Washing Away Barriers

Pastor Mickey Lohr surveyed The River church in disbelief. The St. Vrain River, which had previously run yards behind his congregation in Lyons, Colo., now gushed through the middle of the sanctuary. Following the heavy September rains, the river had rerouted itself, knocking out the church’s foundation in the process.

Water damage also forced about 15 church families out of their homes, most of whom were unable to move back. In the immediate weeks after the flood, The River’s 120-member congregation still met weekly but had to scatter into different homes across the region. As a church not tied to any denomination or network, “it seemed as though we stood alone,” Mickey remembers.

Photo: Courtesy The River Church. Walls of water at least 6 feet high washed against the side of The River’s building, wiping out the foundation of the sanctuary’s northwest corner and causing the floor to collapse.

The floods that ravaged The River also washed away buildings, homes and hundreds of miles of roads along Colorado’s Front Range, from Colorado Springs to Fort Collins. In Mickey’s isolated town of Lyons, all 2,000 residents were evacuated by the National Guard, and many have yet to return home. Now, more than two months later, entire towns are still in the wake of recovery, moving from devastation toward rebuilding.

Yet alongside the shattering physical damage to these communities and their churches, the flooding also cleared away the barriers that always seem to exist between denominations and individuals, allowing the body of Christ to bear the burden of recovery together.

Across the broken roads

In the days following the floods, two Colorado EFC pastors, Jess Mahon and Jeff Foote, connected with EFCA ReachGlobal Crisis Response, seeking to help other churches nearby. ReachGlobal had already received a call from The River, so it was an obvious next step to connect the independent church with the EFCA congregations.

Although separated by miles and broken roads, ministry leaders from the three churches began a dialogue before they could physically reach each other—hoping and dreaming together, walking alongside each other in prayer.

The relief that members of The River felt after ReachGlobal came alongside them was palpable. “It felt like we were part of the family,” Mickey says.

“Crisis scrapes away all the things that so easily encumber us and helps us get to the greatest commandment: love of God and love of neighbor,” says Jess, lead pastor of Rocky Mountain EFC in Estes Park, Colo., an area that itself endured 10 inches of rain in 48 hours.

Photo: Courtesy The River Church. The River’s parking lot following the floods looked more like the bottom of a receded river than a home for parked cars.

The two major highways leading into Estes Park were impassable for almost two months—making what was once a 20-minute drive to neighboring towns a 3-hour excursion. Yet even with its own immediate needs, Rocky Mountain EFC embraced the opportunity to reach beyond itself.

Jeff serves as lead pastor of Grace EFC in north Longmont—an area wedged between the more severely affected regions of south Longmont and Lyons. Since his building did not sustain much flood damage, Jeff knew that Grace EFC could help right away. But even from the beginning, he dreamed for much more.

“We want to establish habits in our congregation and relationships in our community that will outlast the flood recovery,” he explains. Grace EFC formed a leadership team devoted to crisis response and then reached out to other flood-affected EFC churches in Boulder and Coal Creek Canyon.

When Mickey initially faced the damage to his church and envisioned the long road of recovery ahead, he had definitely wondered if they would have to face that process alone. Yet at the same time, he remembers that he actually smiled, recalling a favorite verse from Ezekiel—about water flowing from a sanctuary, bearing fruit as it nurtures the soil.

Sure enough, Mickey would soon see God’s faithfulness borne from the water flowing through his own sanctuary: a movement from isolation to connectedness within the family of believers.

Thanks to the partnership between local EFC and non-EFC churches in close proximity, The River is on the road to recovery. But for these pastors, it’s not just about rebuilding their churches and their homes in the aftermath of a flood. It’s about sharing another kingdom and another king.

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