lady a new one on Sunday.
When she returned home after a week vacation — that the church provided — and took off her blindfold, she cupped her face in her hands and blessed the pastor and everyone there.
“Y’all are just over the top, Pastor Troy,” Tidwell exclaimed.
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It was a surprise that Brewer said took about eight months and $85,000 to pull off.
Brewer, senior pastor at Open Door Church in Burleson, said he has known Tidwell for at least a decade. Tidwell has a business cleaning homes for other people named Double Diamond Cleaning Service and helps clean the church, Brewer said.
Brewer said he never had a reason to visit Tidwell’s home until eight months ago when he had to drop something off. Brewer said he was saddened by what he saw.
Still, buying Tidwell a new house was not an immediate decision.
“I asked a builder to go over there and take a look at her house to talk about repairing it and he came back and said it’s not worth fixing,” Brewer said. “There were parts of the roof where you could see outside. I told my executive pastor we had to get her a new house.”
That’s when the plan to surprise Tidwell began to percolate.
Tidwell lived in an old double-wide mobile home, and the plan was to remove it and replace it with a new one. The first problem to be confronted was where to put Tidwell so that she would not notice that her house was being bulldozed.
The schemers came up with another surprise to mask the ultimate surprise and sent her on a cruise to the Caribbean for a week. Brewer said he extracted one promise from Tidwell before she boarded the ship in Galveston.
“I told her that if she went she could not be on social media for the entire time of the cruise,” Brewer said.
“She’s not going to have a clue,” Brewer said. “Her mind is going to be blown.”
The church also furnished Tidwell with a minder who was instructed to slap her hands whenever she tried to get on her phone. The cruise worked to the advantage of the church because wi-fi is unavailable without the help of the cruise line, Brewer said.
As Tidwell toured her new house, one church member reached for her shoulder and said: “You’ve done so much for us.”
About two-thirds of the 5,000 members of Open Door Church know Tidwell, according to Jerry Sellers, executive pastor, and they all seem to love her.
“She never asks anyone for anything,” Sellers said. “No matter how bad things get, she never says anything. She just smiles. She has the joy of the Lord within her. When we made the announcement, everyone in church stood up and gave her a standing ovation.”
Everything that she owned was taken out of the house and placed in storage, Brewer said. All the appliances are new.
There was a cake waiting for Tidwell at her new house when she arrived. The cake was accompanied by a guest book that visitors to her surprise house warming could sign.
The church included a prayer room with a painting from Tidwell’s favorite artist depicting an angel with a set of arms wrapped around her.
“That’s what I feel like today,” Tidwell said. “Blessed.”
Then everyone in the room prayed a blessing for Tidwell’s new home.
“She’s a single woman in her 60s and we are her family,” Brewer said.