One year ago, the community of Washington, IL was changed forever. On November 17th, a monstrous tornado cut a swath of destruction through heart of the town. Around a third of the population was left homeless. No one came out unchanged.
Washington came together in a mighty way. In the aftermath, local churches were the center of recovery efforts. Denominational labels no longer mattered as the Body of Christ worked to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless. The church was to busy being the church to worry about the arguments that keeps us separate. It was an incredible experience.
Freedom Church was changed. In the aftermath, our plans were altered. The original vision for Freedom Church was to start in one of the blue collar neighborhoods in Peoria. Roughly a week after the storm, the Lord starting to speak to us about moving to Washington, specifically Sunnyland. It was hard to miss His clear voice. I was privileged to serve in very small capacities meeting needs and praying with people who crossed my path. Although we weren't even close to starting, I was welcomed as a part of the Washington ministers as if I had always been there.
When I shared this change with some of them, I think they restrained themselves from saying something to the effect of, "What took you so long to figure it out?" I'm pretty sure they figured this out long before I did. A hard head does have it's disadvantages.
I have to admit, at first, Washington didn't make a lot of sense for the vision we've been given for Freedom Church. There are already several strong ministries. It was only after looking around Sunnyland with fresh eyes that I saw the huge need. I knew the area well already but had never looked at it through the eyes of the Lord. I saw the very people the Lord had been speaking to us about everywhere I looked. I could feel the palpable need for the Gospel, the chains of sin needing to be broken, and the emptiness of the people's hearts to be filled by Jesus.
This past year has been one to remember. Washington is slowly but surely being rebuilt. Homes are going up all through the devastation area and people are returning. Although things are far from normal, the healing and restoration are well underway. The community will always be different than it was one year ago with a new normal taking over, one closer knit than before. There's a greater appreciation for one's neighbors, friends, and families. A sense of closeness and belonging permeates the town as a whole. Washington has become a truly extraordinary community where a good town once stood.
It's a great honor to be called to serve this area. As we build, we feel fortunate to be welcomed as a friend and brother in Christ by the established congregations and ministries.