God's Work with Us
It is the story of every church, not only our church. It is the unceasing and unlimited work of God in His church. God’s work exceeds our imagination and is far beyond every mind. What we are going to write here is a testimony of the marvelous work of God; who supported us when we failed, and encouraged us when we despaired. We testify here our weakness to glorify His holy name.
Searching for a Church
Because of the maintenance problems we suffered from the previous church building, which was nearly 80 years old, we decided to search for a newer and larger building to facilitate the many church activities. We prayed for this matter. After search and communication for many months, we failed to find one. We decided to look for a piece land to purchase that was about 2 to 5 acres. We wanted it to be close to the congregation of the church, near major highways, and provided with municipal services. All the lots we found that fit the criteria were very expensive (average $60,000.00/acre). Our belief was that God has a lot for us somewhere; we'll get it in due season. This faith encouraged us during the time of despair.
After searching for a long time, in February 2000, we went to see a lot, which was advertised in the newspaper. We found that it was not suitable for us, a situation we faced many times. Feeling discouraged, yet again, we saw another large piece of land, 12 Acres, near the previous lot, which had a “for sale” sign. It was perfect in every way, with an unbelievable price of $250,000. Immediately we called the owner to convince him to sell us only 6 acres because the total price exceeded our capability. But he insisted to sell it entirely, and he asked us to talk to his lawyer. The lawyer responded with, “We already have an offer of $350,000. It is pending approval. Call me tomorrow to update you.” We thought maybe this was an attempt to increase the price. We continued our prayers that the Lord may guide us.
We called the lawyer the following day, who said that the approval of the previous offer did not go through. The lawyer asked “how much you will offer?” We said, “The same price the owner asked for--$250,000.” The lawyer answered, “You will get the land contingent upon rezoning.” The owner was having trouble selling his land because no one could get the land approved to rezone the residential zoning.
Trials and obstacles
The church applied for rezoning from “Residential” to “Institutional” and paid the fees. On March 7th , 2000, Fr. Rewis and some church members attended the committee meeting for public hearing. We talked about our project together with an introduction about the Coptic Church and its heritage before the committee members and the future neighbors. Making a decision was delayed for three continuous meetings, as a result of the so of the committee members’ desire to see the land rezoned as “Commercial” for the benefit of collecting both property and sales taxes; big revenue which would be lost by building “a non profit organization”.
On Tuesday, March 28th, the church’s rezoning proposal was delayed for the fourth time to meet certain requests made by the mayor. The deadline for submitting the new plan for rezoning approval, after meeting these requests, to be put into the next meeting’s agenda in 3 weeks, was the next day! We wondered, “How could we find an authorized architect to solve the added problems, and do the drawings in such a very short time?! It was 8:00 PM, and the drawings, which usually need 2 to 3 weeks of work, needed to be ready the next day?!”
During our desperation, some began to wonder if this was God’s will. Suddenly, while we were still sitting at city hall, a man walked up to one of us and said, “You look like you need help.” He offered to help us and introduced himself saying, “I am a developer who developed most of the land around here. You need a plan. Time is running out. Let's talk to the city planning director and ask if we can meet him tomorrow morning and plan for the next meeting?” In spite of our expectation that this man will charge us a lot, we agreed to accept him after a short discussion among the attending church board members, since it was the only available solution before us.
The man then gave us a card and said, “This is my card. If you lose my card, you will lose me. I am not in the yellow pages. I am not in the white pages. I am not in any directory of any kind. My office is five hours away from here. My cell phone number is on this card.” On the card also had this man's name (Kevin), company (Bioneer Planning Engineering), and an odd Wisconsin address written on it. Kevin asked one of us to meet him the next day in the same place, at 7:00 AM. He didn’t propose any charges. Later that evening, We called Kevin to confirm the meeting the next day and answered some of Kevin's questions about the land. Kevin also mentioned that he charges $4,000 for the blueprint and $20,000 for designing the land.
The next morning, Kevin was waiting for us in the parking lot before 7:00 AM. We met with the city planning director, Doug Simor. Mr. Simor told Kevin that the plan should be on his desk by 1:00 PM that day in order to include it in the agenda of the next committee meeting, which was May 2nd, 2000. Kevin said that he'll go to his office, which is five hours away, design the plan, and personally bring it to Mr. Simor by 1:00 PM! He also promised to attend the committee meeting on May 2nd to explain his blueprints. It seemed impossible to manage the remaining time for Kevin to drive 5 hours back to his office, begin designing and drawing the blueprint, finish the job, and return to city hall before 1:00PM. When we called Mr. Simor later that day, he informed us that Kevin had given him the design at noon. Mr. Simor was stunned because he had never seen a better plan than Kevin's! It was perfect also for Oak Creek since it solved a lot of unsolved design problems, and met all the required changes asked by the mayor. It was also perfect for all the property owners around the land.
The plan was ready for the Committee meeting. ?We called Kevin when he didn’t show up on that day and he apologized for not being there. He said, “I was planning on being there to talk about the plan. But I am out of town now and will not be able to make it.” All of us were upset. We all prayed, before the meeting started, at the same meeting room. During the meeting, although Mr. Simor was representing the city hall committee, he himself was defending the proposal, explaining its benefits, and answering questions. When it came time to vote, the plan was approved 9 to 1.
After the meeting, many of the attendees, including the land owner, his wife and their attorney, congratulated us, wished the best, and were eager to visit the new building of the church. The owner also told us that he had other offers that were all higher than the Church's, but he wanted to give it to the Church!
Closing and signing the contract of buying the Land was on Friday June 30th, 2000. We offered thanks to God who guided, helped, and supported us to achieve all of that success. Even the price of the land was paid fully before the end of that year, besides $50,000 for Environmental Protection Agency fees plus the attorney fees, without needing any bank loan!
Where Has Kevin Gone?
Fast forward six months, Kevin did not send a bill to the Church for payment. Unexpectedly, Kevin's card was lost and we were unable to find him to pay him. When we asked the directory to find Kevin or his company, the people at the directory said they had never heard of this person. After many trials, we discovered that he is not listed anywhere. Even Mr. Simor, Oak Creek's planning director, never heard of Kevin, or his company. The question remains, “Where was he?”
Waiting one month after another, the church has not received a bill from Kevin until this day. We still wonder,”Who was Kevin?” Was he our patron saint, St. Anthony or was he just someone sent by God who came to help us?
“Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).
Blessing the Land
H.G. Bishop Paula of Tanta, Egypt, was pleased to hear about the marvelous work of God with us. During a spiritual visit, His Grace visited the new church land, after finishing the Liturgy on Sunday May 14th, 2000, with both Fr. Rewis, board members and congregation. He prayed and sprinkled blessed water allover the land, while the deacons were chanting glorification hymns. Elkeraza Magazine published a picture for this joyous event.
Consecrating the Cornerstone
On Thursday May 2nd, 2001, H.H. Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and See of St. Mark, visited Milwaukee for the first time. His Holiness was very pleased to hear this good news about our small congregation and what they achieved, and extended tears of joy and expressed his emotions when he reached the land. In a spiritual ceremony, His Holiness led the prayers to consecrate the cornerstone of the new church. This celebration was attended by His Holiness accompanied by H.G. Bishop David General Bishop, H.G. Bishop Theophilus Bishop of the Red Sea, The Very Reverend Gary Kriss Dean of Nashotah House, The Right Reverend Ghais Abdel Malik, representatives from other denominations, Coptic orthodox priests from different states, El-Houssiny Abdel Wahab Consul General of Egypt at Chicago, and some families from Chicago churches beside our own congregation. His Holiness encouraged our congregation to continue to build the new church; and he promised to come to consecrate it. It was wonderful to celebrate this great event on the one-year anniversary of getting the approval of the rezoning of the land through the grace of God!
On the same day, H.H. Pope Shenouda spoke about the “Image of God” at Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary in Waukesha County. He also received, from The Very Reverend Gary Kriss the Dean of the seminary, an honorary doctor of divinity degree during a great and spiritual celebration at the Chapel of St. Mary the Virgin. It was amazing to discover that on that day, they celebrated the feast of St. Athanasius, our 20th Pope of Alexandria and the hero of the Council of Nicea. We were proud that our beloved Pope Shenouda, who is called by many the Athanasius of this century, was honored by the oldest seminary in the U.S. on feast of St. Athanasius. What a truly blessed day for all of us!