Remembering Steve Hull: Mel Arbaugh

This is the fourth in a series of reflections on our founder, Steve Hull, who passed away on November 18, 2019.

Posted August 7, 2020

Steve (right), Andy, and Mel (back, center) share some laughs with Vicente and other friends on the mountain in Barahona during a mission trip.

The memory of Steve Hull which stands out most vividly in my mind occurred on my first mission trip to the Dominican Republic. Sitting very uncomfortably with Steve in the bed of a beat up old pickup truck, making our way painstakingly, and ever so slowly up the bumpy, deeply rutted, sometimes treacherous road to the top of the mountain where we were to spend the night, there were kids of all ages along the road cheering, dancing, reaching in to touch Steve, some of them occasionally climbing into the truck to hug him . . . . And I remember that huge smile on his face, as he set aside his liter bottle of Coke to pull yet another child onto the truck. Steve was in his element here. This was where he wanted to be. This was where he belonged. He virtually glowed.

Yes, he virtually glowed. . . . And why not? God had told Steve to feed His hungry people in the Dominican, and Steve did not hesitate to answer God’s call; to do exactly what God had called him to do. And those kids loved Steve for that. Any oh my, how he loved them back.

Most of you have probably heard the story. But it bears re-telling. As Steve recounted it to me, he had helped to build a church while on a mission trip to the D.R. in 1996, and on the plane flight back to the U.S., Steve was feeling pretty proud of himself for all he had just accomplished. On that flight Steve was watching a movie when the audio portion of the movie went dead for Steve. And Steve heard someone say, “I have hungry people in the D.R. What are you going to do about it?” Steve looked to see who was saying this, and he heard that same voice say again, “I have hungry people in the D.R. What are you going to do about it?” As he looked around, it became apparent to Steve that the voice was not coming from anyone on the plane. Suddenly Steve was no longer feeling quite so proud of himself. When Steve got home he gathered his three brothers around him and told them of his plan to feed the starving people in the D.R. bateys once a week with 1/2 cup of uncooked rice and one full cup of uncooked beans. One of the brothers asked, “Steve, how do you expect to administer this plan from nearly fifteen hundred miles away? Whereupon Steve replied, “God told me Franklin would do it.” . . . . Of course the brother’s next question was, “Who is Franklin?” And Steve replied, “I don’t know. But God told me Franklin would do it.” About three weeks later Steve was back in the D.R. where he met with a pastor there and described to the pastor his plan to feed the hungry people in the bateys. During the course of the conversation, Steve asked the pastor if there was perhaps a Franklin in his congregation. The pastor responded that indeed there was a young man named Franklin in his congregation, but seriously doubted that this young fellow could be of any help toward implementing Steve’s plan, as Franklin had only one arm and one eye. . . . . . For 15 years that Franklin was the administrator for The Least of These Ministries.

Steve had heard God’s call. And Steve obeyed God’s call.

It was my pleasure, my honor, my privilege and my good fortune to serve for many years with Steve on the Board of The Least of These Ministries. Always Steve put his highest priority on feeding the hungry, both physically and spiritually.

I met Steve soon after opening my architectural practice in Carroll County in 1977. Steve was in the glass business. He furnished and installed windows and aluminum and glass doors on some of our early projects. It soon became apparent to me that he was a man to be trusted. When Steve was the glass sub-contractor on a job, I knew I could rest easy for that part of the project. Steve was always a part of the solution, never a part of the problem. When he told you something, you could take it to the bank. If I had questions pertaining to glass, I knew where to find the answers. His knowledge of codes and regulations related to glazing was phenomenal. In those days before the internet, listening to Steve describe the various types and qualities of glass and the methods of glass installation was like reading an encyclopedia. (Some of you younger readers may have to Google the definition of “encyclopedia.”)

I was on several mission trips with Steve, the first of those to Jamaica in 1993 with our then 15 year old son, Josh. Ann (Steve’s wife) was along on that trip to Jamaica. As the week went on, and as I saw Steve and Ann interact, it became apparent to me just how much they leaned on one another. And then, as the years went on, during my time serving with Steve on the Board of The Least of These, that support which Steve and Ann had for one another and their mutual love for the people in the D.R. was ever so obvious.

The other mission trips I took with Steve were all to the D.R., and I learned that the best way to get something done was to tell Steve that it could not be done. Early on, we needed to purchase a truck to distribute the rice and beans. But in order to buy a truck in the D.R. we had to have a licensing number since The Least of These Ministries was a non-profit in the D.R. However, to obtain the licensing number we had to be incorporated in the D.R. We were told that setting up a corporation in the D.R. would take many months. We planned a four day trip to the D.R. Steve, with God’s help, managed to set up a sister corporation for The Least of These in the D.R. in just three days. On the fourth day, we bought the truck.

Steve was a visionary in so many ways. The very notion of feeding people some 1500 miles away from where we lived would intimidate most people. Not Steve. For many years we stored the beans and rice in a garage at Franklin’s house. And we made do with that arrangement. But Steve looked beyond that. As the price of rice and beans purchased in Barahona continued to rise, Steve established an alliance with another feeding ministry, Feed My Starving Children. This organization offers a fortified rice product with the only charge being the cost to ship that product from the U.S. to the D.R. Problem was, we had to have a much larger facility than Franklin’s garage to store the containers in which the product was shipped. Steve’s solution. . . . we would build a warehouse. . . . . Oh sure, just like that. Build a warehouse. Here again, some said we would never be able to undertake an effort of that magnitude. But Steve said all we needed was land and money. . . . . Of course, we had neither. Undaunted, Steve set about raising money and investigating possible sites for construction. We raised the money, bought the land and built the warehouse. And Steve did not seem at all surprised that this could be accomplished. He had the attitude that if God wants it, it would be done.

I have so many fond memories of Steve. I remember the mission trips he organized, and all of the many details he attended to as he coordinated those trips. There were construction materials to be purchased, sometimes approvals of batey leaders to be obtained before we could embark on a particular project, preliminary meetings of the mission team members to lay the groundwork for what was to be accomplished, assembling the various articles of clothing and books to be taken along and distributed to the folks in the D.R., procuring of airline tickets, coordinating our room and board arrangements. Steve did all of this with a smile, and he was never paid a penny.

I recall how very natural it seemed to be to Steve to repair our vehicles and the fork lift. He could fix anything. Steve was a real Renaissance man.
I remember the fights Steve used to have with the computer. Occasionally he would ask me to come over to his office to assist him with a computer issue. Talk about the blind leading the blind.

But as I alluded to earlier in this tribute, what I remember most about Steve is his love for the people he served in the Dominican. In Steve’s obituary it was noted that “his real passion was the ministry he founded in 1996, The Least of These.” I believe that passion derived from Steve’s compassion for God’s people, the people in the D.R. whom God called Steve to serve.

The world could use a few more Steve Hulls.

Respectfully, Mel Arbaugh