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Volunteers build first church for congregation

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Workers have laid more than a physical foundation at the building site of Light of Life Lutheran Church.

Scribbled on studs and support beams of the new church are biblical words of inspiration. “For nothing is impossible with God,” a quote from Luke 1:37.

Another, from Jeremiah 29:11, reads, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”


The words will be covered up with drywall eventually. But volunteers building the church have used the small gesture to establish a spiritual base in their new home.

The Greenwood church is partnering with a nationwide network of religious builders to help create their first legitimate worship building. Light of Life Lutheran Church and an organization called Builders for Christ have been working on the church building since May.

In just more than a month, the frame is up, and walls are coming together. The project will be finished by late August.

“They come in, and there’s not a stick lying on the ground. Then two weeks later, they already had the rafters up,” said Johnie Appel, head of the church’s construction committee. “They’re doing such a great job for us.”

Though little more than a frame, the features of the new church are coming together. A wide open space, currently without a roof, will be the sanctuary. Next to it, a large room will become a fellowship hall, where the congregation can gather for meals and special events.

Four classrooms will accommodate Bible study sessions. Offices for pastor John Stelljes and other church leaders will be in the back.

The new church will be just less than 7,000 square feet, Appel said.

Light of Life has been worshiping together for about four years. The congregation started with Sunday services at Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School before moving to a small building north of Old Town Greenwood.

But the vision always had been to construct a church building of their own, Stelljes said.

“It’s truly a natural progression of our church. We’ve always seen building a building as a way to facilitate the ministries that we’re doing. We’re growing out of the facility we have, and it makes sense to grow into something new,” he said.

Doing so would require help, and the church leaders decided to turn to Builders for Christ.

Builders for Christ is a nonprofit organization that formed in 1980 to help young churches. The idea was to offer volunteer builders to construct worship centers for the churches, said Martin Leyrer, project manager.

Requests for assistance comes from churches all over the country, but Builders for Christ leadership choose the best options.

“Our top priorities are mission churches and their first home,” Leyrer said. “We also do work for day care centers and schools. But we focus on seeing small congregations get their first home.”

Stelljes heard about the program through one of his uncles, who is involved with Builders for Christ.

When he brought the group’s mission to the church congregation, the members thought it would be a perfect way to help their worship center take shape.

“Their spiritual maturity presents an opportunity for this body of Christ to come together to enjoy the fellowship we have as Christians,” Stelljes said. “As an added bonus, by being here, they save on construction costs.”

The sides met and discussed a time frame of the project, their vision for the church and other details such as a general contractor. Leyrer calculated it would take about 13 weeks for the building to be finished.

While Builders for Christ provides the labor, the church is in charge of giving them housing, one meal each day of the week and insurance.

In Light of Life’s situation, they provided resources for the builders’ fleet of campers and motor homes outside the

construction site. A few have stayed with members of the congregation, while other volunteers have stayed in hotel rooms paid for by the church.

The project started in earnest May 6. A foundation slab, plumbing and other specialized construction were completed by Robin Campbell Builders prior to the volunteers’ arrival.

“We started six months prior, putting in all of the sewer and site work, pouring a parking lot, things like that,” said Robin Campbell, general contractor. “Our contract includes everything it will take to build the building. But we back out of everything that the volunteers can do.”

Builders for Christ will hang drywall, build cabinets and install roofing, among other tasks. Subcontractors will help with insulation and other skilled construction jobs.

Leyrer is a retired engineer and has worked on 27 projects across the country. Many of the Builders for Christ volunteers have been with the group on multiple construction projects. One of the volunteers has been working with the group since 1994.

“There’s an awful lot of experience at this worksite,” Campbell said. “(Leyrer) tore apart this project long before we started, broke everything down into sections.”

On Saturdays, members of the congregation come in and help when they can. The church also cooks lunch for them every day.

“There were people here at the church who, when this all started, they didn’t even know how to use a hammer. Now, you see them, and they’re up on the roof pounding nails,” Appel said.

Construction will continue through the summer, with Builders for Christ leaving at the beginning of August. The church is expected to be done by the end of the month, and first services are planned for the beginning of October.

That first worship service in the new building will be emotional for the whole congregation, the culmination of a long process, Appel said.

“To have our own building, where we can do the things we want, there are no words I can say,” he said. “It means so much.”

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