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Sawdust & threads show these volunteers’ labors

GLORIETA, N.M. (BP)–Power saws whine and sawdust flies as the men work quickly through their list of projects. Slow down? Forget it. Though retired, this group has no such intention.

The men with their wives — more than 40 people total — are here at LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center in New Mexico as part of the Texas Baptist Men furniture ministry.

They travel the country assisting camps and conference centers with their furniture needs. The wood is provided — they bring the rest: tools, hard work and a servant attitude. Their two-month assignment for Glorieta, which ends in October, is to build more than 230 pieces of furniture including bunk beds, headboards, dressers and desks.

The men work in the basement of one of Glorieta’s cabins, which also serves as their headquarters. Their wives work upstairs, sewing and making children-size clothing, quilts and blankets which will be delivered this fall to an orphanage in Juarez, Mexico. Several jumpers and dresses hang nearby. Idle hands? Not in this bunch.

“I’ve always liked the fine precision work and craftsmanship [it takes to make furniture],” said Jack Tennison, who was a math professor and department chair at Texas Lutheran College for 25 years before retiring. Tennison is responsible for coordinating the volunteers.

Tennison and his wife Kathryn, members of First Baptist Church in Seguin, have participated in Texas Baptist Men projects with the camp building ministry since 1994. Tennison first thought of creating a furniture ministry in 1996 after a missions trip to Canada where he helped build office furniture for the Southern Baptist seminary.

“Excuse me a moment,” he said to a visitor, stepping back inside the makeshift woodshop after hearing something he didn’t like. “I thought they were cutting that too deep,” he said a few minutes later.

The group has traveled widely across the United States, Canada and, of course, their home state. More than 3,000 pieces of furniture have been built since the group was formed, Tennison said. He and his wife are completely committed to the ministry; they sold their home six years ago and now travel fulltime in an RV.

“You meet such wonderful people,” said Kathryn Tennison of the fellowship that’s experienced with the various assignments. She also pointed out the practical side of the ministry. “As the men get older, they can’t get up on ladders as much as they used to. The furniture building keeps them busy.”

Texas Baptist Men have several different ministries with which volunteers can help. The list includes furniture, camp builders, church builders, cabinet builders, bricklayers and disaster unit.

Carolyn Rushing of First Baptist Church in New Braunfels and her husband, a retired minister of music, enjoy the traveling and the work. “A lot of the jobs we go on, he still does the music,” Rushing said.

“You really feel like your life is worthwhile [when it’s spent] doing something that’s helping people,” said Narlene Copel, a member of First Baptist Church in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, sitting behind a sewing machine working on a little girl’s jumper. “Instead of sitting home and twiddling your thumbs, you can work where you’re needed.”

The furniture and sewing ministry is ideal for Copel and her husband. She formerly owned a fabric store — her husband is a retired forester whose hobby is woodworking. “This just fit us real well,” Copel said.

The individual churches where the volunteers attend often donate much of the supplies needed such as tools and fabric.

“This is all for the Lord,” Tennison said. “He’s the reason we’re here. When I leave a job, I leave it to the Lord’s hands, and let Him use it however He wishes.”
Editor’s note: Volunteer opportunities are available at both LifeWay conference centers. For more information, contact Ridgecrest (1-800-588-7222) and Glorieta (1-800-797-4222) directly. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PIECING IT TOGETHER, PROVIDING THE MANPOWER, SOWING WHILE SEWING and MINISTRY THREADS.

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  • Sara Horn