The 2011 Minot, N.D., flood – the worst since 1881 – reminded Duane Deckert, pastor of Bible Fellowship Church (MB), that one’s shelter – whether church building or house – is not where God dwells.
Rather, when the floodwaters rise, the solid rock of Christ’s presence in hearts makes the difference between despair and dependence on God, he says.
“The flood happened on a Thursday, and I felt it was really important to have church right away on the very next Sunday, even though we had to meet at Immanuel Baptist Church, where we are still meeting now,” Deckert says.
“The church is love, it isn’t a building…. Christ is our foundation. Even if there is no building, he still stands.”
Grappling with a personal and community disaster, Deckert is striving to practice what he preaches on all fronts. Even as he helped to prepare the church building – unsuccessfully – for the incoming flood, he was evacuating the parsonage, home to his wife Linda and two young adult children.
During the first flood surge May 31–June 3, the Deckerts evacuated. They came home, only to flee again a couple of weeks later to the blare of sirens and bull horns.
“In our wildest imaginations, we did not dream that the floodwater could rise to three-and-a-half feet in the middle of our living room or come up to three feet on the church pews,” he says. Despite efforts in the hours before evacuation to move everything from the church basement and stack items as high as possible, very little stayed dry: a copier, a piano, and a drum set.
Opportunity in the mess
“When God allows adversity, he always provides opportunity.” The flood aftermath provides an excellent opportunity to reach out to the Minot community, says Deckert, but the sheer number of damaged homes in the community is more than the local congregation can assist with.
“This has been a really tough journey, and I know the prayers of God’s people are holding us up right now.… Yes, we are mourning our losses, and yes, there are days and days of cleanup work ahead of us, but we aren’t people without faith or without hope.”
Much of Deckert’s hope lies in the strong spiritual connection he has to the Lord. But he also is experiencing the comfort of Christ through Jesus with skin on – Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS) volunteers and brothers and sisters in Christ in his church family. An MDS assessment team visited the community July 12–14, and volunteers began arriving July 18.
To some extent, the urgency of the work keeps discouragement at bay as the community pulls together to tackle the big job of cleanup. At the same time, many feel helpless and hopeless. The numbers tell a story: 11,000 people evacuated, but only some 250 found refuge in emergency shelters.
Deckert says most moved in with friends or family, but as days stretch into weeks, conflicts spark and tensions rise. Only a small percentage of buildings were covered by flood insurance, so financial strain adds to the stress. Deckert knows of at least one suicide, one attempted suicide, and scores of marital conflicts.
Deckert says he and the Bible Fellowship congregation are trying to be mindful of the spiritual opportunities opened by the flood, even as they scramble to meet the physical needs. “Sometimes we tend to value all the stuff and not realize how valuable salvation is,” Deckert says.
“This flood has brought people together and has shown us in a drastic way that God is not about buildings but about relationships.”