Christ in Action Brings Hope to North Carolina Flood Survivors
Goldsboro, North Carolina, sits in a 1,000-year flood plain — the chances of having any kind of damaging flooding is about one-tenth of 1 percent in any given year. In fact, it appears no one has ever recorded devastating flooding in the community . . . that is, until Hurricane Matthew arrived in early October.
With no flood insurance and many of the families impacted barely making ends meet, Hurricane Matthew brought devastating flooding that left hundreds of homes in Goldsboro standing in three to six feet of brown, polluted water, damaging or destroying everything it touched.
“Unfortunately, the hardest hit areas were the poorest areas,” says Josh Clark, pastor of Generation Church (AG) in Goldsboro. “It really broke my heart to see so many people living in flooded homes because they had no resources or means to help themselves.”
Clark says the devastation in Goldsboro never made the national news, received very little state coverage, and has seemingly been overlooked by many relief organizations.
Where do people turn when everything is lost, they have no money to fall back on, and no one seemingly willing to help?
For Goldsboro, the answer has clearly become the church!
Convoy of Hope, the compassion and disaster relief ministry partner of the Assemblies of God, made the first impact. Working with Generation Church, a semi load of non-perishable food, water, cleaning supplies, and hygiene materials was trucked in from Convoy’s base in Lumberton, North Carolina, and distributed to flood victims in Goldsboro.
Then, Dr. Denny Nissley and his Christ in Action (CIA) ministry arrived in town on Oct. 19. When leaders and townspeople learned that CIA was there to help homeowners remove debris and gut and clean their flooded homes to prepare them for rebuilding — at no cost — hope began to take root in the community.
Nissley explains that going to Goldsboro was an easy decision as the need was great, the church and community leaders were welcoming, and, unfortunately, they are the lone agency serving Goldsboro and Wayne County.
“I shared with them about Christ In Action, who we are, what we do, and why we do what we do,” says Nissley, who is an endorsed Assemblies of God chaplain through U.S. Missions. “And then I explained the part about sharing the gospel and praying with residents. The mayor looked around the room and said, ‘We need more of Jesus in this city!’ We immediately knew we were in the right city and working with the right people.”
Although Nissley and his team are fully involved in the manual clean-up and service efforts of CIA, the ministry is set up to enable outside volunteer relief teams and individuals to come to disaster locations and serve without worrying about having a place to sleep, food to eat, or having the right equipment on hand.
“Our volunteers are responsible to get to where we are set up and we will then house them and feed them for free,” Nissley says. “Here in Goldsboro, we are currently sleeping in Sunday School rooms at Generation Church. We have our own cooking trailer and commercial shower trailer on site, and we have every tool needed to complete the work here.”
Few understand just how capable CIA is. Nissley has more than $2 million worth of equipment at his disposal, including: 20,000 square feet of warehouse space, skid steers for debris removal, a portable toilet unit, a refrigeration unit, an excavator for demolition, commercial portable generators, chainsaws, a shower unit that can provide 800 shower per day, 6,000 gallons of potable water, a portable kitchen that can serve up to 15,000 meals a day, an Internet café for survivors and responders, and a huge variety of demolition hand tools and cleaning supplies — in addition to trained chaplains to meet spiritual needs. They’ve served at numerous disasters including Katrina, Sandy, and even at Ground Zero and the Pentagon following 911.
“I’ve been in the Assemblies of God all my life, and I’ve never fully understood how amazing and powerful Christ in Action is until now,” says North Carolina District Superintendent Rick Ross. “The North Carolina AG will be eternally grateful and forever indebted . . . I’m so wonderfully proud and thankful for the Assemblies of God and how we partner together to impact lives for Christ as we help those facing disaster.”
Already the CIA teams have cleaned out and gutted over 60 homes in Goldsboro, removing damaged flooring, furniture, fixtures, destroyed belongings, and tons of drywall and hauling the debris to curbsides to be picked up — all for free. They’ve also been busy using heavy equipment along with chainsaws on trees that have fallen, some on top of homes or cars.
“When people ask why we’re doing this for free,” Nissley says, “it opens the door to sharing the gospel with them.”
Clark, his wife, Amber, and other Generation Church members, have been a part of the volunteer labor force for CIA. He says the impact the ministry has had on the community and the church has been a major blessing.
“Christ in Action has brought a healing to our community that we’ve been praying for,” he says. “This has changed the way people view our church as they now associate us with Christ in Action . . . while they’ve been helping to rebuild our city, they’ve been helping rebuild us, too.”
“It’s unbelievable what they’ve done for the church and the community,” Ross says about Nissley and CIA. “There were so many people who would have never recovered . . . their hearts of thanksgiving was just amazing to witness — and many of these people have had no affiliation with the church prior to this.”
Nissley says that ministering to the spiritual needs of people is a key component in whatever they do. On Wednesday, a Christian woman in Goldsboro wanted to do a video testimony expressing her appreciation for the help CIA had given her. After the taping, Ken, the videographer, asked the woman’s husband if he had ever accepted Christ as His Savior. He said no, but that he would like to. Ken was happy to pray with the man and lead him to the Lord.
“By the time Ken ended the prayer, the wife was literally dancing with excitement that her husband had accepted Christ,” Nissley says.
Although CIA is making progress, Nissley says that they still have more than 100 requests from homeowners for help, with more coming in every day. Sadly, he isn’t sure if they’ll be able to help everyone.
“We’ve been struggling to get volunteers at this location,” Nissley admits. “Typically we have up to 70 or 80 people a day at a disaster relief site, but for some reason, we’ve only been averaging around 25 to 35 . . . we will need to see a huge influx of volunteers if we are to respond to all the requests for help by our scheduled Dec. 9 departure date.”
Those interested in assisting flood victims in Goldsboro as volunteer workers through Christ in Action ministry can do so online, with the only restriction being volunteers must be at least 18 years old.
Volunteers, Nisssley notes, are regularly the recipients of heart-felt words — and often tears — of appreciation, as that’s all many of the Goldsboro families have left to give.
Being a part of the Bible belt, many of the residents are Christians who are clinging to their faith, but not all. In fact, on Wednesday, Nov. 9, some CIA members, who had fortunately gone through CIA's Faith Based First Responder Critical Incident Stress Management training, had a sobering encounter with desperation and death.
“We had been gutting a home for an elderly couple who were living in their backyard in a camper,” Nissley recounts quietly. “The husband had undergone surgery recently and was in a great deal of pain. When we came back the next morning, the wife was on the phone with 911 — her husband had just shot himself! As team members lifted the man off the bed to prepare to give him CPR, the police arrived and took over . . . he did not survive.”
Since that time, the wife, who does not profess to be a Christian, has clung to the Christ in Action team members for support. Although the team readily offers it support, they’ve connected the lady to Generation Church, whose members are bringing meals to the home where the newly widowed woman is now staying.
What kind of impact has this kind of compassionate caring made? The widow has asked that in lieu of flowers for her husband’s funeral, donations should be made to Christ in Action.
“We pray with every resident and share Christ with them,” Nissley say simply. “That’s why we do what we do.”