Irons Church Pastor Malcolm Mills, left, pictured with church member Nancy Przedwojewsji, says he considers the building a Center of Influence, not in the traditional sense of a big city. “We’re planning to influence our little community here.”
It was mid 2013 at a church board meeting when a member of the Irons church made the generous offer of donating to the church a prime piece of property right in the middle of town. The offer would set in motion an almost decade-long process of building a much-needed community service center to serve the needs of low-income families in one of the poorest counties in the state of Michigan. The need for this new building arose when the previous building, built in 1898, was too aged and could no longer support the ministry started in 1955 of distributing used clothing, food baskets, bedding and household needs for families, with a big helping of encouragement and prayer.
With a “nest egg” of about $12,000, they would need to raise $250,000 more to make the dream a reality. The members numbering only 10 households, all on fixed incomes and most at retirement age, were determined to not borrow one penny. Their unflinching faith in God has propelled the project forward.
“It’s really been amazing to be so involved so closely with God as your general manager because it almost seems impossible to raise almost $300,000,” says Nancy Przedwojewski, Irons member serving as one of the project’s managers. “As the project inched along, the community have been excited and keep asking, ‘when are we going to get that building open?’ They already have ownership of the property, even though it’s not yet done.”
Lake County, where Irons is situated, has a population of some 12,000 with 20.2 percent living in poverty, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau figures. The area is rural and most of the county is in the Manistee National Forest. “We have a lot of vacation homes,” says Irons church pastor Malcolm Mills, and very little industry. Sometimes people work one job in the winter and one in the summer, but that doesn’t translate to a steady income for the year. When you look at the map in National Geographic of places of food insecurity you can see the red spike showing we have food insecurity here. There is a need.”
The blessing of the land was only the beginning of the miracles that have surrounded this project. Prof. Martin Smith and the School of Architecture at Andrews University chose to do the plans for a fraction of the going rate. The General Contractor worked in a “go & stop” manner. As money was raised, he would work, when the money was gone the work would stop. Because of the church’s good reputation in the community and the good reputation of the general contractor local contractors began to join in. To date, the amount raised is well over $100,000 in donations from their labor and even the supplies needed to finish their part of the building. The General Contractor paid his help but took no pay for his labor. Others that joined the project were: concrete finishers, electricians, heating/cooling companies, plumbers, sign makers, carpet companies, septic/drain field contractors, landscapers, roofers, and siding companies.
No one could have imagined what God had in store when the church had its annual yard sale on July 4-5 to raise funds for the food pantry. Normally the event is held at the home of the pantry director who lived on a well-travelled paved road, but she had moved away. For several months the question loomed where could they hold the event?
The “Wheeler Dealer” property was a four-acre spot with several buildings on it, right in the heart of Irons. This place had been an on-going yard sale or flea market and lumber yard for many years until the owner retired and had placed it on the market. For 15 years the building sat unused.
“We called the new owner to see if we could “borrow” just his front yard for our sale,” Przedwojewski says. “The phone just went dead and he then suggested I meet him at the building in a few days.
When she showed up, she couldn’t believe her eyes.
When the new owner unlocked the front door and turned on the lights the scene was a store filled with “stuff” to the brim, with shelves and shelves ready to go. Apparently, the previous owner had just turned off the lights and walked away into his new retired life. “Brad, the new owner, said we could sell it all and use the funds for the new center,” she recalls in amazement. They already had all that they had collected over the last year for their little sale and now they had all that was waiting for them there. They also decided to invite the whole area to donate their “stuff” for the benefit of the new center, so lots and lots of things were added to the growing inventory.
The little congregation worked tirelessly for the month of June, washing 15 years of dust from shelves and items and adding much, much more in every possible place. Stuff ranged from large commercial pastry display cases and aluminum boat lifts, to sets of china, complete bedroom furniture, all sorts of lumber, couches, chairs, toys, clothing, bikes. “You name it we had something for everyone,” says Przedwojewski.
A local business printed up T-shirts for the team with “Irons Community Center” on the front and “God Bless America” across the back, Independence Day baseball caps identified the helpers for folks that needed cars or trailers loaded. Advertisements ran on Strong Tower Radio and in the local papers. Additionally, every business and campground within 10 miles of Irons received a postcard-sized flyer. The goal was $6,000, which would cover the next steps in building the center.
It was later estimated that about 3,000 people came that first day. Cars lined the main street of town. Przedwojewski remembers, “It was exciting and uplifting as people wanted to know how soon the center would be open? What would we be doing in the building? Could anyone come to the cooking schools?” She went home that first day having more than the goal met and still had another day to go.
People came back for the whole next week to buy lumber, and even storage sheds on the property. Clothing racks and cupboards sold. As the shelves emptied, the shelves were sold. In the end, the final figures revealed close to $16,000 raised. As excited as they were about the money to help finish a long awaited building their true excitement was about the community’s excitement and support of this project.
As others have heard of this project, more donations for the center have come in such as office furniture, and ping-pong tables, bumper pool tables and living room furniture for a Youth room. In response to a concern from another church in the town that has a Mission Store and sells used clothing and household needs, the church board decided to not have a clothing room but instead chose to follow the suggestion of the local sheriff to turn that room into a Youth ministry.
The layout of the building which is expected to be ready by year’s end is 3,000 sq. ft. divided into three main rooms: 1) a large food pantry and behind it plenty of storage, 2) a full kitchen/classroom, 3) a Youth ministry room to not only help bring more of Christ into the lives of our area teens but also to help send them out into the community to serve others in the name of Christ. The growing number of folks moving up to northern Michigan will provide any number of skilled professionals and Michigan State Extension and District #10 Health Department, will round out several instructors for classes in literacy, budgeting, grief recovery, parenting, canning, freezing, cooking school, gardening. Pastor Mills says he considers the building a Center of Influence, not in the traditional sense of a big city. “We’re planning to influence our little community here.”
“If we but follow God’s lead,” concludes Przedwojewski, “the size of our church is none of His concern. The smaller the church, the greater can be the miracle. When a person moves to a beautiful location like this, to the woods of Northern Michigan there is no “back seat” to hide in these smaller churches. Everyone wears three hats, and you switch from day to day which one you wear. God also supplies the necessary wisdom, and energy to go with each hat. Learning to trust God to supply all your needs is a process, but God has given us a mind to use and what our praying mind conceives our heart and body will achieve. We are evidence of that.”
Nancy Przedwojewski with Herald staff