Mission Builders at work

Mission Builders work hard, live in cramped quarters far from their homes and dedicate their time and skills for strangers. But many of them insist they receive more than they give as they build churches, schools and camps.

One recipient of Mission Builders’ contribution has been Christ Lutheran Church in Minot, which is recovering from the 2011 Souris River flood. The church is being refurbished and a large fellowship area is being added.

“God has blessed us and our work here is our chance to give something back,” Jeanne Sitz explained. She and her husband Les have traded their home in Hamilton, Texas, to live in a travel trailer, parked with several others on the bare parking lot north of the church. It is their 12th Mission Builders project since 2003.

Bill Graves, construction manager for the Minot project, and his wife Becky are interrupting the construction of their own home in Florida to work in Minot. Master carpenter Steve Schenk, of St. Louis, Mo., is project foreman at Christ Lutheran as well as at the Graves’ home. He and his wife Carole along with Bob and Fern Neff helped with the Peace Lutheran project in Burlington last year.

The Neffs also worked at Upper Missouri Ministries Bible Camp at Epping. The Neffs live full-time in their motor home as do Bob and Chris Risberg. Last year the Risbergs worked at Hope Village where he supervised rebuilding several projects in individual homes.

Ted Erkenbrack, who lives with his wife Marilyn in a St. Paul suburb, also worked at Hope Village last year. He has been project foreman on several Mission Builders projects.

“The work at Christ Lutheran is out of the ordinary,” Becky Graves explained. Mission Builders usually work on new buildings; they expected to be adding a large ground-floor fellowship area to the existing church but circumstances demanded that a devastated basement and sanctuary be dealt with first.

“Mission Builders bring their own skills and talents to each job,” Bill Graves said. The group has its own electricians, master carpenters and engineers. They work cooperatively with other volunteers and groups and with local contractors and architects to complete the work.

“Mission Builders brings so much more than skilled labor,” Allen Pearson, chairman of Christ Lutheran’s property board, said. “They remind us we are not alone in the battle to restore our church and they become a part of the church and the community while they are with us.”

Mission Builders, who came to Minot early this summer, take part in church services. They are starting a six-week book study on James MacArthur’s book, “12 Unlikely Heroes,” to meet at the church at 7 p.m. each Thursday night. It is open to everyone.

The women, busy as their husbands, direct daily devotions, feed their husbands in the travel trailers or plan communal meals, like fish fries that use the catches of the enthusiastic anglers, especially Les Sitz and Bob Neff.

Sewing machines several women brought along are getting a workout, too. Led by Chris Risberg and Carole Schenk, they are teaching Minot women to make colorful pillow cases to be donated to people who are ill or hospitalized. “It’s a project we started when we were on a construction project in Phoenix,” Risberg said. “We gave them to a children’s hospital there.”

Jeanne Sitz’s pet project is pets, stuffed elephants, giraffes and more, to be donated for Sunday schools, vacation Bible schools and other activities. A fervent sales shopper, she seeks fabrics to make her “critters.”

The Mission Builders include several avid readers, so books pass from one RV to another to enjoy in the spare moments.

They enjoy travel in the areas where they are working, too.

Mission Builders, which was started by the Rev. Ron Voss, who is the pastor at Graves’ home church, is an extension of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. It is open to men and women over the age of 18, who are in good health. Most construction projects are in the Midwest, but also extend into other areas.

“Mission Builders looks beyond the economic benefits to the churches,” Boss said. “We become part of the congregation; we’re busy doing God’s work.”

Building skills are welcome, but not required, Bill Graves pointed out.

More information on the program is available by calling 800-643-5295.

For two churches in Ward County and for several individual home owners, the Mission Builders program has been a lifetime they will not quickly forget.