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Laborers for Christ help churches realize goals

June 04, 2005|by HEATHER KEELS

heatherk@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - It cost Art Rosenkoetter $350 in gas to drive from Arkansas towing his trailer, a sum that amounts to almost two weeks' pay at the construction job for which he will be paid minimum wage. But he doesn't mind.

"We work for the Lord," said Frank Granger, another worker on the job. "He pays really well."

Granger, 68, of New Mexico, and Rosenkoetter, 58, a retired mechanical engineer, are two of the six members of the St. Louis-based Laborers for Christ who have taken up residence in the muddy backyard of Concordia Lutheran Church at 17906 Garden Lane, off Oak Ridge Drive.

Together, the team of retirees from across the country has laid the utility pipes and built the walls for a new wing of the church.

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The wing, which will house classrooms, offices, a multipurpose room, a kitchen and bathrooms, probably will be completed within the next six months, said Ron Golem of Keedysville, the Building Committee chairman.

With the help of Laborers for Christ, the total cost should fall within the church's budget of about $1 million - which the congregation raised through loans and donations - rather than the projected $1.3 million it would have cost the church to use a general contractor.

"It's economics," said project manager Larry Tharp, who drove up from Hendersonville, N.C., with his wife, Jan, at the end of April to lead his fourth Laborers for Christ project.

"A lot of the churches would not be able to afford to build what they need ... so when we come in, we work for minimum wage," Tharp said.

Laborers for Christ, an organization within the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church, has about 400 members and works on about 35 projects a year.

Although the workers are with new people on each project, they get close over the course of the six- to eight-month stays. Literally.

The six mobile homes lined up behind the church are about an arm-span apart, and in the evenings and during lunch breaks, they sit in the shade between them in plastic lawn chairs.

"Because we work for the Lord, nothing's hard," said Dale Busse, 73, of Akron, Ohio, who has worked on 15 projects since joining the Laborers in 1996.

The group was started 25 years ago in Wyoming, where the population was sparse and contractors and workers were hard to find, Tharp said.

"So four guys got together and built a church, and the neighbors down the road a little ways said we want a church ... and it just bloomed," Tharp said.

And even between the piles of red dirt and gravel scooped from the Oak Ridge lot, the organization continues to grow.

Terry Bowman, 57, of Hagerstown, one of the many members of the church congregation who have stepped in as volunteers, decided he wants join the Laborers after this project is complete.

"I've been very fortunate," he said, "I survived Vietnam, and I feel like it's time to give back to God."

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