NC churches, Bushtown MB break ground on new building
by Myra Holmes
Even though God is “an on-time God,” as Pastor Terry Hunt says, sometimes God’s timing requires human patience. The congregations of the North Carolina District Conference (NCDC) have been learning that firsthand as they’ve worked toward a vision first cast more than six years ago.
Finally, they’re seeing it come to fruition: Bushtown MB Church, Lenior, NC, celebrated the groundbreaking of a new 10,140 square-foot multipurpose building Oct. 22, 2008. The facility will include a full-size gymnasium, kitchen, six classrooms and offices.
“It’s been a long time coming,” says Hunt, pastor of Bushtown MB Church and moderator for the NCDC.
The building is a partnership of the Bushtown congregation, the NCDC and Mission USA, the church planting and renewal ministry of the U.S. Conference. As such, it will have both dual purposes and a dual name. Bushtown MB will use the space for worship until they can build a new sanctuary. With the change of location, the congregation will change its name to The Life Center. In anticipation of the change, a new Web site has been developed.
At the same time, the district will use the facility for larger gatherings and youth activities. For these purposes, the building will be known as The Hope Center. The six African-American congregations near Lenoir frequently work together, but each is small. None of the churches seats more than 100; most seat 40 or 50. None has a facility large enough to host a large gathering or meal, so the building will provide much-needed space for events like the annual district convention.
The space will be especially used for youth activities. The district employs one district youth minister, Chris Eidse, with financial help from the national MB family. Eidse will host all of the youth activities and events from the new building, including regular youth meetings, monthly youth-oriented worship, after-school tutoring and mentoring, special events and an annual youth conference.
Eidse says the space will “free us up to do all the things we try to do in various creative ways with our youth but that we struggle with.”
A step up
In the current space, smaller youth activities, such as weekly Bible studies or even a pickup basketball game, require what Eidse calls “creative” use of space. Larger gatherings and events, such as vacation Bible school, have been possible only in partnership with churches with larger facilities.
“We do the best we can with what we have,” Eidse says, “but this will be a whole step beyond what we’ve had before.”
The new space will also make possible youth activities that simply aren’t doable in current facilities. For example, Eidse is planning a spring district youth convention, similar to those in the Southern and Central Districts, as soon as the building is finished.
Both Hunt and Eidse say anticipation and excitement is building. After all, it’s been a long wait. The vision for such a facility was cast in 2002 when 16 men gathered to pray overnight for a vision for the district. Hunt says God answered that prayer: “We left there in the morning in unison, believing God wanted us to have a district building.”
That vision went through several incarnations and many obstacles before the October groundbreaking. First, the district leased an old school auditorium, which they dubbed “The Hope Center.” When a new owner terminated that lease, they looked for an existing building to lease or buy, but all leads fell through.
Meanwhile, the Bushtown congregation was outgrowing their space. So they began to toss around the idea of partnering with the district on a new facility that both could use. Eventually, they were able to purchase 15 ½ acres of land on which to build.
Then came a frustrating series of obstacles. For example, they spent nine months working with a county environmental engineer before they could obtain permits for erosion control and storm water drainage. During the delay, fuel and material costs skyrocketed. Grading, initially estimated to cost $25,000, will actually cost over $112,000.
“We’ve just had a lot of factors working against us,” Hunt says.
Nevertheless, Hunt says, God has been at work. He’s answered prayer: Just days after delegates at the U.S. Conference convention in July prayed for favor with the county environmental engineer, Hunt e-mailed conference leaders to announce sudden progress in that area.
God has provided finances: Mennonite Brethren from all over the U.S. have been inspired to give, like the Sunday school class in South Dakota that took an offering for the project and scores of individuals who have donated. Fairview (Okla.) MB Church has taken a special interest and has given generously. A relationship has grown as they’ve twice invited Hunt to speak at their annual spring Bible conference.
Hunt says, “I’ve seen God’s hand directing our footsteps through this, guiding us each day, providing, giving us wisdom to be able to make the right decision through this whole project.”
Given the long wait and history of obstacles, the groundbreaking felt like a milestone. A key part of the celebration was a demonstration of reliance on God’s Word. Bushtown leaders placed Bibles sealed in plastic bags in the footings at each corner of the building so that the building and the ministry will be literally and figuratively founded on the Word of God. Following the official groundbreaking, Bushtown held their first meeting at the site as leaders and laypeople pulled up chairs and held their regular Wednesday evening Bible study.
Of course, the groundbreaking doesn’t mean the work is done. Hunt says next steps include laying 27,000 bricks and installing about 680 feet of water and sewer line. To save on cost, the work will be done by volunteers. Then, of course, comes sheetrocking, electrical work, painting, finishing and furnishing.
Finances continue to be an issue. Hunt estimates that the North Carolina churches still need to raise at least $100,000 in order to complete the project. “God has answered a ton of prayers,” Hunt says, “but we still have a few more miracles we’re waiting on.” Barring further obstacles, Bushtown and the district hope to begin using the building in April.
The larger Mennonite Brethren family has been a key support as this vision has developed. Mission USA has supported the project and offered financial support “from day one,” says Hunt. He says that MUSA director Don Morris has been “instrumental” throughout the process, as have Jon Wiebe and Bruce Jost of MB Foundation, which supplied the loan for the project.
Eidse says the small North Carolina churches have been “stuck” for a number of years, and this new project—and the expressions of support from the larger MB family that make it possible—has encouraged and energized.
“It’s just given us the momentum we need to get out of being stuck,” Eidse says. He looks forward to new growth and new church plants in the NCDC.
Hunt says the North Carolina churches are “grateful and thankful … to be part of a larger family of believers in Jesus Christ who are not selfish and who are very generous.” He asks the denomination to continue to pray for the timely completion of this project and for the ministry that will flow out of it.
Those who wish to contribute to the financial needs of the project may designate a gift through Mission USA. Those interested in volunteering time or labor may contact Hunt at 828-758-0540.