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Church spreads holiday cheer after Colorado floods

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Believing there’s no place like home for the holidays, a small nondenominational church in Lyons, Colo. has been busy since September of 2013, helping hundreds of families repair or rebuild homes severely damaged or swept away by historic floods that hit the picturesque town.

Throughout the Thanksgiving and Christmas holiday season, The River church has demonstrated the love of Jesus in the town of Lyons, where 175 homes and 211 structures were the targets of two overflowing and converging rivers in late summer - even though the congregation’s own building remains uninhabitable and in moldy disrepair heading into 2014.

Fifteen families that call The River their church home, have homes that are “completely gone or are heavily damaged,” according to Pastor Mickey Lohr, whose hillside home was spared by the torrent of the South St Vrain River.

Even with destruction at their own homes, members of the The River are out most weekends - weather permitting - working at the church or throughout the Lyons community, cleaning up debris or helping repair and rebuild, Lohr says.

Closer to his church, the flooding waters of the North St.Vrain River - where Lohr baptizes new believers - destroyed one-quarter of the building, nearly condemned the youth room, wreaked havoc on water, sewer and gas lines and precipitated rotting drywall in their wake.

Those conditions have become sermon material for Lohr, who compares the moldy drywall in his church to sin in the lives of believing Christians; Both grow invisibly and present problems, spiritually and physically.

Though clean-up and restoration of The River’s creek-side property and building is “months, even years away,” Lohr says the congregation is strong in its faith and commitment to helping the hometown recover.

“Most importantly, we desire to touch our community for Jesus because so many have lost everything,” says Lohr.

A Spirit-filled church, The River was associated with Foursquare International until 2006.

Helping The River repair its building and assisting families whose homes were impacted by the floods, other congregations and national ministries have brought cheer and hope to Lyons residents who don’t even attend Lohr’s church.

Along with Christian-based ministries that are in Lyons for the long haul, local, state and federal representatives have made repeated visits to the town since the floodwaters abated.

President Barrack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden toured the town to announce the flow of Federal Emergency Management Assistance (FEMA) funds into Lyons and elsewhere in Colorado, and as a show of support for National Guard troops assisting with rescue and recovery efforts.

A guardsman surveying the damage during a walking tour with Lohr told him, “I haven’t seen damage like this since Katrina.”

Lohr agrees that The River’s recovery will take time, as will the town’s.

“After the flood, it would have been very easy to get the feeling that were alone to sort this out,” Lohr says. “That feeling is not consistent with Jesus’ promises.

“We’ve had so many examples of Jesus showing that he’s with us through the hands and feet and the gift of his body, the church,” Lohr says.

True to their mission and in obedience to Jesus, the disaster relief arm of Calvary Chapel and Delta Ministries have been on the ground since the weeks-long evacuation order was lifted from the town of Lyons. The staffs of both ministries immediately began assisting The River’s members and Lyons townspeople with clean-up, recovery and rebuilding.

Others ministries, including Jezreel International and Reach Global, offered encouragement to The River’s members in their personal recoveries, and training in offering disaster relief assistance to their neighbors.

A messianic group based in New York, Jezreel International, sent a 53-foot-long truck of building supplies to Lyons. The Evangelical Free Church of America sent Reach Global, its disaster recovery ministry.

Just miles from Lyons, relief ministries Convoy of Hope and Samaritan’s Purse assisted local churches with feeding and sheltering people who were displaced from hard-hit areas including Lyons. For weeks after the floods, Lyons remained an island, cut off from traffic into and out of the town and the gateway to the Rocky Mountains.

Calvary Chapel Saratoga’s Curt and Mary Jo Hencye moved to Lyons and now attend The River - though in an interim meeting place until the church reopens - where they coordinate volunteer recovery teams at the church and throughout the town. During the long-term rebuild and recovery process, they hope to train and oversee short-term missions teams in Lyons.

Another ministry is producing a video of The River and the town of Lyons, aimed at churches that plan to send teams from across the nation, says Lohr. In addition, there is a disaster relief fund at the church’s website, therivercolorado.org. Donations can be earmarked for recovery at the church, or for Lyons families that are still in need.

The ministries’ presence has not been unnoticed by grateful residents of Lyons where, according to Mayor Julie Van Demelen, the town suffered $50 million in damages to roads, bridges, parks, buildings and other infrastructure. Two-thirds of the affected homes incurred “substantial damage,” meaning they lost 50 percent of their value after the flood, the mayor says.

For Lohr, The River and ministries assisting in clean-up and rebuilding, those numbers mean lots of hurting, needy and confused people who need practical, hands-on recovery assistance, as well as a demonstration of God’s love.

“Through this destruction, we’ve seen miracles of love and generosity that we would have missed out on had this tragic event not occurred,” says Linda Anderson-Clayton, who recited her wedding vows outdoors on The River’s scenic deck, now a part of the St Vrain River’s winding currents.

Her mobile home destroyed by the flood, Anderson-Clayton says The River and the ministries that have signed on to help with long-term rebuilding efforts represent “a culture within a culture that loves Jesus, believes Scripture and lives for the good of the whole town, and not just our self-interests.”

“We’ve been given the opportunity to further our vision of loving our town in a powerful way,” Anderson-Clayton says.

Even when some townspeople and River church members like Anderson-Clayton don’t have a home to go to for the holidays - and beyond.

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