News Articles

Builder helps churches enlarge passion

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following story is part of a monthly Baptist Press series to explore and describe how individuals, churches, associations and conventions exhibit a passion for Christ and His Kingdom.

SHELBYVILLE, Ky. (BP)–When spring arrives each year, Chris and Dorrine Wurzel pack up their travel trailer and go on mission to construct a new building for a congregation God has led them to help — this year, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Ky.

The Wurzels, of Brandon, Fla., are the founders and directors of Joshualand Ministries, a nonprofit organization through which God has provided 13 congregations with a new building during the past 12 years. On July 27, Emmanuel Baptist will move out of the VFW Post that has been their meeting place into their own worship facility. Once completed, all of Joshualand’s projects are either debt-free or the congregation is left with a very manageable debt.

Joshualand’s April-through-July construction schedule operates like clockwork. Volunteers from churches all over the United States arrive in their appointed week to complete a particular phase of the project. Each project encompasses about 250 volunteers in all.

Commenting on Wurzel’s coordination of the Emmanuel project, pastor David Roach noted, “He runs a very tight ship, he has a plan and he uses everybody who comes.”

A building contractor by trade, Wurzel became a follower of Christ at age 30 and has had a heart for missions ever since. “Before I came to know the Lord, I had always had a feeling that I would be dead by age 30. I didn’t realize that the death I would have would be dying to ‘self’ … to become a Christian!”

Now Wurzel cannot imagine doing anything less than what he has been doing for the past 12 years. He chose the name for his ministry because of his admiration for Joshua of the Old Testament who stated with Caleb, “If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land … and will give it to us” (Numbers 14:8).

“That just fits what we do — claim the land,” Wurzel said.

Jeremiah 20:9 is Wurzel’s life verse, when Jeremiah speaks of God’s Word being a fire in his heart that cannot be contained. “That’s what’s in my heart. It’s like a fire,” Wurzel said. “We have a job to do, and God has called us.”

Primarily committed to Southern Baptist work, Wurzel said he does not “choose” the projects he works on. “It’s all done by prayer — trusting God. He directs it.”

Wurzel recounted the story of Little Rockies Community Baptist Church in Zortman, Mont.: “We had just finished a church on an Indian reservation, and the director of missions of that association wanted us to meet some people.” John and Candy Kalal of Zortman had been praying for years that someone would help their congregation of eight construct a building. They had been using a community church which was creating conflict with another denomination that also used the building. “So we moved out into houses,” John Kalal said.

When the Kalals and the Wurzels met, Candy broke into tears, seeing Joshualand as an answer to their prayers. “They had no property,” Wurzel said, “and no money, but just a desire that this little town of 75, plus some ranchers, would have a church.

“It touches you when someone has been praying for so long, and you show up.”

Soon God provided a building site about a mile out of town that already had been zoned for a church but had never been up for sale. The following summer, “Chris and Todd [the Wurzels’ oldest son] and Dorrine and the other ‘Florida angels’ came and built our building,” John recounted. When the construction began, the community became involved. By the completion date, the membership had grown from about eight members to more than 20. Now, seven years later, they are approaching their building capacity of 50.

“It was a God thing in how it all worked out,” Wurzel said. “God put it together, and we were able to minister to them, and the church is still going strong.”

Little Rockies Community Church now serves as somewhat of an outpost for ministry to Native Americans on nearby reservations. The church often accommodates short-term missions groups who travel to the region to do ministry.

They have purchased a former office of a mining company for classes to teach mostly Native Americans some practical skills such as car maintenance, woodworking and hair styling and to provide an opportunity to earn their G.E.D. Outside the church, a building has been constructed called the Free Store where clothing is made available to those in need.

Kalal described Wurzel as “one of the biggest Florida angels there is. We think of them every time we step foot in that church. The Lord wouldn’t have worked so much had it not been for them.”

Joshualand Ministries operates thanks to churches and associations in 15 states who have partnered with the Wurzels, providing both labor and financing for the projects. The Wurzels are members of Bell Shoals Baptist Church in Brandon, Fla.

Roach of Emmanuel Baptist praised the quality of the work Wurzel has supervised. “His ability has been demonstrated in getting plans and permits through the state. We ran into some snags, and Chris has really helped work though that.” Roach noted that several in their congregation with building experience have asked Wurzel about various facets of the project and have been completely satisfied with the explanations.

“An electrical inspector came out not too long ago and commented about the top-notch work that had been done,” Roach added. “I was really impressed because that’s something they don’t say too often from what I understand.”

Emmanuel is the fourth church in Kentucky that Joshualand Ministries has constructed. Wurzel asks congregations who have been helped to volunteer to help with the next Joshualand project.

Horton Flats Community Baptist Church in Olive Hill was the first Kentucky church to be constructed by Joshualand, and members from their congregation have since served on other projects.

John Rucker of Horton Flats recounted their story: “There’s only one other SBC church in our county — we were the second one. We had been meeting in a trailer that one of the local folks let us use for two or three years. It got to the point that we couldn’t get enough people in there, and we started checking around.”

The director of missions of the Greenup Baptist Association had heard of the work done in Wyoming and Montana by Joshualand. He contacted Wurzel who expressed interest in helping.

The Horton Flats congregation began to look for financial assistance in the fall and received several grants through various Baptist groups as well as donations from churches. They began to build in the spring. “The interesting thing,” as Rucker put it, “is that all the people who donate labor also come in and help out financially. We were running pretty close at the end, but the Lord provided. We’re debt-free.”

Wurzel gives God all the credit for providing in every project. “We’ve been up against the wall so many times and not known where to turn,” he said, recalling a time in Wyoming when a $12,000 bill was due in a week and they didn’t know where the money would come from. God impressed on Wurzel to ask the volunteers present to write on a piece of paper how much they could provide toward the bill.

“I gave the papers to someone else to total up, and it broke my heart. It was $12,000,” Wurzel marveled. “God just always provides!”

Roach noted the deep level of faith he has witnessed in the Wurzels, explaining that a number of serious trials in their lives have brought them to a total dependence on God.

One trial, Wurzel shared, was the early death of a son, Troy, who had a passion for missions work like his father. As a young adult, Troy had been an agnostic. “But the Lord got hold of him, and he changed his major and became a pastor,” Wurzel said. The father and son did missions work together, and Wurzel had looked forward to many years ahead in their common passion.

But one Sunday afternoon, after Chris and Dorrine providentially had been present to hear Troy preach at his church that morning, God took Troy home suddenly and unexpectedly. In the sermon Troy had prepared for Sunday evening, his topic was Romans 8:28: “All things work together for good for those who love God and who are called according to his purpose.” In Troy’s own handwriting, he had planned to use the death of a family member as an illustration of one thing God can work for good in a believer’s life. “Troy had such an impact on people’s lives,” Chris said.

Roach said the Wurzels have become part of Emmanuel’s “family,” living on site and worshiping with the church every Sunday. “Chris and Dorrine have a unique combination of ability and humility, and they are people who really walk closely with the Lord,” Roach said. “It never crossed my mind that we would be able to deal with a builder who had these qualities.”

The Wurzels’ oldest son, Todd, who is deaf and mentally handicapped, has been a source of inspiration and encouragement to the Emmanuel congregation.

“He is quite a worker and has a sweet personality,” Roach said. “Just smiling at him and giving him a thumbs up really lights him up. He helps out on the job site and spreads encouragement.”

Dorrine takes care of the bookwork and contacts with volunteers. “She’s a great partner,” Wurzel said, adding, “You have to have your wife very supportive if you’re going to do this kind of stuff.” Speaking of their five children and 10 grandchildren, he said, “We don’t like being away from family, but we know God’s called us to do it so we do it.”

The Wurzels currently are praying about a new phase of ministry and about selling their home next year to go on mission full-time. Chris has been impressed with another need among new pastors who have been well-grounded in theology to lead their congregations but who lack practical experience in church planning. “I’d like to conduct a two-day seminar to help them and encourage them on how to plan and how to know for sure if you are where God wants you to be.”

Many of the pastors that the Wurzels minister to are bivocational because their churches cannot pay them to be full-time. “These young pastors need a lot of help, and we feel God is leading us to help,” Chris said.

“I don’t believe in retiring, I don’t believe that’s what God has called us to do.” Wurzel has a goal to build a mission church every year until he reaches age 80. He also is available to recount his testimony in speaking engagements in local churches. Congregations interested in learning more about Joshualand Ministries can contact Chris and Dorrine Wurzel by e-mail at [email protected].
Kay Adkins is a writer based in Mountain View, Ark.

    About the Author

  • Kay Adkins