hat grim declaration from our city’s mayor became a harsh reality just a few days later. When it did, the Minot Flood of 2011 left the church we had planted─and eight years of investing our heart, soul, and devotion─in utter ruins.
All 17,000 square feet of our newly remodeled church were left destroyed . . . while half of our church families had their homes or apartments ruined. The sanctuary we built and dedicated, the classrooms we designed and taught in, our offices and nursery were all filled with seven feet of rancid river water. According to the Small Business Administration, we received $580,000 worth of damage─an estimate that proved to be conservative. And insurance did not cover a penny.
After weeks of demolition, it was determined all our electrical, HVAC, drywall, carpeting, millwork─basically everything except the roof and walls─would be hauled to the boulevard to be picked up with grapples and transported to the city dump. Our quaint little town in North Dakota was transformed into what looked like a war zone, filled with national guardsmen, garbage everywhere, and a stench of rancid water that blanketed the valley.
After the inspection, it was determined our foundation was still strong and we could rebuild on it. The same could be said about the faith of our congregation of just over 100 people; while it had taken a severe beating, the foundation was still strong.
Even without a natural disaster, church planting is tough work that requires a heavy investment. The good news was when we first planted Eagles Wings Community Fellowship in 2003, we had someone in place to print all the bulletins, serve as a greeter, make the coffee for fellowship time, clean the restrooms, mow the lawn, preach every sermon, and pray for people at every altar service. The bad news was, I was that someone.
I learned the hard way that church planting requires investing in people, giving them opportunities, letting them succeed and fail, and working as a team. Look at Christ’s model: He invested in His disciples and then sent them out to do the work of ministry. If ever someone could have said, “I can do this better myself,” it was our Lord, yet He chose to invest in people.
For several weeks after the flood, I just took things from day to day. I would get up in the morning and try to help people at our church or at someone’s home, not knowing what the future held. To be honest, I wondered if there was a future for our church. Many of our families were deciding whether to rebuild or move, and some were considering bankruptcy.
The size of our congregation, combined with the uncertainty of many of our members, made the over half-million-dollar damage look like checkmate. If my faith for the church we had planted was a road, it felt like it had come to a dead end.
It did not happen on a specific day; but through people, circumstances, and the witness of the Holy Spirit in me, it became clear that God was telling us His plan for us as a fellowship was not over, but we would move forward and rebuild. The latter was the most difficult to believe. I wrestled internally with the idea of moving on, as I knew it would take an immense investment of time. Even with confirmation from God that we would recover, I knew the process would be difficult and it would take years.
Jesus told His followers there was a cost to following Him: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it?” (Luke 14:28 NKJV). I knew the cost of rebuilding was high, not just financially, but also physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Day by day, week by week, and month by month, we trusted God and worked hard. He never promised it would be easy . . . and it wasn’t. He never promised there would be no physical toll . . . and there was. He did promise if we would trust Him, He would do His part . . . and He did.
One of the greatest lessons learned on our journey is the value of investing in people. A house is made of concrete, lumber, and drywall, but a home is made of people. A church facility is made of building materials, but a church family is composed of diverse people beautifully knit together by the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You can construct a new building, install new carpet, and buy new furniture, but people are irreplaceable. People matter to God, and people should matter to us.
When you invest in people, there are times you will draw a return on the investment. There is no way our church would have recovered without the help of godly people. Individuals from all over the United States, and even a few from Canada, came to help us in our time of need.
Sometimes we may even wonder why we are a part of a denomination, but times of crisis take away the façade of independence we often have, revealing our need for others. Without the help of the Church of God on an international and regional level, our congregation would probably be a sad statistic instead of the healthy church it is today.
The first time I met Bishop Tony Cooper, I was standing in the sanctuary of our church as we were preparing for evacuation. He had just been appointed administrative bishop of the North Central Region Church of God, and although our introduction was under unusual circumstances, I believe he came to our region by divine appointment. Not only was he able to lead by connecting resources and raising funds, but he also demonstrated servant leadership by showing up and working with his hands, humbly investing in a church he helped
lead to recovery.
The Men and Women of Action ministry was also instrumental to our recovery. The individuals who make up this ministry are unsung heroes in our movement, selflessly giving of their time to help others.
We actually had help from the Men and Women of Action when we remodeled the church the first time, so connections were already formed. Literally before the water receded from the flood, they were reaching out to see how they could help us. Hugh Carver, Dan Bowles, Norman Dryman, Randall Harriman, Dan Lindeman, and many others provided countless hours of volunteer labor. They were the hands and feet of Jesus bringing restoration and hope to our congregation.
We were also blessed by Operation Compassion, Church of God chaplains, and other Church of God people from around the world. People prayed for us, and we even received a few checks from congregations that held fundraisers on our behalf.
Six years ago, our church was in ruins and faith was all we had. Today? Our congregation is twice the size it was before the flood, and our tithes have doubled. Our sanctuary is twice the size it was prior to the flood. Like the final chapter of Job, God restored double of everything we lost.
The $580,000 in damages with no help from insurance? God provided everything we needed exactly when we needed it, allowing us to complete all the reconstruction without taking on any debt! And our facilities are the best we’ve ever had.
Last Easter, after hearing of the floods affecting Church of God congregations in the southeastern U.S., we took up a special “resurrection offering,” receiving $10,000 for flood relief.
After being the recipients of God’s grace of restoration, the appropriate way to respond was simple: invest in others.
Travis Michael Hovde is founder and lead pastor of Eagles Wings Community Fellowship in Minot, North Dakota. Travis and his wife, DeEtte, have three children: Brynn, Caleb, and Annalise. He is author of two books, Authentic Faith and When Perfection Comes, both available through Amazon.