When Gurmail Singh got an early morning call from his uncle five years ago Thursday telling him the Sikh Cultural Society temple in Richmond Hill was on fire, he ran to the scene and stood there stunned.
"The building was on fire and I sat outside and prayed to God," he said. "I prayed that he would make this church as good as possible, make it new."
The inferno, sparked by a gas leak, destroyed the heart of New York City's Sikh community and killed a visitor from India. Now Singh, 29, is helping to make sure that prayer is answered.
Each weekday afternoon, after working eight hours laying bricks in Brooklyn, Singh heads for 118th Street and 97th Avenue in Richmond Hill, where a four-story, 66,000-square foot temple -- or gurdwara -- is being built. There, Singh volunteers his time, drilling screws into Sheetrock, threading wires through walls or running to the store to fetch supplies.
Despite the work of Singh and dozens of other volunteers, Sikh Cultural Society leaders say the new $15-million temple is two years away from opening. Logistical problems, internal turmoil and lack of funds have delayed the rebuilding process, forcing temple members to crowd into a converted house next door to the construction site for daily prayers, meals and educational programs.