“It didn’t seem like a tornado kind of a day,” said Jim Michel, who was in his backyard on Sunday evening, May 22, 2011, grilling dinner for the church youth group.
Nevertheless, before day’s end, a category EF5 twister would claim 161 lives, injure more than 1,000 others and visit $3 billion of damage in and around Joplin, Mo., including the South Joplin Christian Church.
The storm would also begin a journey for Michel that would equip Disciples to respond more effectively than ever to disasters like the devastating 2011 storm.
Disciples Church Extension Fund’s Disaster Response service launched in 2015, serving church leaders who face insurance, construction and legal issues related to damage from natural disasters — at no cost to the congregation.
Coupled with financial support of Week of Compassion (WOC) — the Disciples relief, refugee and development mission fund — and rebuilding efforts coordinated by Disciples Volunteering of Disciples Home Missions (DHM), Disciples now have a three-point approach to helping restore congregations and their neighborhoods after a disaster.
With more than 35 years of experience in the civil engineering field, Michel can hold his own in negotiations on building contracts and insurance settlements.
Using his construction experience, Michel shortened the Joplin church’s repair to six months from what would easily take two years. His performance attracted the attention of Disciples Church Extension Fund. At their urging, he started consulting with congregations rebuilding after disasters. By 2014, he’d handed his engineering business off to his son and joined the DCEF staff full time as a Building and Capital Services Advisor and shortly after launched the Disaster Response service.
Just in time
The program came along just in time for Rowlett First Christian Church, where a massive storm spawned 11 tornadoes, some as big as EF4, and leveled whole neighborhoods in North Texas the day after Christmas in 2015.
“Our churches don’t have the resources to rebuild a church after an event like that,” said Michel. “I help get them headed in the right direction.”
For example, the insurance company had offered Rowlett FCC a $30,000 settlement for damage to the church. Michel suspected that the 180-mile-an-hour winds had not just blown debris into the structure. He suspected back drafts, which can lift a metal roof and plant it back in place, might have caused damage that was hard to detect to the untrained observer. Michel suggested an engineer look at the roof.
As a result, the proposed settlement jumped to nearly $90,000, along with a promise from the insurance company to keep the settlement open in the event more damage was discovered over the course of the repair.
What goes around comes around
In an interesting twist of fate, Rowlett FCC, which sent a team of volunteers to a mission station in Joplin in 2011 to help with rebuilding, became a Disciples Volunteering mission station itself this year, said Rowlett FCC property chair Jerry Dunne.
One room in the church is living quarters for a volunteer coordinator. Four showers and laundry facilities, added with the help of funds from the North Texas Area of Disciples and Week of Compassion, serve needs of the mission groups that work on nearby construction projects.
A tornado can create some serious twists in a congregation’s trajectory, Dunne will tell you. But empowering a congregation to rebuild results in that faith community being a real source of strength to their local community. “I guess you could say what goes around comes around.”
For more information about the Disaster Response service, contact Jim Michel by email, email@example.com, or call 800.274.1883.