We have updated our Privacy Policy to provide you a better online experience.

AG Congregation at Forefront of Tornado Relief

Rockford First Church takes the initiative to help in the aftermath of last week's deadly tornado.

On April 9, eight tornadoes carved paths of destruction through the state of Illinois. The strongest tornado, an EF-4 with winds up to 200 mph, touched down near Rochelle, killing two people and injuring at least 22. 

Moments later, the media team of Rockford First Church posted this message on the church's Facebook page, "It's not a matter of if we will help. It's a matter of how we can best help. We will help." The church is located 25 miles away from Rochelle, which is in Ogle County. 

That same night, Lead Pastor Jeremy DeWeerdt received a phone call from Dan P. Moore, Director, U.S. Disaster Relief for Operation Blessing offering to help.

The church's 10-year partnership with the organization stems from a long-standing friendship between DeWeerdt and Jody Herrington-Gettys, vice president of U.S. Disaster Relief and Programs for Operation Blessing International in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The two entities worked together to establish a Master's Commission at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Florida. 

With help on its way, DeWeerdt and his team quickly established a website to handle inquiries and coordinate volunteers.

Three relief vehicles were dispatched and a team of representatives arrived in Rochelle the following morning. They were met by Spiritual Development Pastor Taka Iguchi and Ogle County officials, who handed over all relief efforts to the organization.

Representatives from Convoy of Hope's Disaster Services team were on hand as well to help coordinate volunteer efforts in the areas affected by the storm and distribute debris removal supplies and gear.

Last Saturday, over 600 volunteers gathered at a parking lot in Rochelle to start the cleanup. By the end of the day, more than 1,000 had responded.

Other local churches and organizations pitched in as well, linking their websites to Rockford's.

DeWeerdt says the whole experience has been an amazing testimony of unity in the body of Christ. Relief efforts will continue for the next few weeks, after which DeWeerdt says the "heart work" will begin.

"I think our most important ministry may be taking place over the next two weeks and it may not even be removing rubble," DeWeerdt says. "It may be just being able to give hugs," he says.

DeWeerdt says it's in the church's DNA to help people after they've had a crisis. In November 2014, the church partnered with Operation Blessing and sent teams of people to Washington, Illinois, when a massive tornado hit the city.

Under DeWeerdt's leadership, Rockford First has weathered its own difficulties, primarily financial ones, to become one of the fastest-growing congregations in the U.S. 

"We as a church believe that when you show the love of Christ to people when they are at their greatest moment of personal crisis, it is then that the gospel has hands and feet," DeWeerdt says. "We desire to be Christ's ambassadors of hope to those who are broken and hurting."


Shannon M. Nass

Shannon Nass and her husband, Greg, are credentialed ministers with the Assemblies of God and live in Bethel Park, Pennsylvania, with their twin daughters, Naomi and Charlotte. Shannon is a freelance writer and special education teacher who also serves as coordinator for Beyond Survival Ministries, a Christian nonprofit organization dedicated to spreading the gospel.