Under a scorching summer sun, crews of volunteers and members of the Grace Connection Church have been sweating away on a new church building with a goal of putting a roof over their heads sooner than later.

They began their exciting new church build May 20 and have quickly set the foundation with walls going up soon after thanks to an impressive group from Volunteer Christian Builders, based out of Pleasanton, Texas. The heat was speeding the curing of the concrete slab so fast they had to keep wetting it down to slow the process and protect their new foundation, according to concrete contractor Ron Malone, who was contracted to pour the slab. That process was completed on Wednesday, June 9, with the third and final pour of the church floor. Another slab was to be poured for a carport area.

The new building rests on the north side of Highway 10 just east of New York Mills, near the Highway 106 intersection. It’s a sprawling project with numerous jobs going at once. Workers, machinery and campers are covering several acres of the site.

The church set their vision of moving to a new building after transitioning to the Wadena Maslowski Wellness and Research Center in 2015. The vision includes creating spaces for the community to use and fellowship and discipleship to be fostered.

The Highway 10 location was always the goal for maximum exposure, according to church staff member Randy Mohs. Mohs has also been helping with the construction process, alongside other church members and the church’s pastor Jeff Heisler. Moh even helped set up a video camera that overlooks the project area to create a time lapse of the entire construction process.

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Heisler said the location between several communities was not a “build it and they will come” idea, rather it’s a place they can be identifiable. Heisler said when he came to Wadena in 2005, there were 23 churches in Wadena. After being a part of the community for 100 years, their church location still seemed to be unknown to people in the area. The new location is one no one will miss.

Mohs said the 140 by 70 foot building, roughly 10,000 square feet, is “pretty simple.” It will seat 182 people. Its purpose will be much more grand in seeking to disciple people in what it looks like and why it matters to be a follower of Christ.

Volunteer Christian Builders are on site of the new Grace Connection Church building east of New York Mills Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Volunteer Christian Builders are on site of the new Grace Connection Church building east of New York Mills Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

After purchasing the land for $100,000, an additional $20,000 was raised for below grade construction. As fundraising continues, 50 percent of the cost is covered due to free labor from Volunteer Christian Builders, who have been arriving in groups. Mohs said a volunteer group from Missouri has been serving the food for all those laboring away. They anticipate feeding as many as 50 people when more volunteers arrive. Most are from Texas and other southern states. The group of southerners thought they were coming here to catch a break from the heat, but it’s actually been cooler in Texas. Shelley Rowe, a volunteer from Bismarck, N.D.,said that was a little bit of pay back as she and her husband, Mike, went to help in a building project in Texas this spring when they encountered a severe ice storm -- the one that shut down much of the state.

Volunteer Christian Builders members lift a new wall into place at the construction site of the new Grace Connection Church Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Volunteer Christian Builders members lift a new wall into place at the construction site of the new Grace Connection Church Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Heisler said the donated labor through the Southern Baptist denomination is a huge blessing for the church. The Volunteer Christian Builders are a group of 120 retired couples who travel around the United States as "framers" in periods of two week projects that can be extended. With a focus on framing, the six crews available can also work on the electrical, insulation, sheet rock and suspended ceiling grids and tiles, according to their website. The group stays in campers on site or at homes of church members and are all fed at the building site throughout their time there.

Richard Crosby is the crew chief and comes from Grand Saline, Texas. Crosby not only keeps the work up to spec, he also leads the group in devotionals when the group needs a break from the searing heat the area has been experiencing. Crosby said he’s been doing this for 17 years and in each job, God provides the people to make it happen.

“I always ask God to send the people I need and He does,” Crosby said. “It’s fun to see how God works.”

Crew chief Richard Crosby leads a devotional before the crew continues construction of the new church Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Crew chief Richard Crosby leads a devotional before the crew continues construction of the new church Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal

Crosby volunteers in this way year round. They work two weeks on then one week off to stop and enjoy the surrounding area.

Heisler was thankful for the volunteers and to Community First Bank of Sebeka and Menahga. He said the bank came to them excited to support the project. He added that in working with the Southern Baptist churches the church will benefit again through a “Ingathering Day” on June 27, when 27 Southern Baptist church bodies will work to raise as much money as they can to help pay for this church project. Heisler said as he looked out over the working group that they have been some of the most pleasant people to work with.

“I’m happy to be a part of what they are doing,” Heisler said.

In just two months, much of the work should be complete on this new structure.

Grace Connection Church Pastor Jeff Heisler checks the placement of a wall on the new foundation of the building Wednesday, June 9, 2021.
Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal
Grace Connection Church Pastor Jeff Heisler checks the placement of a wall on the new foundation of the building Wednesday, June 9, 2021. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal