A Flood of Compassion - A Nebraskan Christian and Missionary Alliance church rallies its community to build a home for flood victims

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A Flood of Compassion

A church shows a village the Alliance way

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Pastor Bob Witt of Wallace Community Church

On most days, you’ll find Pastor Bob Witt in his office at Jim’s Picks & Treasures in Wallace, Nebraska. He shares that space on Commercial Avenue with a variety of “antiques and collectibles,” a wall of rusted state license plates, and an itinerant hair dresser, Kim, who drives more than 300 miles west from Omaha 10 days a month to cut the locals’ hair.

In this section of the country, where big is measured in thousands of acres and how many pivots (a circular irrigation system) a farm requires, Wallace, population 366, is small by all accounts. “We’re village people,” laughs Bob, noting that in the Cornhusker State, a community is a village if its population is between 100 and 800 people.

Being Alliance

Several years ago, a handful of members from a Wallace church were concerned that their denomination had drifted away from scriptural truth. Drawn to Hamlet Union Church (Alliance), an hour’s drive south, for its strong Bible teaching and missions emphasis, the small group accepted the Hamlet congregation’s offer to help plant an Alliance church in Wallace. In December 2013, Bob was called to pastor Wallace Community Church, which is currently renting space in the community hall.

“We’re teaching this new congregation what it means to be Alliance,” says Yvonne, Bob’s wife.

“Each week, I preach on obedience to the Holy Spirit—total surrender to Jesus,” Bob adds, choking back tears. “We’re called to selfless love, sacrificial love, the love of Jesus.”

Sunday services always include a missions moment, often a video about Alliance work around the world. A former game warden, the 50-something father of two teenagers credits two Alliance short-term missions trips to Africa for inspiring his call to become a pastor.

Pastor to a Community

“My district superintendent told me when I was called to Wallace, I was called not just to pastor this church, but the whole community,” Bob observes. In the summer of 2015, he was presented an opportunity to rise to that calling.

On the night of June 17, severe thunderstorms battered Wallace with five and half inches of rain. Four blocks west of Pastor Bob’s office, Gary and Joan Ott were sound asleep in their home on South Indiana Avenue. Gary, 70, recalls waking up about 1:00 a.m. “Our cat, Mittens, kept jumping on the bed, which she never did, and looking me square in the eye.”

When he reached out to calm the mother of five new kittens, “she was soakin’ wet. All I could think about was making sure the kittens were OK.” He immediately got out of bed and stepped into water—“it was an inch from the top of our mattress.”

Gary splashed over to their closet where the kittens slept. He found four on top of an air conditioner he’d planned to install. The fifth was under a drenched comforter near the bed.

Cold and wet, Mittens and her litter survived. But the Otts’ home for 40 of their 50 years of marriage couldn’t withstand the 17 inches or more of water that poured into their house that night, submerging their appliances, furniture, family photos, and keepsakes in filthy water.

A Compassionate Advocate

The next day, two women in the community told Pastor Bob the Ott family home had substantial damage. “I felt convicted to go see them,” he recalls. “When I met with them, I felt compassion; these people needed an advocate. When Gary told me, ‘No one has come to help’—that struck my heart. I knew God wanted these folks to have an advocate.”

Bob immediately put out a call to the community to meet and decide how they could address the Ott family’s immediate needs. Gary was spending about $100 a day in fuel to dry out his house, so the group donated money for gasoline cards. When a woman heard Joan needed a roaster (essential cookware in rural Nebraska), she jumped up to retrieve one from her home and took it to the family.

Further investigation revealed it would cost $30,000 to repair the house, which insurance wouldn’t cover. Brad Kinney, who attends Bob’s church and owns a construction business, accompanied the pastor to assess the needs. “I can’t justify working on this house,” Brad told Bob. “We need to build this family a new one.” Another contractor estimated a new home might run about $40,000.

“We’d seen the need,” Bob says. “Now it was time to be the hands and feet of Jesus to do this.”

Sharing the Love of Jesus

Bob and Brad approached the Otts about building them a new house. It was a tough sell. Like most folks in and around Wallace, the Otts were proud, self-reliant folks. “I thought it was asking too much,” says Gary. “I’d much rather be on the giving end.”

Gary had served as the Wallace Fire Chief for 25 years and had been a janitor for 15 years in the Wallace school system, where Joan was a teacher’s aide. The Otts had survived several health scares, but the flood, says Bob, “brought them to their knees.”

When the couple reluctantly accepted the offer, “Ott Friends”—a group of local organizations, churches, businesses, and individuals—was formed. Brad began designing an efficient, two-bedroom plan for the new home.

The morning Bob had called civic leaders to meet, “I was still struggling with how we would do this,” he recalls. Prompted to go to his mailbox, he found a letter from Gary’s nephew. It included a check for $1,000 with a Post-it note: “Thank you for sharing the love of Jesus.”

“I knew then that God was going to build this house!” he says. At the meeting Bob shared Mark 12:31—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—explaining that whoever God places in front of us with a need is our neighbor.

“We’ve raised more than $40,000 of the needed funds from our community,” Bob notes. Wallace Community Church members have donated more than $10,000 to the cause.

A Solid Foundation

To ensure the family’s protection from future flooding, a foundation was poured that stands nearly three feet in height. In one weekend, volunteers gathered to put up the walls and put a roof on the new house.

“We’ve now put up siding and most of the windows are in,” Bob explains. “Brad’s worked every day, supervising the volunteers. He’s sacrificed making money on his own business for this project.”

Brad also reports that about $15,000 in labor and supplies has been donated from area businesses, including well drilling and a water line hook up, lumber, shingles, a solid surface shower, and a septic tank.

“A guy in the Catholic church in another town is getting us beds and a stove,” Gary adds. “And a kid [I knew] when I worked at the high school is donating a dishwasher.”

New Beginnings

Overcome by the community’s generosity, Gary told Pastor Bob he was going to start coming to church. “I said, ‘Hey, it’s not about church, Gary. It’s about helping you and building a house. If you want to come to church, that’s up to you, but that’s not why we’re doing this.’” A couple of weeks later, Gary and Joan showed up for the Sunday morning service.

Pastor Bob doesn’t want credit, but God needed someone to lead this community; I firmly believe Pastor is God’s right-hand man. —Gary Ott

“Gary came to my office in Jim’s Picks shortly after that,” Bob recalls. “I talked to him about having a relationship with the living, breathing Lord. He gave his life to Christ that day.”

Gary’s daughter, Crystal, began noticing changes in her dad, who, like herself, she says, tended to be a loner. She, her husband, Cody, and their three children began attending Wallace Community with her parents.

In a text to Pastor Bob one Sunday after he’d preached on the Parable of the Good Soil, Crystal wrote: “It touched my heart so much I had tears in my eyes during the sermon. You definitely planted the seed, and I feel as if I have good soil. It just need[ed to be] watered, loved, and giv[en] time to grow! I am ready to accept Jesus!”

“Since I’ve come to know Jesus through Pastor Bob,” she says, beaming, “I’ve come out of my shell and feel so much joy and warmth. I’ve become a more loving person, receiving the love and care from others.”

“This has brought our whole family together,” Gary observes, his voice catching. “You kind of drift apart, but now, we’re one again. If this flood is what it took to get us back together and love God like we do now, it’s been all worth it!”

A United Community

Gary’s summation of how God is transforming his family applies to Wallace and the surrounding community as well.

“This has been a labor of love,” Bob observes. “Everyone agrees it’s been a great time of fellowship between neighbors, including ladies from Wallace and beyond who have brought lunches to the Saturday workdays.”

“Everyone gets along and is doing great, joking and playing around,” Gary adds. “Driving in Wallace, it’s like a parade route. Not just at me, everyone is waving like their arms are gonna fall off!

“We used to be all to ourselves; now we’re one again.”

For more of the story, watch Love Thy Neighbor:

Kingdom Work

Recently, Bob preached on the Parable of the Mustard Seed (Mark 4:30–34). “This parable about the Kingdom of God is a picture of our church,” he shared. “We’ve had humble beginnings, but we are sharing with our community the love of Jesus like they haven’t seen before; they’re seeing it lived out. “Our church has become like a mustard tree that can grow 15 feet high and six feet around. He has taken this small fellowship and transformed it into something big—a place of rest from religion, from judgmental attitudes, from a lack of love and care. People are meeting Jesus as we’ve continued to be His hands and feet. Let us continue to follow Him, continue being a place of refuge in our community. Let’s do Kingdom work, church.” “These good churchgoing folks,” says Yvonne, describing Wallace Community members, “are learning the Alliance way, our DNA, what it means to know missionaries, how the Great Commission Fund supports them. We often show Alliance videos during our weekly missions moments. Bob’s heart is missions.” Last year, the congregation (about 40 regular attendees) gave more than $19,000, nearly 23 percent of the church’s income, to the Great Commission Fund.

6 responses to A Flood of Compassion

  1. I had no idea this had happened. I am so grateful for Bob and the community of Wallace to help Gary and Joan. It has been many years since I have seen my cousins The Ott’s. It’s time to head west for a visit with Good People. God Bless!

  2. Praise God from whom all Blessings flow!! This story made my heart “smile!” We have a son who lives in Sidney, NE, and this so touched my heart. Thank You for showing the true love of Christ, it is not about religion but about Jesus-our Savior!!!

  3. Gary & Joan slept in their new home on Nov. 21st. They are very thankful for the help of all individuals, businesses and organizations who contributed. More importantly we are all thankful how the love of Jesus came out of this project and the work of the CMA staff conveyed the love of Christ in this article and the video. In God We Trust

  4. We are so proud of you and your community. God uses any situation for His glory and to teach us! What a win – win for everyone involved.

  5. I had to keep wiping the tears! Makes me want to go to Wallace :-) Beautiful story. Beautiful Lord!

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