Pastors of two churches affected by the floods in Belgium see the situation as “an opportunity to talk to neighbours, some of whom tell us quite shocking stories”.
In mid-July, a series of heavy rains caused severe flooding in north-western Europe, particularly in the German states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland, and also in Belgium.
Nearly 200 people were killed and dozens are still missing, while rescue teams continue to work in the worst affected areas.
The storm also caused extensive material damage to roads and public buildings, as well as to homes and private property. The premises of some of the evangelical churches in the territory were also damaged.
One of them is the community 'The Bridge' in the Belgian city of Eupen. It is a new congregation in the city, recently opened by a planting ministry of the Pentecostal Church of Belgium, which started meetings only a year ago.
“About 18 months ago, we began with a Bible study meeting in a McDonald’s restaurant in Eupen. We then moved our meetings to the park near our current location in the Unterstadt”, the pastor of the church, Mark McClung, told Spanish news website Protestante Digital.
He recalls that “with a step of faith we decided to rent an 80 quadrant meter, the 1st floor of a commercial property with a kitchen, dining room, main assembly room and also a small office. In October 2020 we launched the church. We are currently 3 families and we have an average attendance of 15 people every Sunday: 10 adults and 5 children”.
“Our building is located about 100 metres from the Weser River in the lower part of Eupen. We heard about the flooding while flying back from our holidays in Germany”, adds McClung.
That Sunday morning, (17 July), “we went to our church premises and discovered that almost everything was badly damaged. The water had risen more than a metre inside, covering everything with a layer of muddy water”.
In Verviers, a town near Eupen, the pastor of the Assemblies of God church in the municipality, Samuel Evans, reports that the floods broke their water heater and that "the basement and part of the ground floor was filled with water", although the worship hall was not affected.
“We had to empty the basement with the wonderful help of volunteers for a whole week. Now we are waiting for the insurance company to come and offer us an amount that will allow us to repair everything without too many financial problems”, says Evans.
Many Protestant churches in the affected area have immediately stepped in to help their neighbours and communities.
“We try to help where we can. We distribute food in disaster-affected areas or in centres that help victims, we have offered bread with sausages and soup to people after the Sunday service, and from the beginning we have organised a coffee table in the street with cakes, pancakes, soup and water”, points out stresses Evans.
According to the pastor of the church in Verviers, “above all, it is an opportunity to talk to neighbours and passers-by, some of whom tell us quite shocking stories”.
[photo_footer]Some churches are still waiting to see how much of the damage is covered by insurance. / John van der Dussen [/photo_footer]
The community was only interrupted on the first Thursday after the floods, when they cancelled the prayer meeting to clean up the premises. However, on the same Sunday, they worshipped as usual.
In addition to offering help, the churches have also been a meeting place for neighbours and volunteers from different cities, who have collaborated cleaning and restoring the premises.
“We’ve been told restoration may take 6-8 months. The floods have damaged a keyboard, a guitar, an amplifier, a sound board, a video camera, a sofa, 20 chairs, a dining table, an office desk and chair, 4 tables, and a fridge, all of which were purchased in the last year. We also had to throw away many other small things”, explains McClung.
The pastor stresses that “there was a real attitude of solidarity and a willingness to serve others in this time of crisis. Many people, even total strangers, came and volunteered to help us with the clean up and moving furniture out into the street”.
Pastor Bill Schwartz, who leads 'The Bridge' church in Brussels, “brought a team from our churches in Brussels and Antwerp along with a lot of water and supplies to pass out in the community” says McClung.
“Together we were 15 workers. The city has put up large dumpsters and the team has worked clearing the piles of debris from the street. They have also helped our landlord and neighbours by dumping their debris in the dumpsters”, he adds.
Pastor Evans reports that they have also “benefited from a lot of solidarity from other churches in Belgium. From the beginning, pastors contacted us to offer their support, some churches sent money for our community or to help the victims, several churches brought food, water, cleaning products, blankets, etc.”.
“A team of volunteers has also come from Brussels and donations have been sent to us from Antwerp. All this in addition to the donations received from people in our own church. Christians from Malmedy and Namur have also come to help us empty the basement”, Evans tells Protestante Digital.
[photo_footer] It will be months before some churches will be able to meet again on their premises. / John van der Dussen [/photo_footer]
Pastor McClung confirms that “the floods have not damaged any of the church members' properties or houses”.
The place where they used to meet has been the worst affected. So far, they have had to cancel the broadcasting of their worship services because the equipment they had to do so has been rendered unusable, and they have also moved some of their weekday activities to a public park.
“Insurance will cover about half of our property losses. Some gifts are coming in from friends and churches to help us in outreach and relaunching the church”, says McClung.
“Fortunately, a Protestant church in the neighbouring town of Kelmis, the Johanneskirche, offered us the use of their facilities for our Sunday meetings. Since July 25, our small congregation met there for worship. We are so grateful for this temporary arrangement and the compassion showed to us after learning about our loss”.
In Verviers, although “most church members have not been too badly affected" by the floods, , there are several people who were left without electricity and have been gradually recovering it”, explains Evans.
“One person had to be rescued from his roof, and another has damage to his terrace. The son of another person who used to come to church has half of the ground floor of his house covered with water, although he has been able to save some things”, he underlines.
[photo_footer]Despite the situation, many churches are witnessing as they help their neighbours and their communities. / John van der Dussen [/photo_footer]
Despite the damage and setbacks caused by the storm, both in Eupen and Verviers, the churches are upbeat about the short-term future.
“No one in our congregation is discouraged, these are only material losses. Our faith in Christ has not been shaken. His Kingdom will never pass away. Our “house” is built on the Rock. It stands forever”, stresses McClung.
Meanwhile in Verviers, “we are starting to see more clearly and take opportunities to show that Christians are there, but we want to be there for the long term, as there will still be people in need in the coming weeks and even months”.
“We are trying to forge bonds, for example through coffee or the distribution of food and basic necessities in the affected neighbourhoods. The feedback we are getting is very positive and encouraging”., points out Evans.
The pastor also asks for prayer “that, through the contacts we make with the cafés or deliveries, people will one day want to open the door of the church to come to a meeting so that they can give their lives to Jesus”.
“Pray for our witness, for wisdom in what we do with what we receive, for a renewal of everyone's energies, because everyone is tired, and for people who were already struggling financially and are now even worse off", concludes Evans.