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Burning Bush Destroys Church, Community Rallies

Faith Assembly of God in Pine River, Minnesota, was destroyed by fire on May 23.
The video, eye-witnesses, and even the fire marshal agree. When Faith Assembly of God in Pine River, Minnesota, caught fire on May 23, it wasn’t due to an interior mechanical malfunction or wiring issue – it was an external blaze that resulted in the church catching on fire.

Tim Walker, who has led the church for nearly 19 years, says the fire appears to have started outside in a shrub outside of the building. “All evidence points to an external ignition source,” he says. “Fires are common in northern Minnesota until the grass greens up.”

Although video doesn’t reveal exactly how the fire began, Walker surmises that perhaps a cigarette was tossed into the bush. His wife, Lisa, had been in the building just 30 minutes prior to the fire being reported that afternoon and hadn’t seen any indications of a fire.

Walker says that the fire completely destroyed the church’s main sanctuary and youth area. The remainder of the building suffered extensive smoke and water damage and was declared a total loss.

Yet while the church was still burning, Walker says the community of about 1,000 began to rally around the church. “Before we left the fire scene that day, every church in our community had contacted us offering some kind of tangible support and help,” he says.

Several churches offered Walker space for the 50-member Faith Assembly to gather in. Riverview Church, an independent congregation, offered its Life Center — already set up with chairs, projector, and sound equipment. This has enabled the church to not miss a beat and continue to meet at the same times, but just a different location a few blocks away.

Through the years, Walker says that Faith Assembly has been known as a community partner, participating in numerous city events, hosting events such as Easter egg hunts, and offering use of its sanctuary for community activities. Also, Walker, like many small-church pastors, is bivocational, which has added to the numbers of lives the church impacts.

“We’ve had a number of visitors since the fire,” he says, “but what have been the most impactful are the conversations we are having with people who stop in the church parking lot just to talk.”

With so many people in the community connected to the church in some way, Walker says that on July 15 they are going to hold an outdoor service across the street from the church in the county fairgrounds (which was also offered as an alternative for the church to meet in).

“We want to host a picnic and hog roast to say thank you to law enforcement and fire fighters for their efforts surrounding the fire,” Walker says. “We also want to thank God for His provision and have a public committal of the building prior to its demolition. We feel that is essential for the community as so many people have been touched by the church in the six decades of its existence. The founding pastor, Del Yetley, will be here that day as well.”

Even though the loss is heartfelt by the church and community members, there is also a growing sense of anticipation and excitement about what the future holds. Walker and the church have reached out to the community as to what the church can do to meet unmet community need through the construction of a new building.

Two key needs have been identified: provide a place for individuals or families in the community who are in a crisis situation and need temporary housing; and construct the church in such a way that families can use the facilities for things such as reunions and picnics.

The church had “replacement” insurance, but Walker says depreciation will likely play a factor in the funds they receive. However, remarkably, the church had an inventory of all critical assets, complete with make, model, and serial numbers, and as none of the closets were destroyed, items held in them could also be cataloged.

“I’m also going to connect with a friend of mine who used to be the Midwest regional director for RV MAPS to see what they might be able to do,” Walker says. In addition, an independent non-Pentecostal church from Indiana, whose pastor Walker befriended, has already volunteered to come help with the rebuilding process.

“I used an illustration in this week’s sermon,” Walker says. “When you run a marathon, there are people positioned along the course to offer water and energy bars as you can’t carry them with you. Those resources are all prepositioned. I just showed our congregation how God has prepositioned so many things to help us through this journey.”

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.