When the flood waters were coming up, so was the power of God to move through His Church in Sand Springs, Oklahoma. We spent days talking with flood victims, as many just needed a friend to hear “their” story. Story after story, we were heartbroken. However, what we saw above the heartbreak? God moving as His Church was moving. We were simply BLOWN AWAY at the way the churches of Prattville and Sand Springs mobilized as a force of power and relief for the flood victims.
You may have heard, as the news repeated over and over for Prattville/Sand Springs to check out “www.ChurchthatMatters.com,” who had organized a website with resources available to the flood victims. Pastor Rusty Gunn of that church said, “www.Sandspringsfloodrelief.com is a site we set up to compile information for flood victims regarding resources available to them. It is a one stop shop for them.” However, in talking with Rusty—we found there was much, MUCH more to the story.
“Sand Springs is blessed with an incredible network of local churches. We work together on a regular basis.” said Rusty, “So, when this crisis hit our city, it was only natural for us to come together. The pastors of the Sand Springs Local Church Network meet every month to plan ministry projects together such as a huge “Back To School Bash” at the end of the summer, our city’s downtown Halloween event called Boo on Broadway, or a thanksgiving meal where 2,000 hot meals are delivered on Thanksgiving Day.” Rusty said, “We have a community-wide Thanksgiving worship service, the National Day of Prayer, and more.” I was really blown away. We’ve been hot on the trail of what the Church could look like if we united as we felt God has called us to do. We were all talking about it, but these guys have been doing it for 20 years.
“We also meet a second time each month at City Hall with our city manager, mayor, and other leaders who join us periodically to pray over our city together” shared Rusty. He went on, “Our local church youth ministries also unite regularly for events, serve days, and a Spring Break local mission trip where the groups serve around our city together during the daytime and then have worship rallies at night. We rotate between different church facilities each night.”
For Rusty, he felt it was this ongoing relationship and partnership that made it easy to come together at this time and be the Church. He’s not wrong. Their movement as the Church was really astounding. I witnessed it. I felt it. I was drawn to it. I went back to their facilities over and over. I haven’t spent that much time in Prattville for a while. I think I have been craving such a unification that I just needed to be right in the middle of it. It gave me a place to go help families right where they were.
Another thing that really helped, Rusty said, “I had been certified through FEMA’s NIMS (National Incident Management Systems) back in 2009. I have not really used much of that training since then, so I am certainly no expert, but I did know that we needed to take one of the approaches suggested by FEMA in a situation like the flood in our city.” Rusty continued, “One of the approaches is simply a commander of sorts to take charge and make decisions. The other approach was to form a response team or committee. This was a much better option for us, because of the great cooperation we already have in our city. So, we called together a meeting of all of the local church pastors, city leaders, a state representative, and the superintendent of our schools, along with disaster relief organizations who were beginning to make their way to our city including The Red Cross, Southern Baptist Disaster Relief, Samaritan’s Purse, and Billy Graham Rapid Response Team.” Rusty shared, “The meeting was amazing and the support and cooperation was evident. We nominated and elected the Sand Springs Flood Response Team. It is made up of four local church pastors, a city government leader, and our school superintendent. This team also had connection with state government leaders and county leaders.” I couldn’t believe that the activity I admired that was being rolled out at City Elders was already in full force in action right here in Sand Springs, OK! They were nailing it, honestly.
Rusty had the mission statement down perfectly for their churches. They were being the Church. He stated, “Our local churches are not just churches IN Sand Springs. We are churches FOR Sand Springs. We mobilized this way because this is what the church does. We come together under the banner of Christ to be His hands and get to our neighbors.” Rusty went on, “We know that what we have in Sand Springs is unique. It is special. God has brought it together over many years. We do not take it lightly nor take it for granted. Pastors over 20 years ago prayed in our city specifically for what we are seeing today.” I believe they prayed for it. I’ve prayed for it—quite recently in fact, but I didn’t really understand how beautiful it would be until I saw it in action. Then, I couldn’t get enough of it.
As far as the flood, it’s been really rough on this group. Rusty said, “The most difficult part is seeing our neighbors hurting and knowing, even with the great cooperation and the great accumulation of people from our churches collectively, some are having to wait for a long time to get the help they need.”
Rusty continued, “There are so many stories from this, but one in particular is a man name Chester who is a military veteran. His wife had passed away not too long ago and then the flood filled his home with water destroying almost everything he owned. He had already been facing depression after the loss of his wife, but this really set him back. When our team encountered him, he was ready to just give up on life. He wanted to light a match and just let the house burn with all of his remaining belongings and he literally did not want to live anymore. Our team went in and did mud out on his house, carried all of the damaged property out and got the home ready for contractors to come restore it. Another part of the team just ministered to him, built a relationship and shared the gospel with him. He prayed and surrendered his life to Jesus and was saved. He was in our church’s Worship Encounter this past Sunday and was so full of joy he was beaming and smiling from ear to ear. His neighbors have commented to our teams that he is a changed man.” Now isn’t THAT what it’s all about at the end of the day?
“The unity of our local churches through this has strengthened my belief that we really can see our city transformed for the glory of God one life at a time. The impact on the affected neighborhoods, on government agencies, and even on disaster relief organizations has been talked about all over town. This will truly be a legacy moment for the churches of Sand Springs in this season. Pastors and other individuals from other communities have commented how unique this has been to see. I do believe we have set a great example of what churches can do if we lay down our preferences and pride and humbly serve, not caring who gets the credit other than Jesus.” Rusty—AMEN BROTHER! AMEN. I couldn’t have said it better myself. #GoDoBe
The ongoing needs will be here for years to come. People who had income disruptions, people who will be waiting for FEMA and insurance claims. The seventy five percent who were uninsured for floods will not recover for a very long time. We still have families with continuing needs from the 2015 Tornado that hit the same area.
You can help. Reach out to these guys to see exactly what needs they have. These are people who are displaced, who will not be back in their home for maybe into next year.