By Stephanie Butzer
SNOW CAMP — Yurts have been a distinctive feature for housing in Central Asia for at least 3,000 years. Now they have come to Alamance County.
Larry George, the president of Siloam Missionary Homes in Snow Camp, has added a yurt as housing for missionary families and many people are drawn to them when they visit the grounds.
The round, weatherproof houses can be as large as 50 feet in diameter. The yurt at Siloam Missionary Homes, an organization aimed at helping missionaries readjust to the fast-paced style of American living, is 24 feet in diameter and can sleep 16 people.
George said he and his wife decided to build a yurt to give back to the community that had helped them continue their service as a place for missionaries to rest and recover.
“The yurt concept screams culture,” George said. “They are a Mongolian tent and usually if I tell somebody, ‘do you know what a yurt is?’ they don’t know.”
The yurt will serve as a place for volunteers to stay while they do work for the people staying at Siloam Missionary Homes. There will eventually be four yurts and they will sit on platforms on the side of a hill, like a tree house, George said. The one currently standing is a demonstration and will be moved once a volunteer group builds platforms on the hill.
“What’s happening in America is that volunteers are not as interested in materialism as they are in sharing the experience or doing things,” George said. “At one time, people just said, ‘well, I’ll just give the money.’ Now they’re saying, ‘No, I’m going to give the money and be a part of what I give to.’”
George said he hopes the yurt will help bring different cultures together, something very important for a missionary residence. Fourteen families stay at Siloam Missionary Homes and they come from all around the world. Each family has their own fully furnished houses.
“We build the houses as the funds are donated because we’re a nonprofit and so all the houses have just been built as money came,” Joyce George, George’s wife, said.
George said a lot of missionaries return to America and are overwhelmed by the changed culture. The yurt will be a way to introduce a new culture to Alamance County. Visitors who have not traveled out of the country will be able to see a small portion of another culture.
“Some young people may never have the opportunity to travel overseas so we want to bring that here,” George said. “There’s one thing about seeing something and not just reading about it on the Internet.”
All of the materials for the yurt’s construction came from the United States, aside from the skylight, which was made in Canada. Military canvas surrounds the frame and the sturdy housing may last more than 20 years. Once it is completed, the yurt will have insulation, LED lighting, a freestanding loft and a compost heater as a toilet.
George said he thinks the yurt will give Siloam Missionary Homes an opportunity to share cultures with people both and in and out of the gated neighborhood.
“We’re kind of an oasis out here,” George said.