The week that we moved into our new church building, we put on a community Christmas show. It was a story line about coming home for Christmas. Mrs. Dianne Hardman, whose home we repaired, played the lead role. This is a video we shared at that event. Mrs. Joan Giles talks about the restoration work that enabled her to come home for Christmas.
From very small beginnings just four years ago - a group of about thirty people trying to “do something so big that if God’s not in it, it will fail” - to this stage of the journey - a new 30,000 square foot ground up construction where the congregation has recently moved and increased to more than 700 in weekly attendance - the story of Ekklesia has been Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. “You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things.” It’s how 300 plates of chicken bog on a Sunday afternoon turns into 3,000 meals per day. It’s how mucking out ﬂooded houses turns into completely restoring gutted homes. And it’s how God’s plan for Ekklesia continues to unfold in a community that is seeing Christ’s church fulﬁll the commission to seek, save, and restore.
After working on homes in Longs, Myrtle Beach, and Conway, Ekklesia was able to mobilize in Bucksport, a low income area where ﬂood waters crested higher than any other area in the county. Because it’s oﬀ the beaten path, this town’s residents are often forgotten in relief eﬀorts. Even since before the ﬂood though, Ekklesia’s leadership had been burdened and praying for Bucksport. As they waited for water to recede, this was the last community they were able to visit; but when they did, divine conﬁrmation awaited them. When the team ﬁrst entered the local community center, they were met with suspicion. One of the receptionists later shared with church leaders that the conversation just before they walked into the building was, “Hey, does anyone know who these white guys are?” After an introduction though, the center was ﬁlled with praises. The workers at the community center said they had heard of Ekklesia’s eﬀorts and had prayed for them to come. One staﬀ member actually held up a piece of paper that had “Ekklesia” written on it, saying she had jotted down the name in hopes they would connect with the church.
The staﬀ left the community center right away and led mission teams to ﬂooded homes in the area. Muck outs in Bucksport were diﬀerent than those in other parts of the county. While residents in neighboring towns piled all their belongings beside the road to be picked up in the county sweep, members of this community didn’t want to throw anything away; they didn’t have the means to replace it. Ekklesia teams worked alongside homeowners determining what could be cleaned and kept and applying mold treatments to those items; but what began as an eﬀort to salvage has transformed into a mission to restore!
Following a season of such uncertainty - with the church displaced and the members scattered - God has brought reassurance and restoration to His church as well. In the months following this disaster, Ekklesia was ﬂooded - not with water, but with new people - who came because of the large scale community relief. The church has been featured on every local news station, and church leaders were interviewed by a national news outlet based in Washington DC. Every week since the relief eﬀort began, one or more souls has been baptized into Christ. Many who Ekklesia helped in the aftermath have now joined the church. And despite a three week construction shutdown due to the storm, followed by the construction site being used as a meal preparation and distribution center, the church building was still completed on schedule. Ekklesia moved into their new home on Sunday, December 16.
With the assistance of IDES and several churches throughout South Carolina, and others from Florida, and Kentucky, Ekklesia was able to commit to the total restoration of one Bucksport home. The owner, Mrs. Joan Giles, is a retired school teacher who now cares for her husband, who has dementia, full time. The work on Mrs. Joan’s house was completed just in time for her to make it back home for Christmas.
Following the restoration of Mrs. Joan’s home, IDES equipped Ekklesia to return to the home of Joel & Dianne Hardman and assist in covering the cost of their restoration. They ﬁrst encountered the Hardmans while mucking out homes in Longs. After Ekklesia assisted this couple - they, along with their daughter-in-law and grandchildren, started attending church regularly and joined the relief mission. Though Mrs. Dianne Hardman struggles with Parkinson’s disease, she came to every home where the Ekklesia teams worked to pray with and encourage the homeowners.
While the ﬂooding in this area has been devastating and the recovery eﬀort will continue for months to come, God has brought great victories from the disaster. One mission of Ekklesia is to “make Christ and His Church famous” - and the recovery eﬀort has created more opportunity to accomplish this than any other event the church has experienced. A construction site became a beacon for the hungry and displaced; teams of volunteers in gray hats and shirts brought hope to neighborhoods in despair; and a homeless church restored homes for those who lost all they had. In an area where the Christian Church has been largely unknown, Ekklesia is honored to be given the opportunity to share the Restoration message in such tangible and powerful ways.
The need for meals began to wane as ﬂoodwaters receded and people longed to return home. Ekklesia immediately launched phase two of the recovery eﬀort. Because ﬂood waters crested at unprecedented levels - up to twenty-seven feet in some communities - even homes that were not located in ﬂood zones were ﬁlled with water. Without ﬂood insurance, these homeowners were in desperate need. This need inspired a partnership of Ekklesia and Vines Plumbing & Water Restoration to assist uninsured elderly and veteran homeowners. Mission teams jumped into the messy work of mucking out homes - removing all contents, appliances, ﬂooring, and drywall. After the volunteer teams completed this work, Vines donated antimicrobial treatments to stop mold growth and drying equipment to speed the mitigation process. These combined services amounted to a value of about $20,000 to the homeowners. This phase of the mission continued through October with a total of 30 homes demoed and dried.
With their ﬂeet of food trucks and mobile kitchens, Recovery Logistics sent an employee whose directive was to teach the volunteer teams to use the equipment. Her name was Billie, and her request upon arrival was that no one preach to her. She was only there to do a job. Billie was commissioned to spend a couple of days on site, but by the time the teams were trained, she had made friends and requested to stay and continue working on the lot. When the mission concluded, several of the church women who had worked alongside Billie took her to dinner to share more about the Gospel message that she had seen lived out in the days prior. On Saturday, October 6, Billie was baptized into Christ in front of dozens of members of her new family at her hotel pool, just across the road from the church construction site.
The days immediately following Hurricane Florence were bleak for residents of Conway, South Carolina and members of Ekklesia Christian Church. With forecasts calling for catastrophic ﬂooding worse than anything in this area's history and the mobile church’s meeting space - a technical college - occupied by FEMA indeﬁnitely, they staggered to ﬁnd footing for the path forward. In the midst of a building program that is the greatest faith leap in the church’s short four year history and having already missed one week of meeting together, the church longed for stability outside of their grasp as rivers and waterways continued to rise, blocking evacuees from reentry and forcing those who stayed to leave their homes. At the urging of New Hope Church Pastor Tim Liston to ﬁnd a way to continue meeting together, Ekklesia Pastor Matthew Wilson rented tents and chairs and called in a volunteer crew to build a stage from construction scraps on the gravel lot of their unﬁnished church building. Church members were asked to bring as much chicken bog (a dish native to SC) as possible to an outdoor Sunday service on the construction site to feed displaced evacuees. With more than 200 road closures across the county, only about 150 people were able to attend, but they came with cases of water and pots of food that they divided into to-go boxes and - after the worship service - took out in all directions to hurricane and ﬂood victims. Three hundred plates were delivered on the afternoon of Sunday, September 23.
About Our Efforts
That evening the church received a phone call from a company called Recovery Logistics who - in a partnership with Duke Energy - was looking for a site to send mobile kitchens and refrigerated trucks ﬁlled with food for those displaced by the storm. They heard that Ekklesia had been out feeding people that very day, and wanted to mobilize on the church construction site. By midnight, the 30,000 square foot church building disappeared behind tractor trailers loaded with food and equipment to provide up to 3,000 meals per day for the next ten days. Church volunteers rallied on site before dawn each day and had 1,500 lunches out for delivery by 10:00 am and 1,500 dinners out by 2:00 pm. This operation continued through October 3, with the church preparing and distributing a total of more than 25,000 meals.