On April 3, Rose Olivero and her family lost everything.
She and her five children were spending the afternoon at a local park when they learned their apartment complex in Schenectady, New York, had caught fire. They drove to the scene to find the street barricaded and the building in flames.
Despite the efforts of local firefighters, the apartment sustained heavy damage. The few clothing items Olivero could salvage reeked too much of smoke to keep.
“It was the first time that I really felt just desperate,” says Olivero, a 33-year-old single mother who works two jobs. “But I just left everything in God’s hands.”
Less than three weeks later, on Easter, the church Olivero attends presented her with an unexpected blessing: a check for $10,000. The congregation of Redemption Church in Schenectady collectively gave money to help the family cover expenses.
Lead pastor Jason L. Cooper says the contributions more than doubled what he and the church’s finance team had expected the congregation of 150 would raise.
“The original plan was to give her $5,000,” the 40-year-old Cooper says. “It was a big step of faith for us.”
Cooper says at the church’s first service after the fire, he announced the need and people responded immediately. Congregants gave more than $5,000 in the first offering, and more people approached him after the service to say they also wanted to donate. He decided to allow another week to see how much more would come in.
On Easter morning, he called Olivero onto the stage in the middle of the service and handed her the check. Olivero held her hands to her face in surprise, then hugged Cooper. Churchgoers, also stunned at how much had been raised, stood to their feet and cheered.
Olivero began attending Redemption Church about a month before the fire. She says she and her five kids, who range in age from 3 to 10 years old, quickly felt at home there. Olivero had recently rededicated her life to Christ.
She says she couldn’t believe that many in the congregation who didn’t even know her would give so much to help her.
“How could a church really come out of nowhere into our lives in such a short amount of time and to be open and giving to us?” she asks.
Cooper says moments like this are something he and his wife, Danielle, desired when they planted Redemption Church in 2015 with the help of matching funds from the Church Multiplication Network and AGTrust.
In both 2016 and 2017, Barna Group named Schenectady as the least Bible-minded region in the nation.
“Our church people have definitely shown that they want to see a difference in this area, and we’re going to use generosity as one of the ways to lead and make a change,” Cooper says. “I was overwhelmed that people would give as though it was their own family or their own personal situation.”
The Sunday after Easter, Olivero’s 3-year-old twins were dedicated at the church. Olivero’s family moved into a new apartment May 3. She says church members have continued to help her by donating clothes and supplies to help them make the transition.