Ministering While Coping: Grad Striving to Find the Good after Town Destroyed

Ministering While Coping: Grad Striving to Find the Good after Town Destroyed

September 21, 2008

During Commencement on May 24, 2008, while listening to Dr. Rob McCleland, Executive Director of the North American Baptist Conference, speak about finding the good in every situation, Ryan Zurbriggen had no idea the message would challenge him the very next day.

As Zurbriggen and his family (wife, Renessa, and children Caleb, Micah, and Hope) returned home to Parkersburg, Iowa, on Sunday, May 25, they learned that much of the town had been destroyed by an Enhanced F-5 tornado. Although Calvary Baptist Church, where Zurbriggen began serving a few months previous, had only minor damage, their parsonage was devastated beyond repair.

Less than a week after the storm, a group from the seminary went to Parkersburg to support the Zurbriggens and assist with the needs of the community. Participants realized that despite the emotional toll of the disaster on the Zurbriggens, Ryan and Renessa were staying strong in order to provide support and comfort to members of their congregation and the community. "As we walked through the neighborhood and met families that had lost their homes, they said wonderful words about the Zurbriggen family," said Erin Tressa, Assistant to the Leadership Foundation. "Ryan and Renessa continue to demonstrate Christ's love as they provide encouragement and leadership to the people of Parkersburg."

2008 M.Div. graduate Zach Sommerlot, who talked with several families while on the trip, is concerned for the long-term health of the community. Even though time has passed since the tornado, the needs of the Zurbriggens, their congregation, and their community are many. "Most of the time after a week or two, victims get forgotten," Sommerlot said. "But we are not going to forget and hope that others don't [forget] as well."

The Zurbriggens are taking McCleland's message to heart and are finding the presence of God at work in the community. "I have personally seen the people of Calvary Baptist Church sacrifice their own desires of rebuilding and restoring to come alongside the push to have the parsonage rebuilt," said Renessa. "What a selfless act!"

In addition, many residents in Parkersburg have solidified the need for God in their lives due to the devastation. The support and graciousness from family, friends, and even strangers is another positive outcome from the storm. In June, a church in Parkersburg, West Virginia, contacted Ryan with the desire to provide materials and labor for the framing, electrical, and plumbing of the new parsonage. The crew arrived on July 13, and the connection made between the two churches has gone beyond the newly constructed walls of the parsonage. In addition, Oak Hills Baptist Church in Sioux Falls sent a group to help with construction on July 24-27.

Zurbriggen believed that Calvary Baptist Church, which had been without a pastor the entire time he was at seminary, was where God was leading him and Renessa. They accepted the call as pastor shortly after Ryan completed his studies in December 2007.

Today, although dealing with the aftermath of the tornado and working hard to restore the town, Ryan and Renessa feel confirmed in their call to ministry and that God brought them to Parkersburg to serve in this time of great need. "God has cemented us in this community," said Ryan. "Since May 25, we've seen deeper relationships among people in town and in our congregation. We are humbled to be a part of it."

By enduring this situation, the Zurbriggens, Calvary Baptist Church, and the community of Parkersburg are being challenged and strengthened. And perhaps, a few years down the road, the Zurbriggens and Parkersburg will reflect upon this trying time just as Ryan did about his time at Sioux Falls Seminary, "It has been the greatest and most stretching time of our lives. It is exactly where we needed to be."

To find out how you can assist, contact Calvary Baptist Church by phone at 319.346.1208 or by mail to: Calvary Baptist Church, PO Box 668, Parkersburg, IA 50665-1042.

prayer requests:
Pray for the children of Parkersburg. Many are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and are fearful and anxious. Pray that they may find comfort and that their parents will know how to meet their needs.

Many homes and businesses, including Calvary Baptist Church, that received only minor damage in the storm are starting to show signs of larger, structural damage. Pray that these new issues can be repaired easily and without further complication or damage.

As the members of Calvary Baptist Church are seeing the power in the body of Christ, pray that they will be presented with the opportunity to share the love of Christ with others and pass on the blessings they've received.