NORFOLK, NE – Lighthouses dot coastlines across the world to serve as beacons to warn against potential dangers that lurk in oceans, seas and lakes. Recently, a Norfolk church served as the keeper of the flame of its own lighthouse, of sorts, as it opened its doors to hundreds of college students in what could have turned into a dire situation.
On the morning of Thursday, March 14, Dr. Michael Chipps, president of Northeast Community College, contacted Tim DeFor, lead minister of First Christian Church, in regards to housing hundreds of students after the City of Norfolk ordered an evacuation of a portion of the community due to potential flood threat on the North Fork River. The church is located approximately a half-mile east of campus and was out of the evacuation area.
“While Northeast has some sizeable buildings in our technical programs, they don’t have sufficient resources for that size of group. So, we immediately called Pastor DeFor regarding our situation to see if he could assist. When I told him how many people we had, he said, without hesitation, ‘Bring them on!’ I deeply appreciate First Christian Church, its staff and congregation for assisting the college in a time of need.”
Many of the 543 students who live in Burkhardt, Path, and Simon halls and two apartment buildings had places to stay with family, friends and others, while close to 200 others found shelter at the church.
The students ended up staying approximately 26-hours at First Christian where they were well fed, entertained and kept comfortable as separate sleeping areas for men and women were provided. Once the evacuation order was lifted, the students were allowed to leave the church at approximately 9:00 Friday morning, March 15.
During a recent meeting of the Northeast Board of Governors, Chipps personally thanked DeFor and his senior staff members.
“We are here as College leadership to personally say thank you to Pastor DeFor and his staff for showing us the true meaning of community. You worked alongside us in taking care of our students the entire time we were there, and for that, we are most grateful.”
DeFor said his staff and congregation were happy to assist Northeast. But he said while the situation with the students was a larger scale operation, there were others doing the same thing across northeast Nebraska.
“Less than half of the 543 students who live on campus stayed at First Christian, which means most of them ended up in homes of family, friends and neighbors. So what we did on a larger scale was happening on a smaller scale all over the place, which is just phenomenal.”
DeFor also commended leadership of both the college and church who ensured the students remained safe.
“Watching Dr. Chipps and his staff and getting to know all of them better made me realize that what he has is very similar to what I have, and that is – when you get a good team, you look good. Our part was very easy - your part was hard. The way Northeast responded is a testament to the college and its team.”
Dr. Michael Chipps, president of Northeast Community College (left) and Tim DeFor, lead minister of First Christian Church, (far right) share a laugh as members of Northeast and First Christian senior leadership teams look on. College administration invited church leaders to a recent meeting of the College Board of Governors to say thank you after First Christian housed approximately 200 on-campus students following an evacuation order during the recent flooding.