Bethel International Ministries brings warmth, life to an old warehouse in Stevenson

First Selectman Ken Kellogg and The Rev. Sharon Magapu do the honors in a ribbon cutting ceremony dedicating the new location of Bethel International Industries, at 1565 Monroe Turnpike Saturday.

MONROE, CT — An abandoned warehouse on the former Stevenson Lumber property at 1565 Monroe Turnpike is now a place two businesses, and one church, proudly call home.

It all started with Anthony Galbo, president of Galbo Provisions Inc., a family business that has been using refrigerated trucks to deliver meat to its wholesale customers for 45 years. After his company outgrew its headquarters in Fairfield, Galbo looked at the commercial building in February of 2021.

“I had been looking for years for a new home for my family …  so in the middle of the dead of winter I walked into this building,” Galbo recalled. “It was a dump. It had been neglected over a decade. Teens had broken windows. There was spray paint all over the place. But as soon as I walked into this building, I knew it was going to be my future home for my family business.”

Galbo said he wanted to keep the original wooden floors, but could not, so he matched it. He didn’t need to use the entire building, so he divided the open interior into four spaces that could be leased to tenants.

The first tenant was Dwight Hall, a business offering rental space for wedding receptions, corporate events and private parties. The next was Bethel International Ministries.

The Rev. Sharon Magapu, pastor of Bethel International Ministries, celebrates its new home at 1565 Monroe Turnpike in Monroe Saturday.

Its pastor, The Rev. Sharon Magapu, founded the nondenominational church near the end of 2020.

“We believe Jesus is the savior and in the trinity of the father, son and Holy Spirit,” she explained. “We really wanted to have an authentic heart for Jesus. We want to be the hands, feet and heart of Jesus.”

The new church is mostly made up of students from the universities of New Haven and Bridgeport. It also has an online base of diverse members from different countries, including India, Nepal, Nigeria, South Africa, Malawi and Uganda.

Bethel International Ministries has around 50 members living in the U.S.

Magapu held the first service in rented space inside a church on Beechwood Avenue in Bridgeport in January of 2021.

“I came originally from India,” Magapu said. “Church has always been my anchor with the same belief and faith. Church has always been my home away from home. Bridgeport never felt like home, because we were renting someone else’s space.”

“Because of my faith, I look to God and pray and, as we were praying and looking around, a member saw the listing,” she said of 1565 Monroe Turnpike.

Steve Ozyck, a Realtor with Higgins Group, showed the church the Monroe property.

“We came to see this place with Steve and the place felt home,” said Magapu, who emigrated to the U.S. in 2000 at age 25.

Dedicating the church

A podium, instruments for the church band and two hanging screens were in front of the spacious, carpeted room inside Bethel International Ministries Saturday afternoon. There are normally rows of seating for services, but the room was rearranged with tables and chairs for a luncheon celebrating the dedication of the church’s new location.

Magapu has an office inside the facility, which also has a children’s room, which was being used for a buffet for the occasion.

Outside, a crowd of church members, town officials and special guests gathered in front of the light blue building. Maroon, white and gold balloons adorned the front entrance of the church.

The Monroe Chamber of Commerce had planned a ribbon cutting ceremony with First Selectman Ken Kellogg and Magapu wielding an oversized pair of scissors to snip the yellow ribbon.

“It’s a day of celebration, a day of joy,” the pastor said from behind a railing, addressing the crowd below. “The fact that each one of you are here means that you are special to us, so thank you for being part of our important milestone.”

The Rev. Dexter Upshaw Jr., pastor of New Vision International Ministries, left, attends a ribbon cutting Saturday with, from left, his wife and co-pastor Lindsey Upshaw, Bishop Derek Calhoun, The Rev. Sharon Magapu, pastor of Bethel International Ministries, and Lady Sharon Calhoun.

The Rev. Lindsey Upshaw, pastor of New Vision International Ministries in Bridgeport, led everyone in the opening prayer, reading from Isaiah, Chapter 56, scripture about all kinds of people coming to worship the Lord in a sanctuary.

Her husband and co-pastor, The Rev. Dexter Upshaw Jr., also spoke. “This is a good day isn’t it? It’s a great joyous occasion,” he said. “In a typical New England town, the two highest points are the steeple of a church and the top of city hall.”

When developing an area, Upshaw said the most important component is having faith present.

“As pastors, we believe that wherever the church is, there should be life, and wherever the church is, it should bring hope,” Upshaw said. “It should contribute to the well being of a locale and a location, so I’m so excited for what this means for this development — and everything is going to flourish now.”

“It’s going to continue to grow and thrive and, who knows what this entire block will look like because of these types of strategic partnerships,” he said. “We give God all the glory for it, but it takes people who are willing to see the vision, catch the vision and walk in the vision, so congratulations Pastor Sharon. We’re so excited to see what this will continue to bring.”

Breathing life into Stevenson

Monroe Chamber of Commerce President Ray Giovanni said Bethel International Ministries can always come to the Chamber for help as it moves forward.

“We’re just gonna be very proud of this building,” he said. “In today’s world, as it seems to be, we can use as many prayers as possible, so our Chamber is very proud to help in that effort — and we do a lot of good work for our town. We look forward to a partnership with you to go forward and do more things for our town.”

“Mr. Galbo, thank you for your help in putting in a new vision at this property here and for moving your business here as well,” Kellogg said.

The first selectman recalled how the property was vacant and nearly abandoned when he was first elected six years ago. “It was an old lumber yard that served the community for many, many years, but it looked pretty dismal,” he said. “It was not a site that we were proud of. However, we did a lot of work, a lot of partnerships and collaborations.”

Kellogg recalled how the Planning and Zoning Commission worked with Kimball Family Investments LLC to establish the Stevenson Business District 2 zone to spur development by allowing a wide variety uses.

“What a phenomenal redevelopment this is,” Kellogg said of the entire Stevenson Lumber property. “You look around and they’re not kidding. This is beautiful compared to what it was. Now we’re seeing a property that has community events. We have thriving businesses that either opened here or relocated here, and now we get to welcome yet another family to this property and we couldn’t be more proud.”

The first selectman expressed his belief that a good gauge of the health of a community is the diversity of its faith based organizations. “I am so proud that we have so many faith based organizations here in Monroe,” Kellogg said, adding how Bethel International Ministries enhances that “wonderful faith based community in Monroe.”

Bishop Derek Calhoun gave the dedication for the ribbon cutting. Calhoun founded New Vision International Ministries at 35 Benham Ave. in Bridgeport on November 7, 1999. He is also bishop of New Life of Loudoun County in Virginia.

“There’s a scripture that says, ‘unless the Lord builds the house, he that labors, labors in vain,’ and so the Lord is truly building this house,” Calhoun said, “and not only this house, but this entire synergistic effort.”

Ayowole Afolabi gave the closing prayer.

Galbo praised members of Bethel International Ministries for all they have done to revitalize their space inside his building.

“Them thanking me for bringing them into this building? I want to thank you guys for coming here,” he said, “because it’s really made this more than a business for me. It’s a home and it’s a special place, so I just want to say thank you.”

Bethel International Ministries welcomes all to its services at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays and to its Bible study on Wednesdays at 6 p.m. For information, visit its website and Facebook pages. The church also has a YouTube channel.

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