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Pastor and Team Aid Workers, Victims of Amtrak Tragedy

Pastor Joe Furjanic and team members of The Block Church, an 8-month-old church plant in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, provided supplies to first responders and victims of the Amtrak derailment that took place on May 12.

On May 12, Pastor Joe Furjanic and his wife Lauren were relaxing in their Philadelphia home, watching some evening TV. Suddenly, text messages began flooding Joe's phone asking him what was happening. He had no idea what they were talking about. But as helicopters then started flying over their home, the couple locked eyes then ran outside to see what was going on.

Although they didn't know it at the time, an Amtrak train carrying 243 people had just derailed at over 100 miles per hour in their neighborhood. As they drew closer to the scene and the myriad of flashing lights, they saw police, firefighters, and other first responders already engaged in rescue and maintaining order.

The Furjanics pastor The Block Church (AG), an 8-month-old church plant with an attendance of 250 in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia. The church, which is within walking distance of the Furjanics' home, is in a very difficult and challenging area of Philadelphia -- an area where several other church plants have failed. In fact, Furjanic says that some parts of their neighborhood are not safe at night.

However, this night was an exception.

Arriving at the edge of the scene, the Furjanics met up with other team members from their church who also live in the neighborhood. They formed a circle and began to pray.

"I noticed a local firemen and I asked him what they might need," Furjanic says. "Next thing you know, we're passing out Gatorade, water, and towels to the first responders."

Furjanic says that they also made contact with a police officer to see if the church could help or provide them with anything as well.

"Because of where we were at the time, a Red Cross worker asked if we could help them get water, Gatorade, and other supplies to the local school, where they were housing victims. I sent out an Instagram to our church members and people started bringing supplies out. We didn't get home until after 1 a.m."

Although the Furjanics and the other volunteers from the church did not have any direct contact with victims of the derailment, in which more than 200 were injured and 8 ultimately died, Furjanic says that wasn't their purpose. "Our goal was to help, but to be seen and not heard -- to stay out of the way of first responders and allow them to focus on their jobs."

The church has received a lot of positive response for their efforts, but Furjanic deflects the praise, saying, "We did what anybody would do; we just had the bodies and the resources to do it."

However, the media noticed the church's involvement. Three national television networks, a local TV station, and two local newspapers conducted interviews with Furjanic. He says he was even able to meet up with the mayor and a local congressman as church members were helping to clean up trash created by the flood of onlookers and media members from the night before.

"I told Mayor Nutter that we have an army of volunteers at his disposal and to just let me know when he's ready to use us," Furjanic says. "Then I gave him our contact information and invited him to our church."

"Watching Pastor Joe and his church minister to the people in their community during this critical moment of need really affirms why we plant churches," says Chris Railey, director of the AG Church Multiplication Network.

Furjanic also gave praise where praise was due. "The police officers and firefighters - absolutely phenomenal!" he says. "Philadelphia is a city starved for a sports championship, but that night we had some champion first responders!"

As far as the unexpected media exposure, Furjanic says this wasn't about being "opportunistic." It was simply responding to a need.

And perhaps there was more of God in this response than at first glance. In a neighborhood that Furjanic describes as "downtrodden" and just a mile away from the largest open-air drug market in the Northeast, where drugs, prostitution, and sex trafficking are rampant, The Block Church appears to be one of the few neighborhood entities with the capability of responding.

"You can never anticipate a moment like this, but you can choose to act when the need arises," Railey says. "The readiness and willingness of The Block Church to respond to this crisis with the hope of the gospel highlights the type of transformative impact a church can have in its community." 

"We still have our challenges," admits Furjanic, who currently rents the church's facility. "This is a tough, really challenging economic area. But I believe, just as we simply stepped out and offered help, God will send people and the financial resources our way as well."


Dan Van Veen

Dan Van Veen is news editor of AG News. Prior to transitioning to AG News in 2001, Van Veen served as managing editor of AG U.S. Missions American Horizon magazine for five years. He attends Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, where he and his wife, Lori, teach preschool Sunday School and 4- and 5-year-old Rainbows boys and girls on Wednesdays.