The May floods that caused some $2 billion in damage in the Nashville area and closed its legendary Grand Ole Opry may be considered a human catastrophe, but Foursquare pastors see God at work in the midst of the destruction.
“Nashville has seen the church rise up with a strong force,” says Stephen Flanigan, senior pastor of the downtown-area Hope Center (Nashville II Foursquare Church). “It has softened hearts, and we’ve been able to plant some strong seeds. We’ll see some evangelistic fruit come out of this.”
“It’s put us into the lives of a number of unchurched people,” affirms Dale Evrist, senior pastor of New Song Christian Fellowship (Brentwood Foursquare Church). “We weren’t there [prior], and now we’re inside their homes, being able to share the gospel in practical ways. We tell them Christ is all about service.”
Foursquare churches in the area have been demonstrating the gospel with such hands-on methods as ripping out damaged floors and bathroom fixtures in numerous homes, removing debris and disinfecting items with bleach. In one innovative outreach, members of New Song Christian Fellowship applied environmentally friendly mosquito repellant to help a neighborhood plagued by the pests.
Immediately after the flood, Hope Center raised $2,000 in an impromptu collection to buy 30 four-man tents, sleeping bags and other supplies for homeless people after high waters devastated the park where they were residing.
“Nashville took care of its own; they weren’t waiting on the government,” says Brett Swayn, Hope Center’s worship leader and director of its homeless ministry. “This has opened up doors for a lot more relationship building and communication, and meeting more people.”
A multi-site church with six locations, New Song Christian Fellowship canceled morning services on May 30 for its first “Church Outside the Walls.” On that day—as they will on fifth Sundays for the foreseeable future—hundreds of members fanned out to handle flood relief in their respective communities.
Missions and outreach pastor John Hall told Foursquare.org that each congregation was encouraged to find areas that had been overlooked by larger ministries and federal agencies.
“Some folks were ripping drywall out, duct work, floors and insulation,” John says. “There was a huge amount of debris to be moved. It was a lot of manual labor, carrying stuff out, and spraying and bleaching.”
Dale Evrist said one thing they learned is that in most cases, flood insurance is reserved for rebuilding; it doesn’t cover demolition and cleanup.
“We were able to save homeowners thousands of dollars,” Dale explains. “They were deeply appreciative and a little taken aback that we would come out as a church on a Sunday morning to help them.”
The relief effort has required flexibility, as Hope Center discovered when it had to adjust plans for a June 12 “Love Nashville” project. An inter-denominational group of churches was going to repair a park and community center used by low-income residents, but the extensive damage scuttled those plans. Instead, more than 75 members of various churches divided into small teams to help clean up and repair half a dozen homes.
“This summer, we’ll keep our finger on the pulse of the community and call out volunteers to keep going,” says Stephen Flanigan. “It’s just going to be an ongoing practice of people continuing to volunteer.”
In addition to these two churches, La Casa De Mi Padre (Nashville Hispanic Foursquare Church) in Franklin, Tenn., pastored by Neil Paez, played a role in flood relief by housing volunteers coming from other states.
Such caring has made a lasting impression, says Brett Swayn, who was homeless for four months after he moved to Nashville in 2002 following the collapse of his marriage. Living at a mission during that time gave him compassion for poverty-stricken people, many of whom have disconnected from churches and don’t trust them. However, the flood relief work done by numerous denominations has touched hearts where nothing else has, he says.
“The flood provided a new opportunity for churches to come alongside people and show they cared—and they did,” Brett asserts. “The homeless saw the church come in, and not the government. They saw regular people doing their best to reach out in love. Many people don’t believe in the Jesus we often present, but they believe in love. They want to see it and are desperate for it. We can do a lot of minimizing the long-term effects of poverty.”
Offering help to their neighbors also affected New Song Christian Fellowship’s congregation on a spiritual level. People now see they can’t be enjoying their luxuries while others don’t have necessities, Pastor Dale says.
“It’s helped people get a fresh perspective on what is important,” he states. “We’re seeing people come to Christ, not only through our church but churches around the city.”
Stephen Flanigan believes the assortment of denominations coming together to conduct relief work will be followed by a greater uniting spiritually.
“I believe God is setting up Nashville for an incredible revival,” says Hope Center’s pastor. “The pastors are crying out to God for an end-times revival, a Great Awakening. This fire is rising up in us; we’re saying, ‘God, we need your help.’ This is encouraging me and other pastors.”
Which goes to show that a dove with a healing branch can follow any flood.
By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance journalist living in Huntington, W.V.