It has ever since been to as the Great Coastal Gale of 2007. It was a big storm; the biggest in my experience of living on the North Oregon Coast. It packed winds in excess of 100 mph. In fact, a gust of 127 mph was recorded not too many miles south of here in Bay City. The storm also brought heavy rains and produced widespread record flooding. But it was the wind that folks remember. Not only was it strong, it went on and on for hours and caused a lot of destruction. Officials estimate that the storm downed some 3500 acres of timber. Around the county, blue tarps soon covered many roofs. As a result of downed trees and flooding, the storm blocked all road access to the North Coast for a couple of days. Both landline and cellular phone services were out. Power was gone for days and in some places weeks.
The winds began in earnest on a Sunday morning when we were at church. As the wind began to roar, the metal roofing of the church began to rattle, and the building groaned and shook. The lights flickered and then went out. The after-church fellowship time was cancelled. As soon as some downed wires were moved from across the road, folks hastily made their way home. The wind steadily increased through the afternoon, but it was that night that I remember. Power was out. My daughter Claire was unable to sleep. She and I stood a frightful watch in our candle-lit living room, listening to a ghastly choir of noises. Branches and limbs crashing into the house accompanied the steady roar of the wind. The loud cracks and thuds of falling trees accentuated the fearful cacophony. Needless to say, we didn’t get much sleep that night. By morning light, we gauged the damage. A dozen or so hemlocks had crashed to the ground and crisscrossed our pond like fallen matchsticks.
On Monday, Jason, my friend and neighbor, and I carefully navigated storm debris and made our way to the church so that we could survey the damage. The first thing we noticed was the grey metal roofing scattered across the field to the north of the church building. It was everywhere. We drove around the side of the church and were taken aback by what we saw. There was debris littered across the property. The pole barn had collapsed and spilled out some of its contents. The storm had blown off a portion of the roof of the church building. Pieces of lumber were hanging and swinging in the wind. We saw enough to know that the needed repairs were beyond our abilities. We were insured. I’d find a roofing contractor. We’d soon get things taken care of. So, I thought. But I had no idea as to the severity of the damage.
There was no phone service for a couple of days, so it was impossible to contact anyone. I supposed that as soon as I could I’d call Helligso Construction since I was familiar with the company and knew the family. I had that thought in my mind as Jason and I headed to City Lumber to see about buying some generators. Without power, it would be necessary to power our refrigerators and freezers. We parked and entered through the front of the store and as we were walking in, guess who was walking out! None other than Larry Helligso, owner of Helligso Construction. “Larry, did you hear what happened to our church building?” I asked. I went on to explain the situation and asked if they could help. He said that he would be glad to come and check it out. They came the next day. They were on site for the next 10 months.
The church moved to the nearby elementary school for the next several weeks. Then the Building Codes Department gave us the okay to meet in the smaller undamaged portion of our building. We met in a 50 by 50 ft. room that we commonly refer to as the “play room.” With little amenities and far away bathrooms, it made for an austere setting. But it was cozy, and folks came to appreciate the intimacy of fellowship in that environment. I began a study through the book of Nehemiah. And we prayed for God to guide and direct the rebuilding efforts.
As the weeks passed, we learned more of the extent of the damage to the building. Though there was some uncertainty as to the extent, the building had been “racked” (tilted slightly northward because of the wind). The steeple was definitely visibly tilted. A gaping hole in the roof had caused water damage to the kitchen, library, and downstairs bathrooms. The tall north sanctuary wall had buckled and would need to be rebuilt. The storm revealed certain structural deficiencies that would need to be resolved before we could reoccupy the facility. Some of these deficiencies could only be corrected by removing sheetrock and/or siding.
The big question in the early days of the repair efforts was what the Building Codes Department would require us to do with respect to meeting the building codes requirements that had been put in effect since the time when the building had been built. We had plenty of insurance to cover the cost of the general repairs. But our policy had a $100,000 limit to what is called “Building Code Upgrades.” That amount could have been easily exceeded and multiplied depending upon what we would be required to do.
We hit an impasse in the repair efforts. There were too many entities involved in the decision making: the church, the insurance company, the insurance adjuster, two engineering firms, the general contractor, and the Building Codes Department. There were varying opinions as to what needed to be done and we couldn’t go forward with the repairs until someone made a decision that everyone else would be willing to abide by. But I was preaching through the book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah led the wall re-building project in Jerusalem. He faced many obstacles. But he trusted God and prayed. We prayed too.
I was in my office when they came. There were three of them. Three building code officials. Two were from Clatsop County. The other one, from out of town, was obviously in charge. I led them on a tour of the building. As we walked from room to room, one of the local officials pointed out the particular issues that needed to be addressed. And the one in charge gave instructions as to what would be required in each case. We were on the platform in the sanctuary when he asked me, “So I suppose, Pastor, that you are preaching through the book of Nehemiah?” “How did he know?” I thought. And then, wondered “Why would he care?” I responded that yes, in fact, we were. A bigger surprise was forthcoming when we came to the end of the tour. The one in charge suggested to the others that they go outside and examine the big barn that was under construction next door. He turned to me, put his arm around my shoulder, stepped out of his official role, and asked, “Pastor, would it be okay if I prayed for you?” So, he prayed for us. He prayed that God would superintend our rebuilding efforts and bless our church in the process. I was obviously surprised and thankful for God’s intervention. From that day forward, the rebuilding proceeded according to plan.
The blessings that ensued as a result of the remodeling of our building are too numerous to recall or list. But these are some of them. When I came to the church in 1990, the building, though constructed in the early 1970s, had never been finished. We had a list of projects to be done 100 items long! But when the church celebrated its 50th anniversary in October of 2008, after the rebuilding effort, it was finally finished! God used a storm to finish our building! The steeple had leaked for years. On rainy days, we would set up buckets on the platform to collect the rain falling from the ceiling. But the rebuilding resolved that matter. No more leaks! For years, being next to a dairy, we had had a problem with flies entering our building in the fall. During the reconstruction, it was discovered that there was a wide gap at the top of the west wall of the sanctuary where it met the roof where the flies would enter. That problem was resolved. No more flies! The rooms of the building that had suffered water damage from the rain were all completely remodeled. We were blessed with a new kitchen, bathrooms, and library. We’ve made much use of the kitchen ever since. And now use it weekly in providing for a free Sunday School breakfast. The sanctuary was completely remodeled with new carpet, windows, and paint. To strengthen the building, foundation ties, load bearing walls, and horizontal blocking were added. The roof itself was strengthened. A new metal roof was installed over the entire building. In exchanging Hardiplank siding for the original hard-to-get-and-expensive redwood cedar siding, we gained “credits” that were applied to other improvements. We were able to pave the east end parking lot. The pole barn collapsed in the storm. It was old, and decaying and we had planned to tear it down anyway. But insurance paid us $5000 for it and paid to clean up the mess. The parsonage roof needed replacement. It had the maximum three layers of composite shingles. It would have been a big project for us. But it had lost some shingles in the storm, so insurance paid to do the reroofing from the plywood up. There were many more things that were fixed or redone or improved. In the end, the cost of the repairs exceeded $900,000. We paid only the $500 deductible.
When Jason and I first saw the building on the day after the storm, it was a mess. We had no idea at that time how God would use that storm to bless us. But as I’ve said ever since, “The storm was the best thing that ever happened to our building!” Storms happen. Storms in life happen too. They are an unavoidable aspect of life on this sin-cursed planet. But we serve a God who is able to bring blessings out of them. The before and after pictures of the building speak to the radical transformation that ensued through the process. The result was “far more abundantly” beyond what we would have imagined (Cf. Ephesians 3:20). God is even now at work to do such a thing in the lives of His children. They come to Him by faith in Jesus and His finished work on the cross. By grace He saves and works to transform rebel sinners into loving worshipers who are ultimately conformed to the very image of His Son. The trials of life have a role in the process (Cf. Romans 5:3-5, 8:28-30; James 1:2-4). It’s sometimes difficult to ascertain God’s purpose in the trials that we face. But we can trust the One who sent His Son to die for us (Cf. Romans 8:32). It’s hard now for us to imagine what we will be when He works to “transform our lowly body to be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). But it’s important to remember, amidst the storms of life, that He will finish the work that He’s started (Cf. Philippians 1:6). He does such things “to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:14). Praise God for the big storm!