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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

Surviving Disasters

AG fund enables churches to make it through the unexpected

By John W. Kennedy
Feb. 13, 2011

Members of Highway Worship Center of Fruitland, Idaho, had never seen such a freakish storm. The turbulent weather last Aug. 6 brought 6 inches of hail and a flash flood that left a foot of water in the church basement. Four days later, after vacuums and pumps had dried out the damaged building, the church board made a curious decision.

Although the water had caused $12,000 in damage not covered by the church’s insurance policy, elders voted to increase the amount the church contributes to Assemblies of God World Missions and U.S. Missions to 17 percent from 12 percent of total income.

“In prayer we sensed God saying if we focus on reaching the lost with our finances, He will take care of our needs,” says Pastor Norman R. Geyer.

The following week God seemed to answer. Diane Doucet, AG Benevolences Ministries coordinator in Springfield, Mo., had heard about the disaster and called Geyer to ask how the Fellowship could help the congregation of 164.

“I just started to cry,” Geyer recalls.

AG Disaster Relief gave Highway Worship Center $10,000 to make necessary repairs to floors and walls.

AG Disaster Relief isn’t meant to be a substitute for adequate insurance coverage. But some churches need help with a high deductible, while others may not be able to afford high premiums for a specific type of coverage. Highway Worship Center had property insurance, but not for floods because it is located on highland.

Jonathan Hendren had been pastor of the 175-member Gateway Assembly of God in Ashland City, Tenn., for a month when floods overran the Nashville area in May. Two days of rain and overflowing reservoirs deposited 5 feet of water, mixed with sewage, inside the church, resulting in $500,000 in damage.

“The $20,000 from AG Disaster Relief really gave us a jump start financially to get us back on our feet,” Hendren says. Five couples from Mission America Placement Service’s RV Volunteers, who volunteer in reconstruction efforts, saved the church additional tens of thousands of dollars.

Because Gateway AG is located above a flood plain it didn’t have coverage for flooding — but it does now. A local Nazarene church allowed attendees of Gateway to meet in its sanctuary rent-free until the renovated structure opened in November.

In the past fiscal year, AG Disaster Relief has given a combined $91,000 to nine churches impacted by ice storms, tornadoes, earthquakes and other calamities. In many cases that emergency assistance means the difference in a church being able to recover or having to close.

In unusual years — such as when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005 — millions of dollars can flow through the fund. Highway Worship Center donated to help churches impacted along the Gulf Coast back then. God seems to have blessed that spirit of generosity, exemplified by the church upping its missions giving immediately after its own tragedy. For example, nine people accepted the Lord as Savior during a Sunday service in October.

Not all catastrophes are of the natural variety. Last March, as the worship team and pastoral staff finished praying before a Saturday evening service at First AG in Rockaway, N.J., a natural gas odor became evident. Executive Pastor Jim Stuart grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran to the basement to douse flames flickering on top of boiler wiring.

Ten minutes after everyone evacuated, an explosion blew the roof off half the church. After firefighters battled the blaze for six hours, two-thirds of the property had been destroyed, including kitchen facilities, the fellowship hall and all education space.

Since the fire, First AG has met at a local school next door on Sundays and at a United Methodist Church on Wednesdays, both of which charge no fee.

The fire spurred the acceleration of a planned expansion that had just begun to add office space and an education wing. Church offices temporarily relocated to the parsonage basement. The new church, which will also include a new sanctuary, is scheduled to open on Easter, April 24.

While the 250-member First AG didn’t need to utilize Disaster Relief funds, it did accept the expertise of Jerry Sparks, president of AG Financial Insurance Solutions in Springfield, Mo., to obtain a larger insurance company settlement. The General Council began the insurance division in 2003 to provide free assistance to congregations.

“We review insurance policies, and we do risk management seminars to eliminate, reduce or transfer risk,” Sparks says. “By doing claims mediation with the church’s insurance company, we make sure they get all they deserve.”

Sparks says many pastors don’t realize what kinds of specific coverage their church needs. For instance, if the property is located in a flood plain, flood insurance is a necessity. If it is near the coastline, windstorm coverage is required.

“Pastors really need to review their insurance coverage,” Stuart says. He recommends that important documents and a layout of the building be located off-site. Stuart also advises that staff periodically take photos of rooms and contents to keep an accurate inventory. He says a sticking point in a disaster can be whether property belonging to other people — such as the worship leader’s guitar on stage — is covered when a disaster strikes.

More information is available at (417-862-2781, ext. 2177) or (866-662-8210).

JOHN W. KENNEDY is news editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.

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