Driving into town, I turned on the fire department radio. I am the fire department chaplain, so I often listen to the radio traffic. I heard them calling in the 3rd alarm, meaning all off duty firefighters are asked to return to work to fight the fire. I arrived at #3 6th Street North in Great Falls, Montana and could not believe my eyes. We had just been there a few hours ago for church. The firemen were doing their best to stop the flames. We sat there for about an hour just watching. Finally, I told my wife and daughters that they should go home. They disagreed for a bit, but finally went home.
I stayed and watched until morning, making it home in time to get ready for the graduation. After graduation, I went back into Great Falls to see if there were any changes on the building. Monday morning, the building was still smoldering. I stood there watching, realizing how many miracles there were despite all the destruction. Most importantly, the in-house ministry boys who were living in the building at the time got out safely. Many other miracles were evident as we were finally able to enter the building safely. First, my oldest daughter, Skye, and my Mom’s things were untouched on the 4th floor, and my wife’s sheet music was a little smoky, but untouched by flame or water. Another miracle was a downtown bar opened their doors to us so we would be able to give out food, and numerous churches offered their buildings to us so we could continue to hold our services. Pastor David Booth with Heartland Baptist let us hold our first post-fire service in his church. Then Pastor John Duckworth with 1st Baptist let us use his church the following Saturday. We were there every Saturday night for the next 5 years. We were also able to find a semi-permanent home downtown for our food ministry, clothing room, and offices for those same 5 years. In amongst all this chaos, we never missed a single day of ministry out on the street.
In order to rebuild the Rocky Mountain Building we needed to raise a lot of money, so we had a few fund raisers. The first one was Riding 4 a Miracle. Myself, along with the help and support from friends from different states, rode a bicycle across the state of Montana, starting in Superior and riding to Miles City: a total of 550 miles, all in 6 ½ days. Some friends rode the entire way, giving me encouragement, and others participated in various stages.
After Riding 4 a Miracle, I traveled to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to look into different ways to use the Rocky Mountain Building to better help our community. I went to several different companies and found many useful things that would benefit our community like art classes, cooking classes, a greenhouse that also doubles as a habitat for tilapia, and many other class type settings that would get people off the street and help them get a job that they had a skill set for.
Our next fund raiser was Riding 4 a Miracle II. I was a little smarter with this ride and decided to ride my motorcycle instead of a bicycle. I, along with my daughter Callie, and 7 other guys, rode our motorcycles from Seattle, Washington to Key West, Florida in 7 days. Even though we raised a lot of money with our two major fund raisers, it was not enough to even put a roof on the Rocky Mountain Building. It was obvious that unless there was a divine intervention we would never have the finances to put the Rocky Mountain Building back together again. So, we continued to pray that God would reveal to us where we should be and we started looking at other buildings.
We made an offer to sell the building to a corporation located in Montana. They accepted our buy/sell offer which was the beginning of long and time consuming negotiations. On June 28, 2013, we officially closed on the Rocky Mountain Building and turned over the keys.
Throughout this whole adventure, a member of our church, Bill, said he was not going to shave his mustache until we sold or rebuilt the Rocky Mountain Building. I cannot remember exactly the time frame, but he grew his mustache for at least two and half years. When I finally announced we had sold the building, the Saturday night after the closing date, we celebrated in church by shaving off his very long mustache. Bill runs our food ministry, which runs 7 days a week. On one of his regular stops, a lady who sees him weekly asked him why he had shaved. He shared with her the story of why he had been growing his mustache and told her we had sold the Rocky Mountain Building and were in the process of looking for a new home. She told him that we needed to talk to her Dad about the Fairview Baptist Building.
After looking into it and conversing with the leaders of Fairview Baptist, we started the long process of buying the building. We first made our offer, then needed to wait for their congregation to vote on the sale, and finally settled on a closing date. After almost a year of negotiating and waiting, July 1, 2014, Set Free Ministries became the owner of 216 9th Street North Great Falls, Montana. Praise God, we were blessed with a new home!
What a wild and adventurous journey it has been! After over 5 years we now have a base of operation again. We always say the building is not the church, the people are. For over 5 years we were able to prove that fact. We were able to continue our ministry and were abundantly blessed by the generosity of our community, but we are so thankful to be under one roof again, serving the people out on the streets. All the change that has taken places during the past 5 years, buildings, people, ministries, etc. has been a challenge and faith growing experience. This was obviously not part of my plan, but I can see God’s hand of provision in all of it and I am thankful that His ways are better than my own! “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” Jeremiah 29:11.
So as we continue our adventure, be blessed and stay fired for Jesus!
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