HOUSTON?What used to be a snake-infested, mosquito-swarming parcel of land smack-dab in the middle of a flood plain has been painstakingly transformed into a destination for people seeking to experience God in a respite from the daily grind.
It had been the dream of Pastor John Morgan of Sagemont Baptist Church in Houston to create a retreat center where people could renew their spirits and be still before God.
Morgan understood busyness by observing people with schedules filled with commitments to others and little time for family, friends and Christian reflection. Decompression is what such folks needed, he believed. But his vision was tucked away for more than a decade until God began to fulfill it one person at a time, he said.
It started with a Sagemont member who owned an 89-acre tract of land he wanted to use for God’s glory.
He gave three acres of it to his church, and Jim Hastings, Sagemont’s Helping Hands ministry leader, rallied volunteers to clear the land, produce architectural designs, purchase construction materials and organize construction crews.
Since its dedication in May of 2003, the 23-room Lodge at Danbury has hosted church groups, women’s retreats, and a group of underprivileged girls at the quiet get-away. Also, the lodge, with a 3,000-square-foot great room, has been used by businesses for retreats and conferences, giving Sagemont an opportunity to show Christian love to many people who are unchurched.
The entire facility was built debt-free at an estimated cost of $685,000?all of it paid for with gifts and offerings above and beyond the church tithe. The lodge sits on a three-acre tract that was cleared of brush and snakes. The surrounding 86 acres are for lodge guests to use for recreation, Hastings said.
The property sits in the middle of what is called The Lakes of Danbury?almost 1,000 acres of land dotted with more than 100 man-made lakes stocked with catfish, perch and drum. It’s the largest sport fishing location and fish farm in Texas. Birds of prey, including three bald eagles, and scores of waterfowl make the site a bird watcher’s haven. Stately live oaks dot the land around the lodge. And downtown Houston seems a million miles away.
But what has become The Lodge at Danbury was not always such an idyllic setting. Hastings, architect Randy Gardner, lodge minister Wade Owens and more than 300 volunteers worked to make the retreat a reality.
Hastings joked that he was certain the construction of the lodge was in no way God’s will because when he stepped from his car onto the land thick with trees and dense undergrowth, he was immediately attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. One volunteer said the scrub was so thick that a person couldn’t see his hand once he stuck it in the vegetation.
Furthermore, the land was infested with copperheads, a poisonous snake. John Hood, a Sagemont member and lodge volunteer who has since died, had a strong aversion to snakes. Hastings said Hood was helping clear the land using a tractor with a backhoe when he dislodged a fallen log. Under the log, Hastings thought, was a rotting basketball. That was until the “basketball” began to unravel. It was a den of copperheads.
Hood backed up so fast the tractor rolled over a pipe, tearing it open. He then abandoned ship, leaving the tractor running and rolling and giving his friends hours of laughter and story telling, Hastings recalled.
Once the land was finally cleared volunteers were ready to begin construction of what was to be a 12-room lodge with a dining hall and great room.
Then what Hastings said was a providential flood came, which delayed work for six months as crews had to raise the parcel of land six feet to make the construction flood proof.
“It was a Noah rain,” volunteer Charles Shiver said. Then it rained again.
Six months later, on April 26, 2001, the walls for the great room went up.
There were no professional construction crews involved in the building process, save for concrete workers.
It was an unskilled but willing crew that showed up each day from daylight until 1 or 2 p.m. They were retirees and those still working full-time?a chemical engineer, a senior technical associate for Shell, sheet metal workers, military, accountants, Houston Fire Department firefighters, a corrugated box industry employee, and others. Despite the lack of professional construction crews working on the lodge, the architect said the facility is one of the most soundly constructed buildings he has seen.
Sam Peak spent his 80th and 81st birthdays at the construction site. One of his jobs was to stand in the lift and secure wooden planks as the lift was raised over 20 feet up to workers on scaffolding. The plank-and-beam ceiling of the great room took 72,000 pounds of wood to complete.
Bill Lowery, a sheet metal worker who has “busted his thumbs on everything in creation,” found the materials for the venting in the kitchen and welded the job himself. Lynn Toney, wife of volunteer Ed Toney, provided Hastings with moral support by bringing him an egg sandwich and coffee each morning.
Carol Newton, he added, “was just one of the guys.” She worked during the construction and continues to support the project as a member of a maintenance crew that provides monthly “spring cleanings.”
Church volunteers cater to the needs of those in attendance, preparing meals and expediting the functioning of the conferences.