Maranatha Volunteers International teaches benevolence as group builds new GJ church
At first glance, the construction crew framing the new Seventh-day Adventist Church on 25 1/2 Road looks like any other.
But when they pause to wipe the sweat from their brows, there’s a glimpse of gray hair matted underneath their hard hats.
Their pace is slower, lacking any sense of urgency. Some stop to pat a dog named Uglie, who is lounging in the shade on the newly poured concrete.
And they’re smiling.
The average age of the crew is 73. Most are retired professionals, both men and women, with very little construction experience.
Yet they have decided to give their time to Maranatha Volunteers International to help build a new church in Grand Junction.
“Volunteerism is never about you,” said Grand Junction resident Bernie Hartnell, who is a Maranatha volunteer and the building project manager.
Hartnell and his wife, Marti, have volunteered at least once a year for the past four years to help build churches in other locations. Volunteering to build their own church is a unique experience for them.
“It’s about transformation of character rather than putting one board next to the other,” Bernie Hartnell said.
For nearly two months, they have coordinated the teams of volunteers that have arrived from across the country to help build the new church.
Each team has 30 to 40 people who work in two-week increments. They’ve come from Florida, Maine, Arizona and Missouri. Some have journeyed from as far away as Canada. So far, more than 120 volunteers have come to help.
Their day begins with breakfast served at the old church location at 730 Mesa Ave. They work until noon, gather again at the church for lunch and prayer, then continue to build until 5 p.m. A dinner is served in the evening, but often the exhausted volunteers are too tired to come, Hartnell said.
They work every day of the week, except Sabbath Saturday.
Many live in their own RVs while others are invited to stay in the homes of local Seventh-day Adventist Church members.
Volunteers work for food and shelter. It’s the only compensation they get.
Despite their lack of experience, the volunteers listen carefully to the crew foreman, driving nails in just the right spots for true craftsmanship. Their work is exemplary, Hartnell said.
“The building inspector came out and said he’d never seen a better framing job,” Pastor Randy Mills said.
Mills said he is most impressed with the selflessness of the volunteers.
“They are looking for real meaning and purpose here. It is a tremendous experience,” he said.
As Hartnell and the crew guide trusses onto the new roof of the Little Lambs Learning Center, one of several buildings at the new complex, he said he likes to imagine it full of young children learning about God.
It gives him a sense of satisfaction to know that he is leaving a legacy for others.
“It’s going to make a real difference in a child’s life in this untethered world,” he said.
Construction began in January on the new $7 million Seventh-day Adventist Church complex, located on 10 acres at 550 25 1/2 Road. The old church on Mesa Avenue has been sold to Colorado Mesa University.
This was a good opportunity for the church to upgrade and modernize, Mills said.
“We have always been interested in expanding,” he said. “Now we’ll have more visibility, brand new beautiful buildings, classrooms, a library, a gym and music room. It’s just really going to be nice,” he said.
Construction is planned to be completed in three phases, Hartnell said.
The new Intermountain Adventist Academy is their first priority. The school portion should be completed by the end of September. The Little Lambs Learning Center will be completed by the end of December, while the church’s sanctuary and Sabbath school rooms will be finished in March.
However, construction is ahead of schedule and Hartnell optimistically guesses the entire complex will be completed by Thanksgiving.
Maranatha volunteers will save the church $300,000 in labor costs, Hartnell said.
“That’s huge when you’re looking for donations to build a new church,” he said.
Mills is thankful for the help Maranatha volunteers have given to the church.
“It’s a building with eternal implications. We are really blessed,” he said.
Although it’s a Seventh-day Adventist organization, Maranatha Volunteers International accepts volunteers from all backgrounds and religious affiliations.
Those who have volunteered in Grand Junction have come from a variety of religious backgrounds, Hartnell said.
The organization has more than 2,000 volunteers who have completed projects across the United States as well as internationally in places like Angola, Cuba, India, Kenya and Zimbabwe.
After completion of the Grand Junction project, Hartnell and his wife plan to pay it forward again and continue to volunteer for more Maranatha projects.
“The whole motivation is service to others,” he said. “It really is Christianity in action.”