Last winter, members of a Church of God in Christ congregation here faced the almost certainty of foreclosure on their building. The interior of the building had burned on Thanksgiving Day in 1988, and for four years they had been rebuilding the structure. But funds finally ran out on the more than $700,000 project.
"We had no where to turn," Bishop Nathanial Jones Jr. said of the dead end he and his parishioners were up against. Three of them, including Bishop Jones, had even mortgaged their homes. But they maintained their faith.An unexpected way was provided as Latter-day Saints in the Barstow 1st and 2nd wards of the Barstow California Stake offered volunteer labor and help with fund-raising projects. This helping hand has not only resulted in loan extensions, but has also been the catalyst in a coming-together of the community.
Wilford A. Wiseman, the Church's multiregion director of public affairs for the Barstow area, related, "One thing we've tried to do is involve the entire community. We've tried to not push the name of our Church. We've really been an incentive and the driving force to get the community to help."
Bishop Jones told the Church News, "I've been here about 33 years, and I have never seen this cooperation before. I am really excited. This help has motivated our church, and we've sort of been lifted from a spirit of depression. We have a new hope of completing our church."
This hope seemed grim at the end of 1991 when, with 70 percent of the work completed, construction stopped on the building, which includes a 500-person chapel. Then in February members of the Barstow 2nd Ward discussed in a priesthood meeting the need for more community service. The plight of the Church of God in Christ was mentioned, and LeRoy Simmons was sent to offer help.
Bishop Jones's congregation was pleasantly surprised and accepted the offer. A planning meeting was held at the Barstow LDS meetinghouse on June 14, attended by about 300 people from both churches. As Brother Wiseman is a member of the local ministerial association, he spread word among other denominations in town. Ministers from several other churches attended this meeting and offered support.
Brother Wiseman described the warm feelings felt by all at the meeting: "It was refreshing to see our members and their members sitting side-by-side. There were some tears. The members of Bishop Jones' congregation just couldn't believe that another church would come to their aid."
He emphasized that the purpose of the meeting was to offer volunteer services and support for fund-raising projects.
Work on the structure began again June 20 when about 80 people, primarily from the two churches, showed up at the partially completed church building. Ranging in ages from the teenage years to the 70s, the volunteers spent the morning painting classrooms, church offices and the multi-purpose room. "They cleaned up around the building," Bishop Jones related. "They even moved debris to the dump. They really did a tremendous job. There was a spirit of togetherness."
Then on July 4, members of both congregations gathered again for a fund-raising barbecue.
Since then, construction halted again for financial reasons, but Bishop Jones said they have received several loan extensions, due largely to the help given by the LDS Church. In fact, Brother Simmons, who is a superior court judge, accompanied Bishop Jones to several meetings with the lending institution, which has agreed to decrease the debt to $400,000 if that can be raised by the end of the year.
The next work party is planned for Sept. 19, said Brother Wiseman, who added that hopes are high that the building can be saved.
The effects of this cooperation between the two churches have been far-reaching. Local newspapers printed stories about the rebuilding efforts, thus encouraging members of the community to offer their services. "We've been getting calls from people who are skilled in various trades who want to donate their labor," Bishop Jones explained.
"This has been very positive," Brother Wiseman noted. "People in the grocery stores in town, even in the city offices, expressed their disbelief at the overwhelming response. It has been positive for the whole community to see one congregation go in and actually do something for another congregation rather than just talk."