Joel Fischer remembers that new couple that showed up one day in his Sunday School class.
“We were in First Baptist Church, Humble, Texas,” he begins. “There were three Sunday School classes and two church services. I taught the adult class in the last service. I never had any visitors in my Sunday School class, because anybody who was in that class were people who were working in the church someplace else and they’d already been to church and already done the Sunday School thing at 8 a.m. And so – bang – about 25 of us all ended up in a room together and we were all good friends, but we were all workers.
“One Sunday, I was getting ready to retire, for the third time – but this time I was really going to retire – I was 63 years old; and I remember saying, ‘Lord, I really want to do something for you for the rest of whatever I’ve got. I said, ‘Would you please tell me what you want me to do? However you want to do it’.”
From there, Fischer went to his Sunday School class, and he encountered a couple that he’d never seen before.
“After the Sunday School class, I went and met them, their names were Elmer and Dorothy Wiley, and I asked Elmer what he did, and he said, ‘I travel with Volunteer Christian Builders’,” Fischer continued. “And I said to myself, ‘Well, there’s my answer right there’.”
What makes the story even more remarkable – and Spirit led – is that the Wileys were originally headed to Houston to attend church services with some friends, but when they arrived at that church, the friends that they were supposed to meet were sick and hadn’t come.
“His wife didn’t want to stay there without their friends, so they were driving back up towards their home church and realized that they weren’t going to make it, so they drove by First Baptist Church, which is by the freeway,” Fischer says. “They decided to stop and come in the for the Sunday Service. After church they decided to stay for the last Sunday School class, and went over and looked through a list of names, and decided to attend a class taught by me.”
It’s much more than a coincidence that Fischer encountered the Wileys that day, Joel believes.
“They were sent,” he says quietly. “Elmer and I agree. I called Volunteer Christian Builders and went on the next job.”
It was through that encounter that Joel became involved in the group, Volunteer Christian Builders, which ultimately led him to lead a group of 14 builders to Olive Branch Baptist Church near Fairview, where they are spending five weeks helping construct the church’s new Family Life Center.
VCB is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Its mission is to advance the Lord’s Kingdom by assisting Bible-believing, -teaching and -practicing churches and encampments, especially in pioneer areas, by providing volunteer labor to construct buildings for worship and other Kingdom-building activities.
When Fischer pulled up the Bear Branch community on ‘Google Earth’ – pioneer area seemed to fit.
Actually, the path that led the group here began in a campground and a chance meeting, when church members Bob and Lois Tucker got to know Jim and Beth Kincaid from Nederland, Texas. As the two couples chatted, Tucker shared that his church was looking at ways to build a new building; and that’s when Kincaid told him that he was a part of VCB, and that Olive Branch should get on the organization’s website and tell its story.
That happened last summer, and immediately Fischer, after receiving the email, contact Pastor Patrick Lanman and offered the group’s services to help.
All that the group asks for is a place to park the trailers that they live in; lunch and supper each day through the week; and supples and materials. All of the labor is donated.
The group that is here comes mainly from Texas, with others coming from South Dakota, Pennsylvania, Missouri, Arizona, and Kentucky.
They arrived and started work on Monday, June 6th; and at the completion of their second week of work tomorrow (Friday), the group will take a week off to site see in the region; before returning to work on Monday, June 27th and working until Friday, July 8th. From here, many of the team will travel north to Michigan.
The average age of the group is 72, so most are retired from successful careers and raising families, and found VCB as a way to continue to serve and do God’s work.
All of the travels don’t leave much time for being ‘home’.
“I have a house, but I don’t live in it,” Fischer says. “It’s a doublewide on four acres. There’s a nice garage. A beautiful piece of property. My daughter lives there and her husband and their four kids and they take care of the property. We don’t charge them any rent, just mow the grass and collect our mail – we’re going on the road. The way my current schedule is right now, we get there the month of December, and usually part of September. Otherwise, we’re not there. We’re out.”
Lee and Joyce Friesen from Tomball, Texas, say that they are gone from their house for six months at a time; and it’s a story that is very common among the group, because the men and their wives see their ability to travel as being used by God to help churches and others around the country.
Fischer, now one of five crew leaders in the organization, grew up in Schenectady, New York. After high school he went to college for two years and learned mechanical engineering technology and then into the military. When he got out of the service he worked for General Electric for years before “things fell apart” in his words, and that’s when a friend in Houston, Texas contacted him and offered him the chance to supervise a facility there. He would spend four years there, including finishing his mechanical engineering degree; and from there it was off to Minnesota for another job opportunity.
“It took awhile to find a job, and the Lord kind of tested me through that,” Fischer said. “But, you know, if you stick with the decision you made and you live by faith, He’s taking care of you all the time.”
After two years in Minnesota, it was off to Dayton, Ohio when the company transferred him. They would be in Dayton for 15 years.
“He’s always blessed us,” Fisher said of God. “You can take all of these people here, and they’ve got the same story – that’s why we’re still doing this.”
Fischer, raised in the Lutheran denomination as a child, says that it was on March 11th, 1974, when his faith journey changed.
“We were sitting in a little town called Broad Almond, New York, and there was a Bible Church down the road in the next town down, and they had a fantastic ministry going on there, and they ran a bus ministry with like 14 buses. They came and picked the kids up for Vacation Bible School and the kids went. It was the closing ceremony of Vacation Bible School and Susan and I went. The kids did all their Vacation Bible School stuff, and the pastor dismissed them, and then he started telling people about the gospel; and when I heard it, man the Holy Spirit grabbed me right by the throat. ‘You need to go and get saved’, and from that moment, I did.”
But Fischer quickly points that this isn’t all about him, or the other members of VCB, but it’s about God using the talents of those willing to serve Him in ways that will build up others.
“We’re not good church members,” he laughs, “Because we’re never there. As far as I’m concerned, we’re missionaries. We’re missionary builders, that’s what we are.”
One of the great things about VCB is that they very much encourage others to come and meet them and help with the project – not just people currently associated with the church. People of all skill levels can be used; so if you are interested in learning more or lending a hand, stop by the church, located on Bear Branch Road about two miles north of the Fairview store off of State Road 250.
They will be off this coming week, but will be back at work on Monday, June 27th.