Mustang volunteers raise roof, spirits at rural Arizona church

By Carolyn Cole
Published on June 21, 2008

In five days 60 Mustang-area residents raised more than a church in the Arizona desert — they brought hope.

Bridge AG members blitz-built a 7,200-square-foot church for the Bylas Assembly of God. The foundation was already set before volunteers started work as the sun rose at 5:30 a.m. April 25.

The framing crew set to work raising walls, Melvin Masengale said, and by the next evening, the exterior was finished including the roof. Volunteers installed heating, air conditioning and electrical wiring and went home May 1.

“I’m sure every person would say it’s the most rewarding thing they have done, other than for family,” Masengale said. “That’s why I do it. It’s fun to be with the people; it’s a challenge.”

Local business owners, builders and contractors close down their shops and donate their time, expertise and, in some cases, materials to lead the volunteers in the building project. Each aspect of the build has a certified professional overseeing construction, Associate Pastor Ken Isom said.

“We are trying to find ways for our men to find fulfillment and use their talent — to give of themselves,” he said.

The Bridge AG’s construction ministry started years ago as part of its outreach in Mexico missions. Isom said the effort of taking construction materials and traveling into another country was difficult, and many of the congregation’s professional builders couldn’t make the trip. He started looking for projects closer to home and learned of the need on Arizona’s American Indian reservations.

In many of these communities, Isom said there is great poverty, high numbers of unemployed people and climbing rates of drug and alcohol abuse and suicide.

“Kids who graduate from high school, if they don’t leave, they don’t do well,” he said.

Bylas is the Bridge AG’s sixth Arizona construction project, and they have worked with the Apache, Hopi and Navajo tribes.

In the first project, Masengale said he helped lead a team of a dozen volunteers to help a congregation of seven people. The church they built now hosts an average attendance of 100 people each Sunday.

“It has been great to see the growth and be a part of that,” he said.
The Bridge AG team has also multiplied in size. In addition to building a new facility, volunteers also teach a vacation Bible school and Sunday school teacher training in the community during their visit.

Isom, also a veterinarian, offers free pet health clinics, vaccinating animals and treating them for fleas and ticks.

Bridge members also invite a few teenagers receiving substance abuse treatment at an Oklahoma faith-based residential center to help with construction and speak at drug and alcohol use prevention presentations at area schools.

Isom said the trip gives the youth a chance to tell their stories, help other teenagers and work hard alongside volunteers.

“We get as much out of it as we give,” he said.

The Bridge volunteers’ work helped several community churches grow their congregations and expand their youth programs, Arizona AG missionary Charley Odell said.

In Bylas, a community of 2,100 people the average household income is $23,880, or less than half of the state and national averages.

Odell said unemployment is rampant in the community, and many youth have drug and alcohol problems and little to no hope for their futures.

Within days after the volunteers’ visit, he said he witnessed changes in the attitudes of local youth.

One Bylas teenager spearheaded organizing his local project, starting with plans in February, and now Odell said the boy is working to make certain additional volunteers are lined up to finish the church’s interior. The teen is considering his future, he said, asking for help filling out college applications.

“This is why I do what I do, to try and help people out,” Odell said. “If it helps one person out, it’s worth the whole thing.”

Being a part of changing lives, Masengale said, is the reason so many volunteers give use their vacation time and money to labor for 14-hour days in the Arizona desert.
“I feel like it’s ordained by God,” he said. “It’s going to work.”

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