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Unexpected Flood Provides Church Opportunity to be the Church

No one downstream of the Wixom Lake reservoir expected two dams to fail, but they did, and the body of Christ — the Church — responded.
When the Edenville Dam in central Michigan failed on May 19, millions of gallons from the Wixom Lake reservoir poured in a torrent down the Tittabawassee River and sped south into Sanford Lake. The inrush of massive amounts of water caused the Sanford Dam to also fail, flooding the village of Sanford, before continuing to follow the river southeast on into Midland, a city of about 42,000.

“The possibility of the dams failing was something never brought up by the average citizen,” says Keith Grabill, pastor of Christian Celebration Center (AG) in Midland. “No one thought it was ever a possibility, right up until our phones started going off with evacuation orders . . . more than 10,000 people evacuated, many of them given only about 15 minutes.”

From the roughly 2,000 acres of muddy lakebed to the destruction in Sanford, Midland, and beyond, the devastation left behind by the raging waters is clear to see — large sections of roads washed out, homes and businesses destroyed, masses of trees and people’s belongings piled in tangled heaps, and a layer of muck and filth left behind wherever the waters touched, but miraculously, no lives were lost.

CCC (Christian Celebration Center), which averages about 900 in attendance, was spared. However, 22 church families had their homes flooded along with many other individuals and families residing in the southwest and northwest portions of the city.

“One of the major problems was that a number of the sewage pumping stations had to be shut down, so sewage backed up into people’s basements,” Grabill says. “Most people whose homes were flooded had their basements and main floors filled with contaminated water.”

Yet as Grabill relays, churches in the community, including CCC, responded to their shell-shocked community in a powerful way.

“I got on the phone Wednesday, and Convoy of Hope — they were awesome — they had a semi-truck to us with water by Thursday morning,” Grabill says. “They sent another truck of cleaning supplies that arrived on Friday.”

CCC then distributed the water and cleaning supplies to those in need in Midland as well as to people in Edenville and Sanford.


CCC didn’t stop its assistance with providing supplies, members also rolled up their sleeves and went to work.

On May 24, the church organized clean-up teams to help people remove damaged items from homes — from drywall and carpeting to furniture and cabinets — anything that had been destroyed or contaminated by the flooding. The church also cooked meals for families and helped people who no longer had homes in livable condition find shelter.

Michael and Kyja Malone, the CCC’s Media director and Early Childhood director, respectively, and Karl Sorget, the Student Ministries pastor, planned the clean-up event.

Kyja says that they had about 120 workers helping out impacted church and community members on that Sunday. In addition to clean up, some volunteers brought cold water out to affected neighborhoods, others bought and passed out lunches to people, while others distributed cleaning supplies.

“There were about 13 different teams that we sent out,” she says. “Some homes only needed large items moved out from the basement, so after the team accomplished that, they would call me and I would send them to the next home on the list. Some teams were about four or five people and other teams, where we knew the home needed a lot of help, had more like 10 to 12 people.”

However, the effort was not only one of physical assistance, but also of emotional support.

“People’s entire homes and belongings were destroyed and that was hard to watch for the homeowner as other people carried out their things — the emotional struggles were evident,” Malone says. “I was sent pictures of family members taking a break from hauling things out to hug in the yard and cry. Several of the team leaders said that the homeowners were so touched that they cried at the end of the day in thankfulness for the support of the church and in many cases, from people they didn’t even know.”


David Homrich is CCC’s Connections pastor and his wife, Lisa, is the Kids Ministry pastor. They’ve been serving at the church for the past three years.

Living at the highest point in their neighborhood and having a 100-year-flood that took place just three years ago not touch their home, the couple wasn’t really concerned about flooding.

On the morning of May 19, the Homrichs, with their two young children (ages 4 and 1), and a college student who was living with them, took enough clothes for a few days and left the house as a precaution, leaving the college student’s car parked seemingly safely in the garage.

The next morning, they couldn’t get within a half-mile of the house.

When the waters receded a day or so later, they left a mark three feet up on their garage door and the basement was filled, floor-to-ceiling, with murky water.

“Not counting the damage to the house, just possessions — toys, clothing, furniture, appliances — we conservatively estimated about $26,000 worth of things destroyed,” David says. “We didn’t have flood insurance as there wasn’t a need for flood insurance — no one expected the dams to fail.”

After pumping the water from the basement using generators (as power wasn’t restored for eight days), the Homrichs started removing items from their home. On Sunday, a team from the church arrived.

“We filled a 30-foot dumpster and another 20-foot dumpster with stuff and we have a bunch of trash on the side — our entire neighborhood is mounds and mounds of trash,” he says. “We demoed the entire basement and removed all the drywall on the first floor, so now our home is basically nothing but studs and subflooring.”

Although some people seem to believe that ministers and their families have been endowed with some kind of special spiritual pain absolver when tragedy or disaster strikes, that’s not the case.

“Just because you have ‘pastor’ in front of your name, doesn’t make you any more special,” Homrich says. “We’re still human, we still have feelings — it’s hard when you’re throwing away your kids’ toys.”

But the Homrichs have determined to allow themselves to grieve in a healthy way — not to let grief take a hold of their lives, but to turn that grief to worship.

“So many people have helped us, donated things to us, cleaned and sorted things for us,” Homrich says with appreciation. “People are also watching and seeing how we walk through this. It’s been a real focal point for me and Lisa — to walk through this well, grieve healthfully, but also reach out to others who are going through the same thing.”

Helping others isn’t just a convenient thought. The Homrich’s have connected with their neighbors, letting them know if they need any help, to let them know. They Homrichs have even been sending people coming to help them to their neighbors. And when their drywall arrives, they plan to take some to their neighbors as well.

“When we offer to help or send help, they’re blown away as they know we’re going through the same thing,” Homrich says. “Our heart has been ‘God glorified’ through this, and this is just a real way to show God’s love in practical ways.”

Although there will still be “down days” and months before the process of rebuilding is completed, Homrich says that the church has impacted the community and God has shown himself loving and faithful to their family.

“The church being the Church (body of Christ) is such a beautiful thing,” he says.


“So many churches and so many people in the church have reached out, loved on, and provided what people needed, spending hours and hours and hours helping,” Grabill says. “Many people took in families, providing a place for them to stay until their homes can be repaired.”

Grabill notes it seems that most of the clean-up has been completed, with piles of ruined belongings still littering curbsides, and now homes are being dried out and sterilized so repairs can begin.

But one of the big hurdles many families impacted by the flooding now face is the lack of flood insurance. Like the Homrichs, many of the homes weren’t in flood plains and there was no expectation n of both dams failing, so few (if any) had flood insurance.

“It’s been very challenging and will be for a long time,” Grabill says. “But there has been a great response from churches and ministry organizations. God has definitely been honored and people are going to turn to Him through this.”

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.