When Bill Pigott, 73, decided he wanted to minister and give back to others by helping construct churches after he retired, he had limited experience as a carpenter and an unclear idea of how he'd achieve his goal.
One day, after Pigott shared his desire with a friend, he was told to call a man named Olen Miles who could help make his goal a reality.
Miles was the founder of the Retiree Builders, a ministry of the Texas Baptist Men that does cost-free construction for churches and Christian organizations. He requested only one thing from Pigott before he could join the group.
"He said ‘the first thing I want you to do is write out your testimony and you wife's testimony on a piece of paper and mail it to me and I'll look at it,'" Pigott said. "‘If everything looks good,' he said, ‘we'd love to have you.'"
When Pigott retired from a job in the field aviation for the U.S. Department of Defense in April of 1995, he and his wife sold their home, purchased a motor home and began traveling with the builders.
Today, the Retiree Builders continues to draw involvement from Baptist men and women across the state. Since the ministry began, it has completed more than 1,600 projects, according to the ministry's website.
The builders have constructed churches, camps, cabinets, furniture and many other things for churches and Christian organizations in Texas and across the world.
Today Pigott, who lives in Tyler, serves as the director of the Retiree Builders and helps organize what he estimates to be about 200 active members and about 500 members who are on the ministry's mailing list and who often chose to work on a few projects once about every year or two.
While building churches and working on other projects, Pigott said the builders all gather on or near the construction site in their motor homes, recreational vehicles and trailers and work until they finish their projects. The wives that travel with the builders have formed their own ministry and visit nursing homes, hospitals and even make clothes for children who need them.
Though he said the average age of builders on many of their building projects is about 74, and many come without a lot of experience in construction, the group has learned to work well together.
"It's amazing how many people will come by a church when they see Monday morning a group of guys come in there and by Wednesday they got a roof on it already," Pigott said. "They come by to see what's going on because they are curious, you know."
The builders also enjoy being able to minister to the communities where they travel and do their work.
"(It) gives you a chance to open up and share with them what Christ is doing in your life," Pigott said. "That's what our goal is, to share Christ with the neighborhoods."
While active members in the ministry are often very committed, their work has not gone unchallenged. Over the years the volunteers have often paid for the fuel to travel to each site.
Pigott said the advice he received from a fellow builder after he first joined the ministry still sticks with him today, and faith and blessings from God are what help many volunteers who travel with the ministry.
"He said ‘you need to get on one side of the fence or the other,'" Pigott said. "‘If you want to go, you need to commit to go whether you've got the money or not and God will provide the money for you.'"
That year, both the church Pigott attended and the Texas Baptist Men helped him make a trip to Canada, where builders were constructing a Baptist seminary school.
For Pigott and other builders, faith that God will make a way is what has kept them going, even through hard situations.
When Pigott was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2004, he was able to undergo surgery and return to his work with the Retiree Builders in about a month.
Then in 2005, it was discovered that he had kidney cancer and would need another surgery.
"It wasn't the same kind. In other words, it didn't spread from somewhere else," Pigott said. "I was out a little over three weeks after that over that surgery."
Since then, Pigott's health had been good, until about three-and-a-half years ago when he went to see a physician because of pain he was feeling in his sinus area.
It was determined from his visit that he would need surgery yet again, this time for an infection.
A biopsy taken during surgery revealed that a tumor about the size of a large lemon had grown near his brain. Pigott received chemotherapy, more surgery to remove the tumor and radiation a few weeks later.
He has regular appointments with an ear, nose and throat physician, and since recovering, has resumed his work volunteering and directing the builders.
Pigott said prayer and his relationship with God are what helped him to get through many of his toughest moments.
"I always have a confirmation that God is in things, and he never promised us that we would not have any trials," Pigott said. "He never promised us that we would have a perfect life as Christians."
After years of working on projects for others, the Retiree Builders are currently constructing a building of their own in Dallas they will use as an office and warehouse space. The building will provide them with a headquarters and a place to safely store their trailers and other equipment.
Pigott said all of the ministry's accomplishments over the years are great, but their number one goal has always been to spread God's word to others.
"God don't need us to build a building. He can get buildings built, but he wants us to be a witness for him," Pigott said. "That's what he's chartered us to do. He's allowed us to have this church building opportunity to be a witness for him."
How to join:
The Retiree Builders, a ministry of the Texas Baptist Men, is currently looking for men of all ages who would like to join the group. Those interested in volunteering can call 214-707-4379, send an email to email@example.com or visit texasbaptistmen.org/Ministries/Builders for more information. No prior construction experience is needed.