Although Restoration (Huntsville Foursquare Church) in Madison, Ala., has grown considerably since 2005, before spring tornadoes ripped across the South awareness of the 350-member congregation was limited. However, after serving more than 10,000 meals, distributing more than three tractor-trailer loads of supplies and providing emergency cell-phone charges to thousands, Restoration is now known well beyond this Huntsville suburb.
“People have come and said, ‘I heard what you are doing, and I want to help,’ ” says Pastor Huey Hudson of Restoration, who is also serving as director of Foursquare Relief and Compassion’s primary outreach in the region. “They have said, ‘This is where I want to be—in a church that is making a difference.’ “
“Pastor Huey and the church were remarkably prepared and positioned to do a great job,” says Tom Isenhart, coordinator of U.S. Partnerships for Foursquare Relief and Compassion. “They hit the ground running.”
Foursquare Relief and Compassion approved a grant of $10,000 for the relief effort. Three truckloads of supplies valued at approximately $60,000 were sent by its ministry partner, Convoy of Hope in Springfield, Mo. Another truckload of goods came from Citi Impact Ministries, a Christian non-profit based in Huntersville, N.C. A fifth load was delivered by a Foursquare church from North Carolina. Restoration is still distributing supplies.
Although most meals were served the first week after the storms, Restoration continues to provide meals for volunteers and visitors to what has become a hub for disaster relief. For example, in the weeks after the Apr. 27 tornadoes, a group of volunteers from AmeriCorps camped on church property. For several days in mid-May, the Madison congregation provided meals to 160 state workers processing orders for temporary food assistance.
Chaplains and Disaster Relief
Chaplains from Foursquare Chaplains International started arriving at the church on May 11. Divided into two-member teams and working 10-day shifts, the 18 chaplains will assist northern Alabamans until early June. Three teams had been scheduled to visit the area through mid-June, but the third team is being re-directed to Missouri after a deadly tornado ripped through Joplin on May 22.
“Chaplains provide spiritual care and trauma counseling; it’s emotional first aid,” says Ed Donnally, a California chaplain who did an initial assessment in early May. “Studies show if people can talk about the trauma up to three weeks after a disaster, it will help prevent post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s very emotionally healthy for people to tell their stories.”
The first team of chaplains responding to the disaster was comprised of eight members, and fanned out across eight cities and countless neighborhoods to make hundreds of personal contacts. They performed crisis intervention (including preventing a threatened suicide) and offered other assistance to victims, pastors, church groups, police and fire personnel, and many others.
“There are lots of stories about people we helped,” Chaplain Donnally affirms.
One of the most amazing he encountered involved Restoration Church (Rockwell Foursquare Church) in Rockwell, N.C., a suburb of Charlotte. Pastor Richard Smith had visited Madison last December as one of about 100 people who came for Foursquare Chaplains International’s disaster-relief training. Thus far, that initiative has trained nearly 400 workers and chaplains to standards set by the federal government.
After hearing about Foursquare’s post-storm call for chaplains, Pastor Richard rallied his church of 100 to buy or collect baby diapers, clothing, food and 10 pallets of bottled water. They loaded those supplies into a large semi-trailer the church owned; a member who is a truck driver convinced his boss to donate a semi-tractor to make the 400-mile trip to Alabama.
Once they arrived, local leaders decided it would be best to deliver the supplies to two small towns 70 miles away that had nearly been leveled. Ultimately, the 10-member group from North Carolina connected with Open Hands Family Worship Center. The small, independent, Spirit-filled church in Hackleburg distributed the supplies to area residents.
Making a Difference
“I just think it typifies what Foursquare churches are all about,” Ed Donnally says. “You don’t have to be a megachurch to make a difference. We’ve built a relationship with that church and have had up to eight chaplains working in that area.”
Because Foursquare didn’t have any churches in the hard-hit cities of Tuscaloosa or Birmingham, it focused its efforts in Madison. That decision has proved to be correct, notes Jon Spellman, district missional coordinator for the Southeast District.
Additionally, says Jon: “We don’t have regional or national media using the term ‘Foursquare’ much, but locally they have. However the district can support the local church, that’s what we want to do.”
Foursquare churches north of Atlanta and Dayton, Tenn., also have been reaching out to their neighbors. One is looking at the possibility of assisting a pair of churches from other denominations that were destroyed or heavily damaged, Jon notes.
“We’re finding [that] the cross-denominational DNA of The Foursquare Church is being expressed in many ways,” he tells Foursquare.org. “That’s exciting to me.”
Pastor Huey Hudson is also excited, saying the initiative is a “forerunner” for helping after U.S. disasters. Although concerted effort to help followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the stepped-up disaster-relief training that started last year has served Foursquare well, he says.
“They have provided funds, sent chaplains and prepared us to help Alabama recover from this disaster,” Pastor Huey affirms. “A tremendous amount of support poured in to the state from all over. What I see this doing is helping Foursquare Relief and Compassion deal with disasters in the U.S. We’ve learned it’s a very fluid situation. Things change rapidly.”
The storms followed even greater disasters worldwide, particularly the 2010 earthquake in Haiti and the recent tsunami and earthquakes in Japan. Tom Isenhart believes the upheaval has a spiritual significance.
“Personally, I think God is up to something,” says the former pastor. “The world is being shaken. We may be seeing more of this. Responding to people in crisis catches them at a time when they’re receptive to the gospel.
“In the Foursquare family,” he continues, “our connection to the end game is conversion and church planting. We’re not just doing the social gospel. I have this feeling we’re being prepared for something that’s bigger than we understand.”
Those who would like to donate to people who have been impacted by the recent tornadoes can give to Foursquare’s U.S. disaster-relief fund.
By: Ken Walker, an award-winning freelance journalist in Huntington, W.V.