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Wanna save half a million?

RV Volunteers help local church slash construction costs

By Scott Harrup

At 6 feet 5 inches, and driving a Geo Prism, Randy Caswell is a self-described “big guy in a small car.” On Monday, June 6, 2005, in west Kankakee, Ill., Caswell was going through an intersection when a pickup truck ran a red light and turned into his lane.

The head-on collision slammed the steering wheel into Caswell’s chest. The pain in his upper body was so great Caswell didn’t realize his leg was also broken. In the silence that followed the impact, he felt his body going limp.

“My vision was going,” Caswell says. “I prayed, ‘Lord, if I die, I’ll be with You on the other side.’ ”

But Caswell wasn’t ready to give up on life. He had his wife, Lori, to think about. He wanted to be there for children Matthew, Bethany and Jonathan. And there were the families at First Assembly where he and Lori had pastored since 2001.

There’s no good time to have a car accident. But Monday, June 6, 2005, couldn’t have been much worse. Caswell was getting ready to meet with Fred Hendrickson on Tuesday to discuss expansion plans for First Assembly. Hendrickson was his job supervisor, and a building crew was on the way.

“I was in the hospital for four days,” Caswell says. “I wasn’t able to work on the church at all until November.”

Under normal circumstances, the auto accident could have derailed the plan. But Fred Hendrickson wasn’t just any job supervisor. He was leading a team of RV Volunteers with the Assemblies of God’s U.S. Mission America Placement Service.

U.S. MAPS RV Volunteers sends teams across the country to assist Assemblies of God churches and affiliated ministries in construction and reconstruction. In 2005, more than 1,400 volunteers logged nearly 128,000 work hours, completed 54 projects, and saved AG churches and institutions more than $2.5 million in labor costs, according to U.S. MAPS Director Jerry Bell.

By the weekend after the accident, Caswell was recovering at home across the street from First Assembly. He wondered how the congregation could move forward. During his hospital stay, board member Sam Gomez and church elder Paul Lawrisuk visited their pastor. They had both assured Caswell the building would become a reality.

But that first Sunday back home, Caswell wondered. He stared at the several dozen cars across the street. He thought of the 70-80 people worshipping in First Assembly’s existing sanctuary. When praise and worship concluded, the service would break so the children and young people could go to their own activities. The kids would have to walk to a nearby converted barn on the property. The new building was supposed to include Christian education facilities.

Caswell was surprised when a tractor-trailer pulled into the parking lot. He’d never seen the visiting couple.

From nearby Chicago, Ed and Gloria Watson were scheduled to join the RV Volunteers team assigned to First Assembly. They decided to drive down and visit the church. After service, the Watsons came over to the Caswells’ home. They were joined by the Chi Alpha ministry team that had led the service in Randy’s absence. An atmosphere of faith filled the home.

“Ed told me, ‘Pastor, don’t worry. You just get healthy. We’re going to help you build this building and we’re going to get it done,’ ” Caswell remembers. “I’ll always be grateful to Ed and Gloria.”

The key to success in an RV Volunteers project is additional volunteer labor from the host church. During the summer in 2005, the RV Volunteers team joined with First Assembly to frame and enclose the new building. From September through the winter, First Assembly members put in insulation.

“Wayne Keller, one of our deacons, would work on the site almost every day,” Caswell says. “Scott Lecount is an electrician. He’s done all our wiring. He almost lives here.”

When the RV team returned in spring 2006, it was time for dry wall, setting up the stage, hanging doors, and other finishing details. The team worked with First Assembly’s men through the spring and into the summer. First Assembly continued the project through the fall and winter of 2006 and into 2007. This spring, another RV team is helping to finish the trim work and painting. A dedication service is planned for September.

The end result is a 7,100-square-foot sanctuary addition that allows the previous 5,300-square-foot structure to serve a host of additional needs. This winter, First Assembly’s children won’t need to hike through the snow to a barn.

Caswell is amazed at how smoothly the project has come together. He credits the RV Volunteers teams with the majority of the labor on his church — an addition valued at about $800,000, yet built for some $325,000. He credits his church families with assisting the visiting volunteers and making sure every interim project was completed each fall and winter.

Most of all, Caswell recognizes God’s faithfulness in leading His servants to a small Illinois church that could have lost its pastor in 2005 to a head-on collision. That faithfulness, Caswell believes, connects with First Assembly’s obedience in supporting other ministries.

“We heard about a need for a church building in Africa in 2004,” Caswell remembers. “We were saving for our own building project at the time, but I distinctly felt God was saying to me, ‘If you sow a tabernacle in Africa, I will give you one.’ ”

Over a period of three months, First Assembly raised $4,000 to cover most of the construction costs of a church in Mali. The church continued to increase its missions giving, pledging support to additional missionary families in 2004, 2005 and 2006.

“We gave to missions,” Caswell says, “and we’re receiving from missions through the RV Volunteers. This whole experience has opened our eyes to ministry. Now a number of our men are considering becoming RV Volunteers themselves.”


SCOTT HARRUP is senior associate editor of Today’s Pentecostal Evangel.

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