“We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28 NIV)
Those “things” can sometimes be painful and destructive. Like the Louisiana floods of 2016. But even in the wake of those devastating floods, Francis Asbury United Methodist Church is having a “resurrection” of sorts.
Francis Asbury UMC took on 24 inches of water during last year’s August floods. The damage to the sanctuary and activities center was overwhelming for the congregation, which is comprised of close to 30 active members, most of whom are elderly.
“After many discussions among themselves and with conference leadership, the church membership said that if there was any way possible, they wanted to stay together and serve as a congregation. It just so happened that there was a very significant way that Francis Asbury could help out as they moved forward,” said Debra Davis, Disaster Response Director for the Louisiana Conference.
With the hope of more disaster response volunteers coming to Louisiana to help, the conference knew that it needed space to house those volunteers on a more permanent basis. “Francis Asbury is located just off Interstate 12 in Baton Rouge, making it easy for traveling volunteers to reach the facility. The flooded sanctuary is the perfect space for sleeping space, bathrooms and showers. Essentially, the church was positioned right in the middle of a much larger area that we are responding to with disaster relief efforts,” said Davis.
“The people of Francis Asbury UMC have long had a desire to become a more missional church,” said the Rev. David Melville, pastor. “This opportunity gives us a chance to do just that.”
With 10 acres of land, there is adequate room for growth. “It’s important to have parking for recreational vehicles with volunteers like the NOMADS, and the Francis Asbury facility can definitely provide that,” added Davis.
Since last year’s flood, the congregation has been worshipping in the activities center. This has allowed volunteer teams to move forward with the retrofitting of the sanctuary to prepare the building for its future role in housing other teams. “There’s no doubt that God’s in charge of this situation,” said Davis. “Lo and behold, a team from Asbury UMC in Livermore, California arrived and has been able to help us with tearing down walls and framing up showers. This particular team is highly skilled with electricians, plumbers and a couple of contractors in the mix of volunteers. They were just who we needed to get started with the reformation.”
Before the team arrived, Davis talked to the congregation. “I wanted to be sure that they were definitely OK with moving ahead. I shouldn’t have worried. They were so excited--they do see this transformation as part of a resurrection. They were afraid they were going to have to close, and now, they can keep their doors open.”
Although many of the members use walkers and canes, they are gearing up to provide southern hospitality to visiting teams that stay at the church. “They are planning to bake brownies, cook dinners and give warm smiles and words of appreciation to those who are sacrificing their personal time to come to Louisiana and help us rebuild,” she added.
With the help of other visiting teams, the group from Asbury is also helping the folks from Francis Asbury create a worship space for the congregation that will be special. They have worked to get the activities building in a more functional state, and have even hung a cross that came out of the flooded sanctuary in the room where church members have been worshipping. “That really brought me to tears,” said Davis. “It means so much to these people to remain functioning as a congregation.”
Church members have been amazed by the far reaching nature of disaster response efforts in their area. “We’ve seen teams from Georgia and as far away as Canada, plus the great group from California. And there will be so many more to come,” said Rev. Melville.
The refurbished facilities will not only serve as lodging for visiting disaster response teams, but will also provide a home for Project Transformation, a conference-based ministry that will engage young adults in purposeful leadership and ministry while supporting underserved children and families. Francis Asbury UMC will be available to house Project Transformation's first college interns for their summer literacy program. The chapel being developed is "perfect" for the interns' morning devotions, said Rev. Dr. Jane Riecke, senior pastor of University UMC in Baton Rouge and board chair for the new outreach project. "This opportunity for housing is an answered prayer for Project Transformation."
Story by Betty Backstrom, Communications Liaison for the Louisiana Conference