Glimpses of Grace in Guam: Typhoon Relief Reflects Vital Partnership Stateside

 In All Church of God, CHOG, Western

By Carl Stagner

In 1898, the western Pacific island of Guam became a U.S. territory. Thirty miles long and 9 miles wide, Guam is 3,700 miles southwest of Honolulu and 6,000 miles west of San Francisco. Given its size and lack of proximity to the continental United States, the effects of isolation mustn’t be dismissed as insignificant for the general population or, more specifically, for the Church of God there. A vibrant Church of God family carries out Christ-centered ministry year-round in Guam, in fact, though perhaps not everyone between California and New York is familiar with these faraway sisters and brothers. A destructive 2023 typhoon, however, revealed glimpses of grace in Guam and strengthened a vital partnership stateside.

For all who faced the flooding and fierce winds, May 24, 2023, is a date that won’t be forgotten. Due to coastal flooding, downed trees, and damage to homes and structures of all kinds, most of the island suffered power loss and went without phone and water service for several weeks. Though Guam received a major disaster declaration at the time, releasing millions of dollars in federal aid, the scope of devastation required far more than that, and the long-term restoration efforts necessitated far more than what money could buy. That’s where the Church of God in Guam and partners several thousand miles away bridged the gap.

Adriene Richards, who serves as district coordinator for the Church of God Association of Northern California, Northern Nevada, Hawaii, and Guam, explains how the local congregations communicated updates during and after the storm.

Tree and structure damage as seen from the church in Barrigada.

“We have two churches on the island,” she explains, “one of whom—First Church of God in Barrigada, Guam—is very active in our association, despite the distance. They asked for prayer prior to the event and, due to us being on the mainland and the access we had to information on the storm, I acted as Pastor Ron Guison’s contact and informant on the process of the storm, Typhoon Mawar. The whole island was instructed to shelter in place, in concrete buildings, and had no internet service, as well as minimal phone service. Via text, Ron would update us on their well-being, ask what the condition of Guam was, and where the storm was at different points.”

The impact was major. Pastor Ron and his family were relegated to the church’s fellowship hall for several months following storm damage to the parsonage, including mold. Much of the church building also suffered at the hands of the typhoon. At the regional association’s Family Camp stateside, a love offering for First Church in Barrigada was taken up and sent in an initial response of compassion and care. But, in recognition of more than eighteen years of faithful ministry carried out by Pastor Ron and his family with no visit from the mainland, the regional association stateside knew they need to put faces, hands, and feet to the funds they’d collected.

Seven leaders set out to strengthen the bond between the Church of God in Guam and the association under which they serve so faithfully: in addition to Adriene Richards, Mike Mugford, regional pastor; Chris Kinson, pastor emeritus from Community Church of God in Chico, California; Dennis Carroll, elder from Foundation Christian Church in Citrus Heights, California; Jon Richards, pastor of Village in Sacramento, California; and Roy Bray and Jerry Wolfe, lay leaders from Village in Sacramento.

Before and after: Replaced church sign thanks to Church of God generosity!

“We really thought we were coming to paint the exterior of their church,” Adriene recalls, “protecting the building from further water damage, and that Pastor Mike would spend some time with Ron and Yvette. Those things happened, and the church looks great, but by far the most noteworthy part of the trip was finding family halfway around the world. We spent time getting to know one another, encouraging, worshipping, [getting into] the Word, and being overwhelmed with the most genuine, effusive hospitality any of us had ever experienced—beginning with an 11:00 PM welcome at the airport in Guam, complete with signs, gifts, and tons of love!”

Adriene describes the relational connection established in person as the best part of the experience. Though it took a solid thirty hours to travel to Guam, and though the culture was visibly different than what they were used to, she says, “Every one of us felt like we left far richer than we came.” Since the trip, they made plans to see Pastors Ron and Yvette at the annual Advance Conference in November.

That’s just one way the regional association sees their relationship with Guam growing in the weeks, months, and years to come. In addition to more frequent check-ins via traditional and contemporary communication means, ideas have been floated to develop an internship or perhaps even an exchange program of sorts to encourage ministry training and discipleship. Others have been heard talking about returning to Guam, while some in Guam have been heard discussing the possibility of a missions trip from Guam to accomplish work on behalf of the Church of God stateside.

Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.

Feature (top) photo: First Church of God (Barrigada, Guam) welcoming committee at the airport!

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