Many toil and labor in careers, looking forward to a day when they can retire and relax, pursue hobbies, or travel at will.
But for some, retirement means hard labor -- with love.
On the receiving end of these labors of love are churches and church camps across the United States -- including the Cowboy Fellowship of Wilson County, right here in La Vernia.
For two weeks in late March, a team of men and women from Volunteer Christian Builders -- most retirees -- descended on Wilson County from Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Texas to help the fledgling flock of the Cowboy Church build the interior of its new sanctuary. The congregation has outgrown its current building, on U.S. 87 between La Vernia and Sutherland Springs.
Crew chief Rusty Goin is a 30-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department; his crew comprised 15 couples.
“We represent all walks of life,” he said. Some volunteers have construction experience, but most come from other professions, he said.
“I enjoy the companionship and camaraderie,” said his wife, Nancy. They hail from Salina, Okla. “We schedule a job so we can enjoy another family reunion!” she added, with a smile.
Most volunteers join because they’ve been part of a church that has benefited from the group’s efforts, or know someone who has. The mission of Volunteer Christian Builders “is to advance the Lord’s Kingdom by assisting Bible-believing, -teaching, and -practicing churches, encampments, seminaries, and other institutions, especially in pioneer areas, by providing volunteer labor to construct buildings for worship and other Kingdom-building activities,” according to its website.
The crews pay their own way and travel in their own RVs to sites, where they spend two weeks doing “as much as we can,” Goin said. They then head home. After a two-week break, many join the next crew to do the same again, in another location.
Many of those working on the La Vernia church are “full-timers” -- this is what they do with their retirement. Some are still working; instead of relaxing on vacation, they’re “building the kingdom.”
Joann Stanton of Silsbee, Texas, has been with the organization since 2004.
“We’re working with the best people in the community when we go somewhere,” she said. “The Lord takes care of us!”
Her husband, Don, 81, is vice president of Volunteer Christian Builders.
“I’ve been on about 85 of these jobs, I guess,” said the grandfather of five. “We’ll do it as long as we’re able.”
“I like the camaraderie and meeting new people,” Don said. “Being with the church folks, they’re all different, but they’re also a lot alike.”
They take on a variety of projects, from building a church from the ground up, to finishing out, or roof work.
All the projects are different, with their own challenges and personalities. One interesting project, Don recalled, was in Eugene, Ore.
“We transformed an old Elks Club lodge into a sanctuary,” he said. “It was real unique.”
“We spend two weeks at a location and get done what we can -- what the Lord wants done,” Rusty said. “He seems to supply what we need when we need it.”
While the men take to hammers, saws, nail guns, paintbrushes, and more, the women work on mission projects -- from sewing shorts and dresses for children, to making diapers, pillowcases, and washable feminine hygiene pads -- “our most popular item!” said Joann -- and crocheting hats, washcloths, and bags. Most of the material they use is donated. All items are sent to mission locations around the world.
Usually, they stay on the site where they’re working. The La Vernia site was too muddy when they arrived, so the Cowboy Fellowship found a nearby RV park to make a temporary home. And the church benefiting from their labors feeds them twice a day.
“We work for food, literally,” Rusty said.
Cowboy Fellowship pastor Chris Kirkham considers the group a blessing.
“They’ve been amazing,” he said.
The workday begins at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m. They start with a prayer each day, and stop for devotions at 9:30 a.m. -- “led by whoever is led to do so,” Rusty said. “With whatever the Lord puts on their heart.
“The fellowship is phenomenal,” he added. “We laugh together, learn together, and grow and cry together.”
Maudell Noel and her husband, Gary, of Waller County, Texas, have been “part-timers” since 2009, looking forward to the day they can volunteer full time with the group.
“This is our ‘vacation,’” she said. “This is Gary’s relaxation time!”
They learned about the group when Volunteer Christian Builders helped with their church in September 2006.
Assistant Crew Chief Doug Lacey and his wife, Beverly, came from Pottsboro, Texas.
“I like it because God has given me a lot of varied skills and given me the opportunity to give Him the glory,” he said. “We get to help a lot of other people.”
He enjoys helping “small, small churches.”
“They can barely afford to feed us,” he said. ‘”But they really need us!”
“And we just go anyway,” Rusty said. “If we don’t do it, it just won’t happen.”
Building the kingdom
Volunteer Christian Builders is a 501(c)3 nonprofit.
No special skills are needed, just a willingness to help. Learn more at vcbuilders.org.