Nailbenders lend a hand at Renewal Ranch center

Story and photos
by Sonja J. Keith

Renewal Ranch recently got a big helping hand in construction of its restoration center from a special group of volunteers.

Nailbenders for Jesus, a construction mission associated with the Arkansas Baptist State Convention, spent about two weeks at the Perry County ranch. Volunteers from throughout Arkansas and neighboring states participate in the program, and work with small to medium sized congregations on new construction projects, like sanctuaries, educational facilities and fellowship halls.

Renewal Ranch helps men battling addiction and is committed to restoring broken lives through Christ.

Charlie Zimmerman, a member of First Baptist Church of Dover, oversaw the volunteer group’s work. He has helped with Nailbenders for 14 years. “The Lord blessed me with a good job and I was able to retire. This is what I wanted to do.”

Nailbenders typically undertakes seven projects each year, with two weeks devoted onsite to construction, worship and fellowship. Financial support for the mission is provided through churches and the Dixie Jackson offering for mission. “God’s taken care of it the last 14 years since I’ve been watching it,” Zimmerman said.

“Even as our buildings have gotten bigger and bigger, He has always provided.”

The mission provides most of the equipment needed, housed in two box trucks. Volunteers bring their own tool belt and hammer, and are responsible for their own travel expenses. They typically camp on the job site. Many of the Nailbenders have no previous construction experience, but some have done similar work on their own.

Workdays begin at 7:30 a.m. with prayer and a devotional, led by one of the volunteers. “We do rough framing,” Zimmerman said of the group’s work, adding they can also install trusses and hang Sheetrock. The church, or in this case Renewal Ranch, is responsible for the lumber. “We provide the manpower and all the consumables, which is nails and glue. It’s typically quite a bit, from $1,500 to $2,000 per job.”

Fifteen Nailbenders volunteered at Renewal Ranch, ranging in age from 63 to 82. States represented were Tennessee, Missouri and Oklahoma, with in-state volunteers from cities including DeValls Bluff and Fort Smith. Some of the volunteers, who live along Highway 65, became familiar with the group when they worked on Southside Baptist at Damascus after it was hit by a tornado.

The Ranch project was the first time that Nailbenders worked with a faith-based non-profit. “I’ve talked to several and told them I’m ready to work with them, as long as they are a Christ-centered organization. I’m looking for groups that are connected to the churches and Renewal Ranch is overwhelmingly connected because the churches fed us every day.”    

Renewal Ranch Executive Director James Loy said the 15,000-square-foot restoration center will help address some of the growing pains that the ministry is experiencing. When it opened in 2011, the ministry worked to help eight men. Today, Renewal Ranch works with about 70 men and their families.

“The restoration center will solve a lot of infrastructure needs on our campus,” Loy said, adding that Renewal Ranch participants worked alongside Nailbenders volunteers on the center.

Plans for the center were announced in the fall of 2015. Located near the entrance of the 102-acre campus, the five specific needs for the building are to hold chapel services, to provide office space to counsel residents, additional beds, a dining facility for daily and group meals, and classroom space.

Loy said the ministry has been blessed by groups like the Nailbenders and local businesses that have made donations of materials. “That’s really how we exist – God’s tapestry coming together for the cause of Christ in the lives of these men.”

Zimmerman echoed Loy’s sentiments. “This Ranch is a great example of how God knits people together in such a beautiful way.” He explained that Nailbenders did some work for Shane Dickson at the Conway Cowboy Church. He asked for 10 workers to assist but found out later that Dickson did not have 10. Dickson was in Downtown Conway and came upon a group selling raffle tickets. Dickson spoke with someone from Renewal Ranch and explained the work that was being planned and an offer was made to help. “God put him in the right place. Then, they talked to me and said they were going to build a building one day and I said, ‘I can’t wait to come back.’ We were so blessed by this ministry. The men and the lives they change in this ministry is amazing.”

Zimmerman said he wasn’t sure what to expect when working with the Renewal Ranch clients on the Cowboy Church project. He was expecting bad language and attitudes but he never encountered either one during the two weeks. What he did see were men new to the program being helped by others who had been at the Ranch longer, working together to memorize Scripture. When there was prayer, Renewal Ranch men volunteered. “You knew they had prayed before. There was no question they were a praying individual,” Zimmerman said. “Everything was good. The things we saw, we were blessed.”

Several fundraising events for the Ranch are planned, including the Third Annual Rally for Recovery on Saturday, June 10, at Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds.

Jeff Williams, senior pastor at Second Baptist Church in Conway will make a special presentation.

The event will include a catfish dinner with all the fixings catered by The Fish House.

Individual tickets are $25. A patron table sponsorship for $250 for a table of six is available.

For information, contact Bryce McGhee at 501.733.4263 or [email protected].

According to Loy, former Gov. Mike Huckabee will speak at an event on Friday, Dec. 15, at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion. Proceeds will be used to pay for the kitchen equipment in the restoration center.

Loy said it is an exciting time with the ministry, adding that the Ranch recently welcomed three new board members: Judge Troy Braswell, Mike Lefler and Libby Fulmer. Renewal also added Scott Taylor as the new co-leader and chaplain of the ministry.

Loy is hopeful that the ministry will begin using the restoration center in the fall and it will serve as the venue for the Second Annual Renewal Roundup and the group’s annual chili cookoff and silent auction on Saturday, Oct. 14.

As funds have been raised, work has started on the facility. “We were able to get in the building and in the dry, debt free, but we’re still about $900,000 away from our goal,” Loy said. “The building is about a $1.75 million project.”

Zimmerman was pleased with the progress made during the two weeks at Renewal Ranch. Loy estimates that the work of the Nailbenders represents $100,000-plus value in labor that was provided free to the ministry.

“This building will help men and their families for decades to come,” Loy said.

Zimmerman was particularly touched by the testimonies shared by those at the Ranch and felt blessed by the work completed. “I knew I wanted to do something for the Lord,” he said. “I had no idea how I would be blessed.”

For more information on Renewal Ranch, visit