Pastor E.G. Roberts says preaching was never a choice, and for him it is much more than just a job.
"We need to save lost souls. People are searching for a higher calling," Roberts said.
As membership grows at the Way of Christ Christian Church in Duncanville, so does the need for more space.
"It's nothing wrong with this place. We feel this place is home, but we're trying to reach a larger population," Roberts said.
The congregation made it their mission to raise enough money to build a new sanctuary from the ground up. They settled on land in DeSoto. A builder with whom the pastor worked on another project referred him to Standard Steel Buildings in Rockwall. The church wanted to build their new church using steel, and thought Standard Steel Buildings could help begin the construction process.
They did research and looked at different churches the company built.
"We just made sure that he was a legit company, which he was, so we thought," Roberts said.
The pastor and his board members were impressed with the designs and blueprints, so they signed the contract. They paid about $13,000 up front. According to Roberts, that's when the trouble started.
"They said that the price for steel was gonna go up, and we had to put down another $10,000. And we said, OK, so we did that," Robert said.
Months went by and the church didn't hear from the company.
Roberts says the owner, Kevin Kissire, stopped returning his phone calls almost immediately. The project manager, Jason White, wasn't answering either.
They couldn't get either to pick up until they started calling from different numbers.
Roberts says whenever they could reach the owner and project manager, their list of excuses for not moving forward on the project ranged from being out of town to family emergencies. Ultimately, they kept saying the pastor would need to put down more money to move forward. The church ended up shelling out nearly $50,000 for the project.
More than a year later, and still nothing.
"By now we figured the first phase would be finished," Roberts said.
The pastors says the project manager eventually informed him he was no longer affiliated with Standard Steel Buildings and that the owner moved to the Philippines. That manager, Jason White, confirmed with NBC 5 Responds that he no longer works for the company. But when asked where all the money had gone, he hung up the phone.
After looking into the owner's background, we learned Kevin Kissire has been convicted of at least five theft charges over the years, including writing a bad check. We also discovered he stopped paying taxes on Standard Steel Buildings back in 2015 and the state yanked the company's business license. We tried to call Kissire, but all of his numbers have been disconnected. We also reached out to him via Facebook days ago and have yet to hear back.
How does Pastor Roberts feel about all of this?
"From a fleshly side, I would love to get my hands on him; from a spiritual side, I have to forgive him. But if I actually saw him, the flesh may win this time," Roberts said.
The pastor says he started doing some research of his own and learned his church was far from alone. Azure Pools and Outdoor Living tells NBC 5 Responds they, too, were ripped off by Standard Steel Buildings. They say they paid that company more than $40,000 to build a new office, but they were left with nothing.
"We also have documents stating that his mama, his daddy, his uncle, his aunties, all of them are part owners in the company," Roberts said.
We reached out to Weldon Kissire, the owner's father. He confirmed that many family members worked with his son many years ago as advisors, but he tells me they eventually parted ways.
Weldon says he's spoken to the pastor many times and he'd believe what the pastor says over his son any day.
The congregation is raising money once again hoping to have a new building sometime next year. Financially crippled, but not broken.
"The money don't belong to me, it belongs to the Lord. When you're brave enough to steal from God, you'll steal from anybody," Roberts said.
The pastor has filed a police report with the DeSoto Police Department. He says he was told the matter was civil and there wasn't much that could be done. Roberts says they can't afford to sue, but he's not giving up. He hopes that sharing his story will prevent someone else from falling victim.