Story by Dottie Zimmerman
Imagine… cotton picking on the Mississippi Delta, fishing the bayous of the Arkansas/Louisiana border, spectacular sunsets, train whistles announcing their passing in the night, the rolling hills and morning fog of North Arkansas, swaying fields, smiling, happy faces– these are among the images etched in our minds from the past four years of working with an organization called “Nailbenders for Jesus.”
As his retirement years grew closer Charlie started thinking about a group of men he had passed every day for two weeks on his way to and from work in 1999. They were busy building a church at Bakers Creek on Highway 7, and the group really aroused his interest.
Charlie remembers thinking, “Wow, what a way to spend your retirement years… helping to build Churches for our Lord!” He resolved then and there to look them up when his retirement rolled around.
Each job lasts two weeks (12 working days) and there are 7 jobs per year. The Nailbenders start with the foundation already in place and put up walls, roof, all the decking, and sheetrock. Then it is left for a finishing crew that comes in later and does the trim work for the church. More and more churches these days are built from metal buildings, in which case the Nailbenders raise all the interior walls, deck the floors when required, and put up sheetrock if time allows.
Since it’s inception in 1988, Nailbenders for Jesus has built a total of 156 churches throughout Arkansas. We have personally had the privilege of being a part of the construction of 22 of those churches since we began “Nail bending” in 2004. Fair Park Baptist Church in Russellville is the closest to home that we have participated in.
The Nailbenders’ day begins at 7:30 a.m. with a devotional, followed by all the men joining hands and singing “The Family of God”. Our lives have been blessed by the many powerful devotions given by good Christian men and women living their faith! No matter how we felt when we awoke, after the morning devotional and song your attitude cannot help but be good!
The average age of the Nailbenders is in the 70’s, and it is amazing to see what they can do in just two weeks! These individuals have come from all walks of life; very few of these men have any background in construction. They include factory workers, postal workers, ex-servicemen, machinists, steel workers, and many other professions. We include other faiths, all working together for a common goal.
The Grannies have a daily devotional and organizational meeting, as well. The remainder of our time is spent supporting our husbands and other workers and enjoying the fellowship of the other Grannies.
“Nail bending” has been such a rewarding lifestyle for us. We stay in our camper (some have motor homes) for 14 weeks out of the year, and our members are fond of saying that our campsites usually resemble a gypsy camp, with the water hoses, sewer pipes, and electrical wires strung from camper to camper, presenting an obstacle course for the inexperienced “camp hopper”.
We have met wonderful people and have forged many lasting friendships, both with fellow Nailbenders and with people across the state. After a day’s hard work, the men are never too tired to gather in a circle around our campers (weather permitting) and share their lives and thoughts of the day, or to visit a new fish house for dinner!
We’ve seen the state of Arkansas up close and personal! As we all know, Arkansas is a beautiful, varied state. We have seen the cotton picked along the Mississippi River when we camped between cotton fields, and we watched as the harvesters picked and baled the cotton right outside our back door.
Charlie has fished in the bayous of the Arkansas/Louisiana border (after work, of course) and I think we have heard every single train that runs through the eastern side of the state at night!
At Walnut Ridge we were camped right across the road from the railroad tracks, and our campers shook and quaked each time those trains rumbled through town — not to mention the piercing train whistles that woke us out of a sound sleep. We’ve seen some spectacular sunsets, too, as we wander around the construction sites inspecting the days’ work, and the morning fog in the valleys of Marshall, Ark., is an unforgettable memory — as well as a screensaver on our computer — for us.
Each town and job is unique. The Nailbenders always leave a job with mixed emotions; we are anxious to get home, but we leave behind new friends and the experience of having helped them begin a new phase in their church life.
But, with three precious grandchildren living across the street from us we are always anxious to get home and see how they’ve grown and changed in two weeks. (As any of you who have grandchildren know, they DO change in two weeks!)
In 2007, we utilized the services of several retirees who work for the Arkansas Baptist Disaster Relief Team. They worked with the Nailbenders on various jobs over the year, and were an immense help, as were others who volunteered their time. The Lord has provided workers, as He always does!
This month will find the Nailbenders working at Southside (Church #157), a community located on Hwy. 65 close to Greenbrier. If you’re up that way, please stop in and say “hello!”
Contact information and this year’s work schedule may be found at www.absc.org or www.geocities.com/ark_nailbender/. We feel certain that lending a hand to Nailbenders for Jesus will bless your life, as it has ours.