Lighthouse Worship Center will open its doors for the first time in a new facility on Hogansville Road. About 20 members from the young church have been working for the last two weeks to strip the former auto parts store and renovate it into a fully functioning church building.
This week it’s been nearly round-the-clock work to bring the building to the place where they can worship on Easter Sunday.
“When we rented this building about a month ago, we had no target date in mind,” said Paul Cruz, pastor of the church.
When members - including Cruz’s wife, Shannon - suggested they could put the building into shape by Easter, Cruz agreed to give it a try.
It’s been a lot more work than anyone anticipated.
This week about 20 church members - which is most of the congregation - have taken shifts from early morning until late at night to knock down walls, scrape cement floors, build restrooms, install lighting, hang drywall and roll insulation.
Cruz has complete faith that the building will be ready Sunday morning, just like he’s had faith from the church’s beginnings.
The couple were newly engaged when they arrived in LaGrange for the first time. They had traveled from Miami to visit Shannon Cruz’s father who was living in LaGrange at the time.
“We were driving around town, and we sensed God wanted us to come here and start a church,” Paul Cruz said. “I had a hard time believing that, though.”
The two had met while working with a new church start in the Miami area. They were fully aware that a new church would be hard work, long hours and slow results. But during the next year, while planning a wedding and continuing the work in Miami, the thought of moving to LaGrange never left either one.
“Even when her dad moved away from LaGrange, we still felt we should be here,” Paul Cruz said.
Two months after their 2006 wedding, the couple packed up a trailer, took all the money they had - about $2,000 - and headed to LaGrange. They lived in her father’s house for a few months while it was for sale, then went apartment shopping near Easter.
“We stopped in an apartment complex that had plastic Easter eggs with prizes in them. They said we could pick an egg and Shannon pulled out the grand prize - $1,000 in rent,” Cruz said.
That looked like a good sign, but they had another challenge to cross as well. The couple explained they wanted to do ministry while they lived in the apartment, including children’s programs, and would have a trailer they needed to park. No problem, they were told.
“Later on the apartment was bought by someone else. They asked us to come inside” with the program, he said.
Shannon Cruz began a three-day-a-week after-school program and Paul Cruz led worship services on Sunday mornings in the apartment clubhouse. Things went well and the church grew. In fact, it outgrew the clubhouse and had to go looking for larger space.
The building they settled on was the only one big enough and affordable, but it wasn’t ideal. It came “as is,” including a roof with 27 patches on it - in a variety of colors - air conditioning that didn’t work and an interior needing serious construction work. With no money, they started making repairs and making trips to Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore for supplies, until the rains came.
“All that rain hit awhile back and we walked in to find water just pouring into the building,” Shannon Cruz said.
The owner agreed to put on a new roof.
While they will worship there Easter Sunday, the work won’t be complete, but the future is bright for the church. Supplies, including two pianos were donated and even pews have been donated.
“We have the pianos, but the pews are being stored, and we’ll have to wait until we have the manpower and a trailer to move those,” Paul Cruz said.
In the meantime, the congregation of about 45 will sit on folding chairs Sunday morning, walk on newly installed carpet, with the smell of new paint while they celebrate redemption in a new home.
Sherri Brown can be reached at sbrown@ lagrangenews.com or at (706) 884-7311, Ext. 240.