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Fire Doesn't Stop Church From Ministry

Despite a fire that has kept an Assemblies of God congregation out of their church home since October 30, they're still moving forward and impacting their community for Christ.

At first, Pastor Wendell Johnson thought the call from the alarm company on Oct. 30 was just another staff person having difficulty turning off the alarm at Lancaster (Kentucky) First Assembly after accidentally triggering it. But then the words “indication of an active fire” sent him hurrying to the church, where several fire crews were already on site.

The church’s six-year-old family life center, housing all their educational classes and youth areas was in midst of an intense fire emanating from the center’s commercial kitchen. “We have had three investigators out here,” Johnson says. “It wasn’t arson, but an electrical fire the inspectors believe could have been started through an outlet or by a stove malfunction — they just aren’t sure. But more than half of the building will have to be gutted and rebuilt.”

Initially Johnson thought it might be a matter of a few weeks before the congregation would be able to at least return to the sanctuary building, which is linked to the family life center by a connecting passageway. But smoke and soot damage done to the main building (due to the connecting passageway), along with struggles with the insurance company, have kept the congregation of about 200 out of both buildings for more than six weeks.

But buildings or no buildings, Johnson says the church has remained strong, temporarily meeting in the city’s Grand Theatre, where the church will be holding its Christmas production this year.

Yet perhaps what some may find a surprise is that even with tens of thousands of dollars of damage sitting over their heads and having a “make shift” home, the church is going on with its biggest outreach event of the year. It seems it would take more than a fire to derail the church’s annual Christmas surprise — the Great Bike Giveaway.

Johnson explains: “We contact our county (Garrard) school officials and neighboring Lincoln County school officials and ask them each for a list of 50 of their neediest children,” Johnson says, “because we want to buy them a bike for Christmas.”

Johnson says that the church works all year to raise money to purchase 100 20-inch bikes. Once children are identified, the church works through the schools to get parents a letter explaining the gift. All parents need to do is register at the church, attend the Sunday morning service, and they receive the bike for free.

“We don’t require that the children come to the service so if the parents want to present the bike to their child as a gift they can,” Johnson says. “But what we pray is that when they leave the church service that day, they’ll also leave with Jesus in their hearts — and He’s the greatest gift they could ever have.”

Joseph S. Girdler, Kentucky AG District superintendent, observes, "Brother Wendell is a wonderful leader and pastor — his people love him. He pastors the whole community and the community certainly has a loss with the church fire. We're hoping and believing that God is going to help them . . . and they'll be able to build bigger, stronger, and better. They believe that even in a set back God is going to use them." 

The community has been outstanding in its support of the church, Johnson says, offering help at every opportunity. He also says that due to the fire and the insurance delays, there has been a silver lining for the church. “We are seeing more visitors attending services,” he says. “I’m out talking to people about Jesus all the time, so now I’ll ask people if they’ve had the opportunity to see the inside of the Grand Theater yet. If not, I tell them to come by at 10:30 on Sunday morning and I can get them in for free!”

Photos courtesy of Joseph S. Girdler and Wendell Johnson

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.