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Grant helps add 'blessings' to Jefferson church's retreat center

| Sunday, Aug. 3, 2014, 12:51 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
Pastor Dennis Kozora poses for a portrait among the new beds purchased with grant money at Christ is the Answer Retreat Center in Clinton Township on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
The Rev. Dennis Kozora poses for a portrait at Christ is the Answer Retreat Center in Clinton Township on Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
The Rev. Dennis Kozora poses for a portrait with his grandson, Kyle Krause, 6, at Christ is the Answer Retreat Center in Clinton Township on Tuesday, July 29, 2014
Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
The Rev. Dennis Kozora poses for a portrait at Christ is the Answer Retreat Center in Clinton Township on Tuesday, July 29, 2014.

A private grant fund has helped a Jefferson Township church to put the finishing touches on renovations at its retreat center.

The Ira Wood Charitable Trust provided $5,000 for Christ is the Answer Chapel to buy 36 mattresses for bunk beds in its Clinton Township center.

The cross-shaped building has new carpeting, fresh paint inside and out, remodeled bathrooms and new flooring in the bedrooms. Decorative tile outlines the front of the brick fireplace and each entryway.

The Rev. Dennis Kozora, pastor of Christ is the Answer, said he hopes the renovations will make the center more marketable.

“We want to be a blessing to the community,” he said. “We want to host people's next gathering, next outing or meeting for their church so they don't have to drive hours away.”

The main room of Christ is the Answer Retreat Center, off Brewer Road, features a pulpit and an altar at the front, along with new sound equipment. There's a kitchen area and living room space with a couch and chairs facing the fireplace.

The space incorporates the rustic feel of the peaceful, country atmosphere outside.

The building has the look of a former church with both walls lined with tall, rectangular windows.

“It's a nice atmosphere,” Kozora said. “Some things that can't happen in a church service, when you're in and you're out, (can happen) when you come for a couple of days and you have devotions and classes.

“People are more apt to let their hair down in an atmosphere that's not intimidating, and people feel more open to share what's going on in their heart.”

A ‘miraculous' history

The story of the church's acquisition of the retreat center property is filled with “miracles,” Kozora said.

His father-in-law, the late Earl Huston, founded Christ is the Answer Chapel in 1958. Kozora became pastor in 1984. The church on Neupert Road is about 5 miles away from the retreat center.

The church acquired part of the center property, about 2 14 acres, from the Rocky Run Sportsmans Club, who donated the land to them in the early 1970s.

The acquisition sparked a vision in Huston and other church members to provide a place where people could get away to gather and learn more about God, the Bible and their spiritual journey.

So Huston placed a flagpole in the ground at the top of the hill where the building stands, saying that one day, God would give them the land.

He attached a bedsheet to a pole. On it he wrote part of a Bible verse, “Ask and it shall be given to you,” from Luke 11:9.

A photo from that day hangs in the center.

The land was previously owned by the Bessemer and Lake Erie Railroad, which had train tracks nearby.

In 1972, the church was able to buy the 20 acres for $1,200, thanks to a still unknown donor who happened to attend the church service where Huston announced the possible purchase.

The building was constructed near where the flagpole stood. Now a wooden flagpole with a tattered canvas flag with the same Bible verse on it marks that spot, right in front of the fireplace.

Over the next few decades, Christ is the Answer members used the retreat center and other churches held their functions there — picnics, staff meetings and weekend gatherings.

Among the most recent renters is Maranatha Church of Cortland, Ohio. One of their parishioners is Huston's grandson.

That church has held three retreats there over the past four years.

“Just getting away, it was really, really great,” said the Rev. Woody Cavender, pastor of Maranatha Church.

“It's a very comfortable place,” he said. “Our ministry would recommend it to others.”

In August 2011, Kozora decided it was time for a face-lift. He put in new carpeting and painted the inside.

But six months later the oil furnace malfunctioned, causing what's called a “puffback.” Everything inside was covered with an oily residue.

“You could write your name in it right up here on the altar,” Kozora said.

He said he discovered the mess when he stopped in to check on the building and opened the door to a wall of smoke.

They called in a restoration company for the cleanup. The carpet had to be removed and the walls repainted.

But through it all, Kozora didn't lose his sense of humor.

“In the long run it turned out to be a blessing, because I didn't like the carpet that we chose,” he said.

Kozora has maintained his “God will provide” attitude since the early days of his church's efforts to buy the retreat center property.

And the church continues to get what it needs, like last summer's unexpected help with center improvements.

Tim Thoma, who co-leads the Crown of Brothers men's ministry at Saxonburg Memorial Church, said the center was a perfect venue for the 40 guys who stayed there for a weekend retreat last summer.

“It's a beautiful facility,” he said.

The group liked it so much that they wanted to help spruce it up. They offered to paint the exterior so long as the church supplied the 45 gallons on paint needed to do the job.

“We wanted it to shine; it's a special place,” Thoma said. The group plans to return this fall.

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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