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Caring for Christ's Body and its Building

Caring for Christ's Body and its Building
Willie Gallion stands in front of Faith Bible Church's building next to the church's work truck. Photography by Seth Weber.

Faith Bible Church’s longest-serving employee is someone you won’t see on stage on Sundays, but you might find him anywhere in the building any other day of the week.

When the church had finally built its own meeting place on Cora Avenue in 1997, leaders knew they needed a facility manager to take care of it. For many years before that, God had been preparing Willie Gallion – in skills, availability, and character – to undertake such a multifaceted and demanding task.

This year he’s been doing it for 25 years, and his consistently cheerful, resourceful stewardship is a testimony to the Spirit’s sustaining power.

Trained in mechanics and faith

Willie is named after his uncle who died in a diphtheria outbreak as a child, Wilbur Hugh Gallion. He grew up working on Eastern Washington farms, where tools seemed to become a natural extension of his hands. Then he joined the Navy and gained mechanical experience working on a wide array of machinery, including radar and missile systems for F-14 planes.

Stationed in California, Willie’s training coordinator brought him to a Bible study, which started his journey from being a nominal Lutheran to following Jesus wholeheartedly. It was a long process, but every time his unit got moved, God provided some way for Willie to stay connected to His people.

At Point Mugu in Ventura County, when he hadn’t found a church and didn’t have a car, “I actually had thoughts, ‘What happens if I just let this Christianity thing go?’ Wasn't too long after that a guy in the shop where I worked went through the shop with a Bible under one arm and a sandwich in the other.”

Willie found out that colleague was headed to lunch with people who drove by the base on their way to church. “So six of us got into a Vega every Sunday. I mean, we were stacked in like cord wood. But they came and got me for two or three months till I got a car.”

For about a year, Willie was stationed on Diego Garcia, which he made sure is represented on the world map mural in Faith’s Connection Room. (It’s the U-shaped blip that looks like a bit of spilled paint in the middle of the Indian Ocean.) There, he got plenty of practice in how to figure out and fix things.

“They gave me a 16-millimeter projector when I first got there, and they set it on my desk and said, ‘Fix it.’ It took me a month and a half, two months to fix the first one. And by the time I left, I'd taken a box of spare parts and built two more projectors out of it.”

When he left the military, those skills helped him get jobs working on computerized triangulation systems, remote-control aircraft systems and office equipment. With all that experience, he developed excellent troubleshooting skills.

“If you know what you're looking for, a machine will tell you what's wrong with it,” he says. “You listen for the squeak, the grind, you look for rub marks.”

Fearlessness also plays a role in his work. “You can't be afraid of trying stuff. My basic motto is if it doesn't say thermonuclear device, push the button and see what happens.”

‘I give God the glory’

After returning to Spokane, Willie was among the founding members of Faith Bible Church nearly 30 years ago. Then and now, he values the church’s high view of God’s Word and its sufficiency in adversity.

But in 1997 when counseling pastor Earl Dannen first asked Willie if he would apply for building manager, he said no. He understood it to be a 30-hour-per-week position, and as a single dad he wouldn’t be able to support his two sons with that. But then-administrator Dave Seim called Willie anyway, and they were able to hire him full-time.

Willie Gallion stands on ceiling walkways he built 22 years ago, an effort that has paid off over decades of improving and maintaining the meeting place of Faith Bible Church.

In hindsight, Willie sees God’s timing and provision at work. His previous employer was bought by a national chain a few months later, which would have taken away the work flexibility he needed for his family. “God knew it was coming and put me here so that I could take care of my guys.” A year later, he married Pam, who now also works on the facility staff.

In addition to several large remodeling projects over the years, it’s been Willie’s job to monitor a bunch of things most of us don’t think about outside of our own homes. “You've got one furnace, I've got 19,” he says.

There are also hundreds of light bulbs, dozens of trash bins, practically an acre of carpet and, of course, many bathrooms. There’s landscaping and plumbing and paving and a touchy alarm system. Problems inevitably arise in each of these areas, sometimes all at the same time.

What those around him find remarkable is Willie’s joyful contentment solving these problems so that the church can gather and minister without undue limitations. Between the more urgent fixes, he’s always looking for ways to improve the space. His project when we interviewed in May was to zone the office HVAC so that individuals could set their own thermostats in each office.

Office Manager Susan Webley says she’s grateful for his accommodating attitude, even when plans change or miscommunications happen. “You can go to Willie with any request, anything you need done, anything moved, anything in a room that needs to be changed, and he’s all about it. He’ll drop things to help you.”

For his part, Willie is thankful his body has held up under a physically taxing job and much of the equipment in the building has held up beyond its expected life. “I give God the glory for that.”

Undistracted

Willie says it took time for him to comprehend how his role fit into the ministry of the church: Now, he understands how his work keeping the facility in good repair is an essential part of the Body of Christ. “If you leave the place looking shabby, the bathrooms are stinky and smelly, the place would die. … We’re not just janitors or fix-it guys. We’re a part of the ministry of Faith Bible Church.”

Most of the time, his part would only be noticed if he weren’t doing it. At a recent staff luncheon celebrating Willie’s 25 years, Pastor Brian Sayers described how often he arrives to teach an early-morning class and finds Willie already turned on the heat in the room ahead of time. And if there is a problem, even at the odd hours Brian knows he can text Willie and get a prompt reply that it’s been taken care of.

Dan Jarms highlighted his attitude: “Willie is so level-headed, as accommodating as possible. If there’s a problem, he thinks about solving it. It’s always easy teamwork with Willie. He knows really clearly what a church is about, what a building’s about, what it does spiritually.”

Willie explains what that is: “It's a place where the body meets undistracted. The ultimate goal is no distractions, so that when people walk in, they’re focused on Christ. Try to keep the temperature right … try to keep the lights right, so that nobody is distracted by a bad building. This building is to serve the Body of Christ. It's not the church. It's the building where the church meets.”

Lynn Yount

Lynn and her husband, Doug, lead a Growth Group. Lynn serves as a writer and editor for Faith Weekly and other church communications.

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