Originally created 09/07/98

Church raisers on godly mission



AIKEN -- Danny and Mildred Ryder drove down to Aiken from Desoto, Mo., to build a church, and getting here was half the battle.

The retirees' motor home lost a fan, then blew a water pump a short time later, forcing them to spend the night in a McDonald's parking lot until they found a mechanic who would take a check for payment.

It's proof that the Lord provides, said Mrs. Ryder.

"We've met the best of people," she said, as she watched her husband work on the new church off Pine Log Road. "We've been from Oregon to New Hampshire and all the in-betweens."

Since 1986, the couple has trekked across the United States and other parts of the Western Hemisphere building churches for the Free Will Baptist Church conference.

There are usually about eight other couples in their band, almost all retired, spending several months of the year living out of motor homes, going from job site to job site building churches. They call themselves the Free Will Baptist Helping Hands Crew, and last week, 14 of them worked on the new South Side Free Will Baptist Church.

The men did the rough carpentry, building the wooden frame that runs between the large metal supports that make up the church. The women don't usually raise the walls, but they do painting and help out elsewhere, Mrs. Ryder said.

"It keeps us pretty busy, keeping their clothes clean and keeping them fed," she said.

Lester White, from Prague, Okla., has been riding with the crew for about six years. He used to be a song leader and Sunday school teacher at his home church, but had to resign because the crew kept him away so much of the time.

He's closer to the crew than he is to his own family, he joked.

"I really enjoy it. I feel like we're accomplishing something for the Lord," he said. "Every church we've built, people get saved in, and we're a part of that."

Howard Price, a semiretired equipment rental shop owner from Statesboro, Ga., spends four to five months a year building churches with the crew. Because he is used to driving construction equipment, he drove the forklift last week. The first church he helped build with the crew was in Cuba.

"We're helping someone hear the gospel. That's the bottom line," he said, as he lifted a couple of crew members to the top of the roof.

The crew already has several jobs lined up for this year, the next one starting immediately after this one in Marion, N.C. But the workload doesn't seem to bother Mr. Ryder, who at age 77 is the oldest member of the crew.

"I work harder at this than I did at my job," he said.