Most days, Pastor Al Wilson of the Chuck Wagon Church can be found in his familiar East Overland neighborhood ministering to the people in real, tangible ways.
Whether the need is Sunday morning pancake breakfasts, winter coats, clothing or emergency financial needs, Wilson and his church family are ready to help a community in need.
“This all started about 20 years ago when I was working at Brannan Homes,” he said. “After work, I’d be in the neighborhood talking with people about accepting Christ as their Savior.”
Wilson said he had good success with his evangelism because he found that most people believed in God but don’t know they needed to ask Christ to come into their hearts. While many of them did ask, they didn’t go to church anywhere.
“A friend went with me one day and suggested that because people wouldn’t go to church, we should start one,” he said. “So that’s what we did.”
They found a building on East Overland that had been a church and still had pews. Wilson had $1,300 in the bank to get it back in operation.
“No one came the first week but attendance picked up every week.” he said. “At that time, the schools didn’t have lunches on the weekends so we were seeing lots of hungry kids. So we started a Sunday morning pancake breakfast that’s still going.”
The kids were soon followed by their parents, who stayed for the church service. Today, the church has about 130 regular members.
Beyond regular church services, Wilson fulfils the Biblical guidance of feeding the hungry and caring for the needy.
“Whenever someone needs food, they call us and we make up a food box to deliver to them,” he said. “We also receive donations of clothing and winter coats that people in need can have. Members of the congregation and other groups also bring in knit caps to go with the coats.”
When the collected clothing items grow to more than what the neighborhood needs, Wilson takes some of it to a group on the Pine Ridge Reservation for distribution there.
“They get the clothes out that we can’t use because our people are getting to where they don’t need as much,” he said. “That’s nice because they’re working and are getting clean and sober.”
He said success with outreach to the Lakota people of Pine Ridge is limited, but he does what he can to share the love of God with the people who live in one of the poorest areas of the country.
Wilson said that whatever success has happened with the Chuck Wagon Church, whether in South Dakota or in Scottsbluff, is because of God working through them. Members of the local church keep busy with weekly Bible studies, movie nights, youth programs and Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the community.
Some of the teenagers are currently rehearsing a puppet show for the Christmas season. Wilson calls them “good puppet people” who also bring the show to area nursing homes.
At about 85% capacity in its current building, the need arose for more space. About two years ago, a steel building on 12th Street, almost twice the size of their current facility, came up for sale at a bargain price. The church family bought it.
Church volunteers are currently getting the roof on the building, but the interior work is still in the future. As Wilson said, if the Lord wants it done, the project will be a reality.
“It wasn’t my choice to build a new church,” hyesaid. “I’ve helped build churches at Camp Rock, on the Pine Ridge Reservation and in Africa, plus adding on this church. But evidently the Lord wanted a new facility for us.”
So from Wilson’s sharing the gospel with the people of East Overland some 20 years ago, a church ministry grew from literally no attendance to where it is today.
“It’s really God who makes the difference, but we’re doing what we can to help those in our community, and we’re seeing some good things happen,” he said.