Silsbee Church gets new home with help from Volunteer Christian Builders

Silsbee Union Baptist Church gets a much-needed new home with the help of Volunteer Christian Builders, a national non-profit organization whose ministry is simply to “build for Christ.”

The small white church on 21st Street was built by founding pastor Leroy Dearmon, who enlisted a woman known as “Mother Banks” – a local carpenter who had built four other churches in the area – to do the work.

She was the grandmother of faithful Donita Banks’ husband, Lester Banks, who became the fourth Union Baptist pastor in 1994.

“I was called here because my husband was called a pastor here,” Banks said.

She stayed after she was killed by a drunk driver on November 30, 2012 – a wreck that also left her seriously injured and ultimately led to the end of her 29 years as a teacher, 28 of which were spent teaching at the kindergarten in the Silsbee School District.

“I stayed because church is a calling, and my calling is to be here to help with the assigned mission,” Banks said.

This mission is simple.

“It’s about saving the soul,” she said.

It’s been 28 years and Banks is now minister of youth at Union Baptist.

That’s the biggest part of the little congregation, Banks noted. Some students come with families to church, but often they come alone.

Currently, Union Baptist has about 10 adult members — a number that has dwindled amid the fallout from the pandemic.

“We’ve never been a big digital congregation,” Banks said, with the benefit being that it allows them to be “able to stay true to mission without a lot of bureaucracy.”

Yet the new church will nearly double its current capacity of 48.

“It’s not about numbers to me, it’s about souls,” Banks said, adding, “if having a new structure means God sending 100,000 (new members), that’s great. , but that’s not the main interest.”

The main interest is to ensure the survival of the church – whether full, half-full or quarter-full – as the 56-year-old structure comes to an end.

Inside, carpeting gives off gently with every step – a spongy journey from pew to pulpit.

A single gas heater provides warmth during the cold months, and patched window units in the walls cool the small structure during the much longer hot months.

“It’s been patched from hurricane to hurricane,” Banks said of the structure. “Each patch has a (storm) name. It was never anything that destroyed the structure, but we had reached our last patch.

It was time for a new church, a realization that led Banks to seek help from Volunteer Christian Builders.

She submitted a written application in June 2021, which was followed by a telephone interview.

In August, Union Baptist received its notice of acceptance, and on April 18, the first workers arrived to begin construction.

“They come from all over,” Banks said, though the organization tends to keep regional volunteers close to home when possible.

There were up to 15 volunteers working outside each day.

Among them is Woody Carter, a Beaumont native who now lives in Houston.

He joined VCB in 2007 after meeting a recruiting team at an RV show.

Union Baptist marks the 155th church he has helped build alongside a host of volunteers who “come from all walks of life and walks of life.” We have firefighters, policemen, teachers, accountants, administrators,” he said, “but we have the same mission: to build for Christ.”

No one gets paid at any level of the internet-based organization. The cost of traveling from site to site across the country is out of pocket, he said.

But it’s a small price to pay for being part of the ministry that dates back to 1963, when a group of church members from Louisiana helped rebuild a church in Colorado.

This inspired them to create Builders for Christ, whose mission was to build churches where they were needed across the country.

In 1980, the non-profit organization was reorganized and renamed Volunteer Christian Builders.

“It grew and grew, and we’re now at 200 active members,” Carter said.

At any given time, church builds are taking place across the country — 30 to 40 a year on average, according to VCB marketing coordinator Joel Fischer.

These constructions inspired new recruits to the ministry, such as DeQuincy Cauley of Kirbyville.

He has been with the group for six weeks, after a team from VCB rebuilt his church – New Hope Missionary Baptist – earlier this year.

“I helped on that and then decided to join,” he said.

It was a way of conveying the blessing.

Others joined in the build after community word of mouth spread.

The Silsbee Tigers football team helped erect the trusses for aerial support last weekend after a call to Banks’ coaches.

She is a huge sports fan and, as Silsbee’s former teacher, has maintained many ties to the school.

“The kids loved it,” Banks said, noting that the team’s involvement inspired Brenda Arline Brydson – one player’s grandmother – to join in the work.

Current Union Baptist pastor Eddy Fobbs hoisted beams as they were set up between races to pick up extra supplies.

“I love it (to be part of building his congregation’s new church),” Fobbs said. “I thank God that I have the health and the ability to do this.”

This is work that could not have been done without community support, Banks said.

While VCB provides the labor for the construction, the church is responsible for the materials and provides two meals per working day.

Union Baptist dipped into its cash flow of $30,000 for the initial purchase of materials.

Local stores like Ritter’s and Parker’s offered price-matching deals to cut costs, already defrayed by their tax-exempt status as a church.

Restaurants like Novrosky’s, Casa Ole and Tiger Hut helped provide lunches during the two weeks of work, and various churches and disaster relief volunteers Banks worked with over time helped serve dinners at the nearby Pinecrest Fellowship Church, which hosted the volunteer stay.

“These guys have such an amazing ministry. They are the sweetest, kindest workers and true worker bees,” Banks said. “It’s all about positivity, encouragement and determination.”

It’s an attitude that Union Baptist relies on to help them move forward with construction despite financial difficulties.

In the wake of the pandemic, “prices for building materials and supplies have risen astronomically,” Banks said.

This ate away at the materials they could buy for the initial phase.

The team of volunteers was expected to return in two weeks after completion of interior structural work, such as electrical, plumbing and HVAC.

That schedule is now on hold, Banks said, because they’re out of money.

Team leader Gerry Wilbanks, a member of the VCB since 1993, estimates that it would take another $100,000 to completely complete the new church with doors, sheetrock and more.

Banks had a noon Thursday deadline to tell the VCB whether workers should plan to return in two weeks.

“If there are no more supplies, then Thursday at noon will be the end of this group here,” Banks said.

Then she and others will begin raising the funds needed to complete the work, through efforts like a memorial book, possibly a GoFundMe account, and the usual weekly tithe.

But given the size of the congregation and the composition of young people, money filling the coffers on Sunday could mean a long time before the necessary funds are raised.

If VCB can return and when is “in God’s time,” Banks said, and in the final days, “the goal is to dry it out, and we’ll work to raise funds” to complete the project, Banks said. .

“We’re trying to secure it so it doesn’t deteriorate inside,” Wilbanks added.

“I think (the volunteers) see the writing on the wall,” Banks said of their financial situation. “But they’re still working for the Lord like a million dollars went in.”

This spirit inspired Banks and other devotees, who fellowshipped with volunteers during devotions held three times a day in the morning, noon and at the end of the working day.

“The subject of my (last) devotional with them was a breath of fresh air,” Banks said, “because they are such a breath of fresh air. the most encouraging things I have ever encountered in my life.

It’s a breath of fresh air and a breath of faith that Union Baptist will rely on to make its ultimate dream a reality – not only a new and larger place of worship, but also a place in which to expand its mission. of service in the community.

“Before services like the Red Cross or FEMA came here” in times of crisis, Union Baptist had already started, Banks said — responding to needs, working to provide shelter, acting on behalf of those struggling. in times of crisis .

It is a mission that she and her congregants are committed to fulfilling.

As Banks and Pastor Eddy Fobbs watched the work continue on Wednesday, Banks said her husband “would be really excited” about the new church. “He was saying, ‘Let the mission continue. “”

But the one who would be most impressed is founding member Rosa Motton, Banks noted.

Motton moved to Silsbee from Bon Weir when Union Baptist was built. Looking at the construction of her house up the road, Banks said she said, “when they finish this building, I will become a member.”

Motton became a member – one of the first – and remained so until her death three years ago.

“She’s the one really smiling and looking down on it all,” Banks said.

On Thursday, Banks and Reverend Fobbs gathered at Pinecrest Fellowship Church for their final meal and prayer with VCB volunteers.

Fobbs joined the volunteers in a circle, praying for a safe journey, thanking them for their service and praying that they would find a way to continue the work.

Later, he and Banks joined Gerry Wilbanks for a presentation – a wooden plaque signed by each of the volunteers with space left for those who would complete the assignment.

“It’s a tradition in the VCB to present this to each church after the work is completed,” Wilbanks said.

Banks, holding one side of the plate while standing next to Fobbs, told the group, “It was one of the best experiences of my life, and I hope to see you again.”

A volunteer’s voice shouted, “Until we meet again.”

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