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Flash Flood Inundates AG Church

Tennessee church declared uninhabitable after a flash flood pushed 8 to 10 feet of water inside.
When rain began to fall in LaFollette, Tennessee, on Friday, Steve Bruce, pastor of Faith Way Assembly of God in LaFollette, was out of town, about 30 miles away. But this was no ordinary rain. Reports ranging from 5 to 8 inches of rain fell in just a few hours in the county and the small creek about 100 yards or so behind the church quickly began to fill and overflow and then a flash flood of murky, roiling water swept down from the surrounding countryside and onto the church property.

Eight to 10 feet of muddy, debris-filled flood water filled the church in just 60 minutes, leaving the once attractively appointed church building and its contents in muck-covered ruins. By Saturday morning, the waters had receded, Bruce had returned, and he and the congregation were left stunned by what the waters had done.

“My daughter and son-in-law notified me first,” Bruce says. “My car was in the church parking lot, and they sent me a picture, showing water up to the front of the bumper, and said, ‘It looks like your car is going to float away.’ I thought they were kidding. The next picture they sent, the water was up to the hood — I knew we were in real trouble then.” The car was soon completely submerged and disappeared from sight.

Bruce, 62, who has been leading the congregation that averages 100 in attendance since 2001, says the church did not have flood insurance. “I was told about 30 years ago the fellowship hall experienced some slight water problems, but the new building has never had any flooding — we’re not in a flood zone.”

This morning, Bruce met with a TEMA (Tennessee Emergency Management Agency) official and a code enforcement officer to go through the buildings and assess the damage. The TEMA official referred to the rain as a “500-year” event.

“He estimated both of our buildings were irreparable, completely destroyed, because of amount water that was in it over an extended period of time (6 to 8 hours),” Bruce says, his voice briefly cracking. “The codes enforcement officer then placarded the buildings, marking them both as uninhabitable, and prohibiting them from being occupied or used.”

Despite the disaster, on Sunday the congregation still gathered, meeting at the local community college, Roane State, for service.

“We had a wonderful, wonderful service,” Bruce says. “The atmosphere was filled with the presence of the Holy Ghost. Two people were saved. The service was a Balm of Gilead for some hurting people . . . ., but in the face of the flood we saw victory yesterday.”

Unsure whether his car will be covered by insurance, Bruce says the most important thing to him right now is to make sure his congregation is ministered to and to keep them focused on where they are going from here.

In addition to several calls from local and network representatives, offering prayer and support, Bruce says several churches have sent donations to help with their rebuilding effort.

“We’re really thankful for people willing to help us and for every donation,” he says. “We’re hoping that TEMA or FEMA will declare this area a disaster, but we won’t know that for awhile.”

For now, Bruce requests the Fellowship to pray for them and believe with them for God’s blessing. “Pray that what the enemy has meant for our bad will turn around for our good, and that, with God’s help, we will be back better than before.”

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.