Mother of Two Wins a New Home at Church

A member of the Abundant Life Christian Center in Texas rang in the New Year not with a glass of champagne -- but a new home.

In a controversial game-show-style giveaway, the church awarded a $120,000 three-bedroom house to Tammy Woods.

Woods, a mother of two girls ages 12 and 16, lives with her children and husband Larry in a mobile home. Before they won the new home, the Woodses were in the process of buying a new home. Now, they say they will move into the home they won in about two to three weeks.

Contestants could only win the house by being present at the church's New Year's Eve services. Since 2003, the church has given away a car, a motorcycle and furniture, and the New Year's services usually draw about 2,000 people.

"You can go to the house of the Lord and have a good time also," said Pastor Walter Hallam. "This is a real special service. This is a unique thing."

During last Saturday's service, 20 names were randomly selected and thrown into the running with 100 others chosen from services earlier in 2005.

Twelve finalists -- for the number of Christ's apostles -- were selected. Each finalist was given a key. Whichever key unlocked a door on a stage belonged to the winner.

"I wasn't really sure when the other keys weren't turning," Woods said. "But when mine turned, I was real, real happy."

Church member Richard Murillo, who owns Trinity Builders, charged the church $53,000 to cover the cost of materials to construct the house.

If the church had the resources, Hallam said it would give away houses every day. Until then, he is content to make one member of his flock's year.

Hallam said he uses the prizes to get people to the New Year's service rather than partake in celebrations. Some critics argue that using incentives to get people to church takes away from the religious experience of going to church. But Hallam takes great pride in his giveaways.

"It's really a great blessing as a church to be able to give someone a prize like this," he said.