Chiloquin Builds a Church

What do 95 degrees Fahrenheit and minus 17 F have in common? Members of the Chiloquin Company, located 35 miles east of Crater Lake National Park on U.S. Route 97, will know the answer. On Aug. 5, 2013, five church members and volunteers from Washington and Oregon poured 1,000 square feet of concrete under the blazing summer sun. It was 95 degrees at 4,250 feet elevation — a rare day. Then on Dec. 3, the temperature hung at minus 17 as they erected a small back porch to the rear of the church. It was all part of Project Faith and Works.

On the first weekend of May 2014, after 11 months of hard work by a small team of volunteers — and because of a million God-given miracles — the Chiloquin Church was officially opened. What had seemed impossible one year before had become a reality because God had blessed this group time and again. He had brought vitality to the weary and, at times, disheartened workforce to make their dream of a church come true.

For 18 years the small congregation had worshipped every week in the Chiloquin Methodist Church and for at least the previous five years had dreamed of having their own church, instead of announcing their presence for just four hours a week on an 8-foot banner outside the Methodist church.

“We need a sign 24/7,” James Cunha repeatedly said — and everyone agreed. But it was easier said than done in a church with an attendance of between four and 12 people most Sabbaths.

At least that was true until God intervened.

Gary Gibson’s son had a 30-by-34 lodge that had to be removed from recreational land he had purchased in Randle, Wash. He asked if the church would be interested in the building, and members began pondering if it could become their church home.

God was ready with another “coincidence.” A piece of property was unexpectedly given to two church members, who then donated it to the Oregon Conference. With somewhere central to build a church and the offer of a building, the Chiloquin Company voted to move forward with plans to build a church in Chiloquin. How could they fail with God on their side?

On Labor Day weekend 2012 volunteers from the Morton (Wash.) Church joined forces with Gibson, his wife and 10 members of his family to take the small lodge down piece by piece and wall by wall. The building was loaded onto a truck and driven 400 miles south to Chiloquin, where members unloaded it and covered it to protect it from harsh winter weather and snow.

During the winter Gibson worked assiduously to get everything in order with the Klamath County Building Department and Chiloquin City Council so work could begin in earnest in the spring of 2013.

And so Project Faith and Works began with the three-person team digging the foundations by shovel on June 2, 2013. Friends and missionary-minded folk from other churches in southern Oregon lent a hand at critical times with tasks such as laying the monolithic slab and re-establishing the walls, while faithful prayer warriors prayed for the project and the workers' safety.

It did not take long for the devil to get upset. He was not in the habit of ignoring a church with a mission. His fiery darts soon assailed the group with fear, doubt, apathy and a change of heart. With only a tiny workforce to shoulder the task of building the church, the Lord became their constant source of physical, emotional and spiritual strength.

As the building took shape, curious passersby stopped and talked, giving Chiloquin members opportunities to witness to them. How could such a small workforce build a church? Members' spirits lifted when friends from other churches in Chiloquin encouraged them as they saw a pile of building materials morph into a house of worship.

“You can never have too many churches,” some would say while looking at the building with huge, empty picture windows and creaky walls.

Others were less complimentary, saying there were more than enough churches in Chiloquin. Some passed along comments such as the contractor was overheard saying the building was going up extremely slowly. He had to rethink his comment when he was informed that the two- to three-person workforce were all senior citizens.

When the 800-pound beam was deposited on the ground instead of on top of the gable as planned, God was at hand with another miracle. Less than 100 yards from the site, the main bridge in Chiloquin was being replaced. A good rapport had developed between the bridge builders and the church builders, so it was no coincidence there happened to be a crane beside the bridge with a willing young operator who, when asked for help, came and effortlessly lifted the beam up and placed it carefully on the gable walls. “That was another God thing,” the workers agreed.

God blessed the small crew as they swung from cables, lifted rafters into place one by one with no mechanical assistance, and worked diligently day by day and hour after hour. The church became the site of daily prayer meetings with prayers for safety, physical strength, God’s guidance and unity.

As the roof was being placed in September 2013, two volunteers worked at ground-level carrying 17-foot sheets of corrugated metal roofing to where they sent them up to the volunteer on the ridge of the church. Using the breeze, that volunteer wielded each sheet into place and secured it.

Six large, ground-level windows spaces then became 10 smaller spaces, making the former lodge begin to look like a church. God had His eye on the project and knew the budget was very limited, so He impressed a friend to have his church in Klamath Falls donate enough money for the 10 small windows needed for this little church.

As the days shortened, the church builders committed every waking moment to the completion of the outside of the building before the snow flew. The temperature fell as they weatherproofed it and finally nailed the siding on one slat at a time, covering the old lodge exterior walls. With fingers frozen, hammers flew and the work proceeded. Inspections came and went with the county inspectors, who patiently advised the church members of any errors and came back to inspect again.

But is God’s timing perfect? After worshipping in the Methodist church for so long, its doors were finally closed, but God had an alternative plan. Members packed the hymn books and a few other items into one cupboard and a few boxes and unpacked them again in the winterized church building and began to meet for services in the restaurant next door. Once again, the group hung the 8-foot sign each Sabbath — and new people came to worship with them. It was convenient to have a place to worship so near to the new church — and yet inconvenient to haul hymn books, a donated keyboard, and potluck plates and silverware back and forth each Sabbath. But it would not be forever.

Three days before the first big snow in December 2013, the church was hooked up to electricity. Because the building was 85 feet from the nearest pole, it was free — another God thing for sure. He had also given Chiloquin the mildest fall season on record so members could complete the outside of the church before the snow came. Now they had light and a little heat so they could work indoors until late in the evening as God gave them strength.

Volunteers continued to drop in for a few hours at a time, doing what they could to accelerate the process. Some brought new skills at just the right moment, while others were happy to be part of Project Faith and Works no matter how menial the task. A constant source of sorrow and prayer were friends who no longer supported the project and yet loved the Lord. The builders prayed for God’s healing and a genuine reunion of heart and soul.

Christmas came and went, and New Year’s Day was just another day of work at the church with praise for every challenge overcome. The stairs needed to be 6 inches wider? Really? No problem. The restroom wall had to be moved 3 inches? Praise God the inspector reviewed the regulations and withdrew his request. Another update scheduled? No worries.

From a collection of project photos (more than 1,500 by the end of the project), the builders included the latest steps of the project in an email to their supportive prayer partners.

After they had passed the insulation inspection and the wallboard was in place, the Klamath Falls Church men's ministry group came for a day to help with taping. The church members learned on the job how to texture the walls (and themselves). After another successful inspection, a retired painter gave two days of his time to help paint the interior. Two weeks of sunshine came just at the right time in March 2014 to paint the exterior, before more cold weather hit. Did members think God was in control of the weather? You bet.

The grand opening was planned by the church to be a celebration flavored by members' desire to reach the community. A local Christian gospel band played from a flatbed trailer as food sizzled on the barbeque and Chiloquin residents, invited guests and friends enjoyed the evening sunshine on May 2, 2014, just 11 months after the group started digging the church foundations. Inside, hot soup, rolls and zucchini bread were served as guests listened to a potpourri of praise in word and song by invited guests, the church community and returning volunteers.

On Sabbath, May 3, this little church was dedicated by Al Reimche, Oregon Conference president, and Steve Dayen, district pastor. Brilliant sunshine reminded everyone this church building was the story of God’s miraculous provision for a small group of people who did not look back when they put their trust in Him. The church might seat only 50 people, but its members believe more miracles will happen in the future if they keep their eyes on Jesus.

September 11, 2014 / Oregon Conference