Salvation in Aisle 6

The Living Waters Fellowship church began its ministry in 2008 in the basement of the pastor’s home, seeded from a Saylorville church. About 20 people met to worship in the non-denominational service. The church grew over the next dozen years, reaching regular attendance of about 325.

The congregation sought their own building.

They came close to buying a disused Presbyterian Church, but the deal fell through.

“Many were sad,” said the Rev. Josh Daggett, pastor of Living Waters. “Some were mad.”

The church adopted two philosophies as they marched toward building their own home.

The first came from the Book of Genesis: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

Second, the congregation pledged only to be debt free when it acquired its building and land.

In 2017, the church raised enough money to buy 3.5 acres of land on Army Post Road without debt.

They started to raise money to build on the land. Then Daggett learned Fareway Stores planned to close the grocery at 3000 S.E. 22nd St.

In 2019, Daggett approached Fareway about buying the building. Fareway, founded by a family with deep Christian roots, offered the building to Living Waters for $1.2 million.

For a church of 325, each person would have to come up with nearly $3,700 a piece.

Daggett reminded his flock: “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

They held bake sales.

They hosted garage sales.

They sold T-shirts.

The members donated.

People unaffiliated with the church who believed in their mission gave money.

Vacation Bible School children raised money.

New City Church, Lakeside Fellowship and Saylorville Church gave a combined $135,000 to the project.

Church leaders hoped to close the gap by selling the two properties it owned – an office building they call “The Well” and the property on Army Post Road.

Deals came close and fell through.

The most-recent disappointment came in late March. A childcare provider planned to buy their office building, but a city inspector said occupancy rates for the building were too low for them to sell. The childcare provider backed out.

Living Waters was now about $200,000 shy of the $1.2 million they needed.

“I was double crushed,” Daggett said.

Daggett prayed.

“Lord, you said you were the God of the impossible,” Daggett said. “Please be that for us now.”

The church leaders met the next week. By then, America had joined the rest of the world in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

No more bake sales, garage sales or other fundraisers could be held during quarantine.

They briefly discussed applying for a loan but decided to remain committed to the debt-free purchasing plan.

Daggett went to Fareway executives with their story and offered to buy the building for $1 million. The executives agreed.

“God made a highway through the sea,” Daggett said. “What a blessing this church home is going to be for many years to come.”

That blessing comes with a few one-liners about turning a grocery store into a church.

“People say, ‘Of course Fareway sold to a church, they’re not open on Sunday anyway,’” Daggett said. “One parishioner suggested we move the meat counter up front and offer a steak for every new member.”

Jokes aside, Living Waters puts itself in a place that could use more positive influences. The apartments on Southeast 22nd Street toward Indianola Avenue are sketchy.

When a roommate and I lived there 10 years ago, a police officer suffered a broken pelvis when a man fleeing authorities ran him down with a pick-up.

Not far from Living Waters’ new locale in late January, three teenagers were shot and killed at a south Des Moines home.

Living Waters holds the potential to be a stabilizing agent in a neighborhood that needs it.

In my neighborhood, First Christian Church, now part of Lutheran Church of Hope, Grace United Methodist and other churches serve as social service agencies providing food, English classes, childcare and after-school programs.

Daggett hopes the same for his flock.

“Is anything too hard for the Lord?” the church asked itself.

Look at how far those inspired few have come and the answer becomes obvious.

Daniel P. Finney, Independent Newsman

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at

Pitch perfect: Love and soccer on the south side

Khamsone Sithonnorath grew up in Laos during the late 1970s. He excelled at soccer and made the Laotian National Team by age 17. Laos was a small nation, but he played in a friendly match against China.

Wars in Southeast Asia forced Khamsone to refugee camps between Thailand and Laos.

There Khamsone met Vien. They fell in love. Vien and her family received word they would be resettled in the United States.

Khamsone promised to reunite with her there. He continued to play soccer in the refugee camps. Scouts for a Thailand pro team spotted him. They offered him a contract.

But authorization for Khamsone’s family to resettle to the U.S. came at almost the same time.

Khamsone let go of his dream of being a soccer star to follow his love, Vien, to America.

To learn more about Kick It Forward or to make a donation, visit

The two reunited and married and settled on the south side of Des Moines in the late 1970s.

Their story is part of an ongoing legacy of the late Gov. Bob Ray’s humanitarian effort to aid Southeast Asians displaced by the Vietnam War and Pol Pot’s genocide in Cambodia.

Khamsone worked nights processing credit card transactions to support his and Vien’s family.

On weekends, Khamsone played soccer in leagues around the metro.

His son, Joe, idolized his father’s play. Joe took up the game in an organized league when he was 10 years old.

He excelled like his father. He played in youth leagues. One year, he was invited to play for two elite youth teams. The cost to join one league was $425. The other league, which was much better, cost $500.

Khamsone and Vien could barely afford the cheaper league. Joe understood, played well and learned a lot.

But he learned a lesson that stuck with him: Sometimes what separates people from their dreams is not skill or opportunity, but a few dollars of disposable income.

Joe became a star in his own right for Lincoln High School and then Drake University.

When he graduated from Drake, he worked as a paid assistant coach for the Dowling Catholic High School boys’ soccer team.

His friend and college teammate, Matt Sahag called. Matt founded a youth soccer skills program called Kick It Forward in 2012.

The group combines soccer coaching with community activism.

Kick It Forward began with 20 players 11- and 12-years-old. They learned soccer skills in camps and engaged in charitable acts off the field.

The first year, coaches and kids raised $6,500.

They donated money to help the Johnston Urbandale Soccer Club bring in a special youth instructor.

They gave money to help prevent cancer in Nicaragua and help a dozen impoverished students attend high school.

Joe loved to coach. But Kick It Forward pulled at him. This was the opportunity he needed.

Joe’s father sacrificed soccer for love and family.

The family sacrificed so he could play soccer.

Now Joe, who works at Wells Fargo, found a way to help others through soccer.

Joe resigned from his Dowling coaching gig and started working with the Kick It Forward team.

Kick It Forward seeks to raise money to help alleviate the costs of soccer participation for youth – just like the troubles Joe’s family faced when he was a boy.

The group wants to buy more equipment for youth soccer organizations and build futsal courts – small five-player soccer pitches – around the metro.

Kick It Forward encourages its participants to achieve and maintain good grades, stay in school and work toward college.

Matt and Joe aren’t trying to manufacture a new generation of pro players, although if that happens, it’s fine.

What they really want is to help as many kids as they can learn the world’s most popular game and use that love and fellowship to become the kind of people who sacrifice for others.

Just like Khamsone did all those years ago when he walked away from a pitch on a refugee camp and a possible pro contract to come to America for love and life anew.

Daniel P. Finney, Independent Paragraph Stacker

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at

‘Mr. Wonderful,’ adieu

Ron Branam sometimes told people at the courthouse that his real name was “Mr. Wonderful.” Branam thought it was a joke. But the people who knew and loved him knew it as a statement of fact.

A swimming accident in 1967 paralyzed Branam from the neck down, ending his career as a courts reporter for Polk County. So he reinvented himself as a scheduler, making the state’s largest county court system flow smoother than possible in 40 years of service.

“After his accident he showed us all how to handle adversity,” wrote his friend Bob Barnett.

Branam died May 13. He was 81.

Branam grew up in Earlham. He moved to West Des Moines shortly after he married his wife, Sandy, where the couple would spend the next 62 years.

Branam graduated from the now-defunct American Institute of Business and became a court reporter for Polk County in 1965. He became one of the state’s best.

In his youth, Branam was an athletic sportsman. He swam and golfed, loved the Iowa Hawkeyes and horse racing.

Legend holds he and a few judges occasionally snuck in a few rounds of golf before morning hearings.

In July 1967, Branam took a trip to Battle Lake, Minnesota.

He dove off a dock and broke his neck. Friends pulled him from the water.

He was paralyzed from the waist down. He eventually gained some movement in his arms, but not the fine motor skills needed to rapid-fire transcribe court proceedings.

Judges put Branam in charge of scheduling for Polk County district courts in 1967 at $6,000 a year, half his court reporter salary.

The courthouse had only one wheelchair-accessible entrance at the time and no wheelchair-accessible bathrooms.

Branam persevered with a famously chipper attitude. He steered his motorized wheelchair with a joystick on the armrest. His thin form about and wore a dark beard with tufts of white on each side during most of 1980s and 90s.

He was the go-to guy for anyone who wanted to keep track of the constantly shifting schedules of trials and hearings.

“Ron was a consummate professional and a great help to a young women attorney 51 years ago,” Karla Fultz, a former Polk County juvenile court judge and Des Moines attorney, wrote of her friend. “I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with him throughout my practice and time as a judge.”

Branam wrangled the schedules for decades as the county’s population grew – and the criminal and civil dockets along with the population.

His organizational skills were credited with saving taxpayers thousands. And he always made time to help people, whether they be high-ranking judges or a befuddled member of the public.

“Not many of us get through this contentious and combative world without having made an enemy or two. Our buddy, Ron, was an exception to that,” Michael McMurry wrote of his longtime friend. “I never knew anybody not to like him or anybody that he didn’t like. As the court administrator, he was simply the best in the business.”

Officials named Branam Handicapped State Employee of the Year in 1986.

He shunned the praise.

“I’m a better employee now than when I was walking,” he told the late Des Moines Register reporter Anne Carothers-Kay for a profile. “I can’t play golf now.”

Branam and his wife turned their West Des Moines backyard into an explosion of colorful blossoms, vines and leaves.

Sandy Branam started the project after their children had grown and moved out. There was no need for a basketball court and tetherball pole.

She wanted to add some flowers along the wheelchair path. It grew to be described as “the arboretum on Ashworth,” per a 2005 Register profile.

The couple spent summers in their gazebo watching birds of many feathers flitter between flowers and feeders.

He requested no services and his remains cremated.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Sandy Branam, an adult son and daughter, grandson and two sisters.

Cut loose and cashiered by corporate media, lone paragraph stacker Daniel P. Finney makes his way telling stories about his city, state and nation. No more metrics or Google trends, he writes stories about people and life in the places we live. is reader-supported media. Please consider donating at