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Sonlight Church and Community Center
The new Sonlight Church and Community Center (AG) was dedicated on November 9, 2014.

Skepticism. Disbelief. Strong opposition. Those were the kind of attitudes that greeted Pastor Chris Boggs and his wife Glenda when they talked about their small church of 40 people building a new church in 2009.

When the economy fell in 2010 and the new church was just underway, the negativity — especially from the religious community — poured in.

And a few months later, when Pastor Boggs felt convicted that the church should be built debt-free . . . .

For the past 15 years, the Boggses have been ministering at Sonlight AG, in Weston, Ohio, a small town with a population of about 1,500. When they first took over the church, it was nearly dead.

"If it wasn't for our home church, Kettering Assembly of God in Dayton (Ohio) supporting us like missionaries for the first few years, we never would have made it," Pastor Boggs says, explaining he also drove a school bus to help make ends meet. The church building itself was far from ideal — small, 14 steps up to the entrance, no alcove area, and no place to grow.

But finally, after extensive preparation and planning, the church decided to build. The challenge was, they did not have much money, no property to build on, and at that time, even home loans were tough to come by.

Struggling to find property to build on, Boggs and the church board requested the help of a former board member. They anointed him with oil, prayed over him, and sent him out to find the property God wanted the church to be built on.

Boggs says God gave them favor with a landowner who had refused all others in their attempts to purchase a prime 5-acre piece of property that sat on the highway intersection. Not only we're they able to purchase the land, but the man they had anointed felt led to buy the property for the church and give the church a substantial gift to begin its building program.

The church itself was also raising funds for the building program and on September 19, 2010, broke ground on the building.

"Our plan was to get a shell up and then as money came in, we would work on it," Boggs says. "Then, whatever was left to do, we would get a loan to finish it up."

Although donations were still coming in from unexpected sources as well as through pledges, it was barely enough to keep the building moving forward. "It doesn't take long to burn through money when building," Boggs admits.

But then the game changed. After attending a Financial Peace University event in January of 2011, Boggs was convicted that the church should be built without debt, meaning no loans. From that point on, the Boggses became cheerleaders, emphasizing the progress, while facing skepticism in the community.

Sonlight Church dedication ceremony
Pastor Chris Boggs (with plaque) and his wife, Glenda, at the dedication celebration.

For the next three years, the church would slowly progress, with God providing key gifts of money and encouragement along the way -- including other AG churches helping out and a friend handing the keys of a Jaguar automobile to the Boggses.

"I drove the car of my dreams for three months," Boggs says, "but then I felt the Holy Spirit convicting me. So, I sold the car, paid off some debts and gave the rest to the church building fund." The donation helped the church raise $25,000 in one offering.

But as progress slowed and frustrations mounted, the Holy Spirit gave Boggs a simple solution. "In a small town, rumors get started and people were saying that the church had gone bankrupt, which wasn't true," he says, "so I painted on our sign, 'Please be patient; we're building debt free.'"

That sign started changing some attitudes. People in the community liked the idea of a church building debt free and more people began to support the effort.

Finally, after nearly four years of fund-raising, encouraging and Boggs' overcoming his own personal frustrations with the never-ending help of his wife, the new church, Sonlight Church and Community Center, was dedicated on November 9 with a healthy, growing congregation of 80.

Boggs says the church has been transformed through the completion of the building.

"I believe our people had the poverty mentality, 'we can't, we're poor' — that is totally gone and has been replaced with 'We can do anything through Christ!'" Boggs says. "There's a difference in their attitude in who they are in Christ and what they can accomplish in Christ. This has really grown their faith!"

As far as where the credit lies for an estimated $1.5 million church being built debt free, Boggs is quick to respond. "There's no way this could have happened without the Lord smiling down and giving us favor. And because of this, I know He has big plans for this church."

The first phase of the new church is actually a gymnasium with classrooms and offices located above it. Boggs says it allows for seating of up to 300 and makes the church available for all kinds of church and community activities. In fact, the church is planning on starting an Upwards basketball league for kids in their community in January.

"I am looking forward to the day when we can put a sanctuary up in front of the gymnasium," Boggs admits, but then adds with a laugh, "but right now, I'm exhausted, so a little break might be good!"


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God at work: transforming tragedy into testimony

Wed, 23 Jan 2013 - 3:31 PM CST

Full Gospel Church -- damage
Ruined drywall, carpeting and other water-logged items begin to pile up outside a side door of the Full Gospel Church of Island Park.

It wasn't a good day.

Pastor Peter Conforti and the members of Full Gospel Church (AG) of Island Park, New York, were left shocked, speechless - struck to the core. When Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast late in October 2012, damage was expected . . . , but this. This was much more than anyone imagined.

With many of his congregants from the hard-hit areas of Island Park and Long Beach, Pastor Conforti suddenly found his church of 250 had almost instantly dwindled to 60 as some members had their homes totally destroyed or made at least temporarily uninhabitable. And unknown to them at the time, the area would mostly be without power - with the exception of generators - for the next three weeks or more.

The church building didn't escape the wrath of Hurricane Sandy either. Four feet of water sat in the parking lot with a foot of standing seawater inside the building. The parsonage (located in Long Beach) was also heavily damaged by the flooding.

"The church was on higher ground, so we never thought it would be flooded," Conforti says, a sense of disbelief still evident in his voice. "But the sanctuary, fellowship hall, kitchen, Christian education wing - all had water standing in them. When the water receded, we took out the carpet, pews . . . anything even remotely close to the floor was finished, because the sea water is so corrosive and full of bacteria, it made a mess of everything.

"One of the first things that hit me," Conforti continues, "was how inclusive the damage was - it was everybody, everybody [in the community] was under water - basements, first floors and even higher than that. Everyone was scrambling trying to find places to live, or to come back to, but for many, everything was gone."

But even as things seemed to be going from bad to worse, as freezing temperatures and a snowstorm were expected to hit the area with power still out, God was already at work.

"Convoy of Hope was here within 24 hours," Conforti says, "setting up a relief distribution center at a nearby elementary school. People also came down from the New York District office, including Chaplain Don Schneider, and churches came to help and show their support in a big way."

Yet, as Convoy of Hope began distributing emergency relief supplies, Conforti says something odd began to happen.

Full Gospel Church -- sign
People, anonymous and known, began to drop off all kinds of supplies at the church for victims.

"For some reason, people just started coming by the church and dropping off clothing and furniture for people in need," Conforti says. "Within days, we were a clothing distribution center."

As the community reeled, Conforti and Full Gospel Church became a constant. The community knew where to go for aid. After three weeks, power was restored, and the church unexpectedly transitioned again.

"When the power came back on, Samaritan's Purse contacted us - they wanted to use our church for a staging area," Conforti says, conveying his surprise. "I tried to explain that our church interior was nothing more than cement floors and exposed beams where the drywall had been ripped out. But they assured us that the church would be fine."

And so it was.

Joining with Full Gospel Church and chaplains, Samaritan's Purse brought in teams to go into homes, rip out the damaged drywall, dry out the home and then spray it for mold - at no cost.

It wasn't long before word spread about what Samaritan's Purse and Full Gospel Church were doing. More and more people came to the church to sign up for a team to come to their homes.

"The sole purpose of the Samaritan's Purse outreach was to show people God's love in a tangible way," Conforti says. "We were there as well, with chaplains from the Billy Graham organization, helping people deal with the loss and frustrations they were experiencing."

As the teams ministered to people with their attitudes and physical labor, the spiritual doors began to open. "People were asking, 'Why are you here?'" Conforti says. "And we told them, 'We're here to help you and show you God loves you, knows what you're going through and to trust Him.'"

Conforti explains that prior to Hurricane Sandy, the church had many walls and stereotypes to overcome in order to reach the community. But following the storm, where the church and ministries displayed the love of Christ through being a servant to the community, people were suddenly more receptive and open.

"Our first week of services, we had about 60 people here," Conforti says. "The next, we had about 120."

However, since the beginning of the Samaritan's Purse outreach into homes, Conforti says about 80 people have accepted Christ as their Lord and Savior. The church is also running 250 again - but the congregation is made up of a lot of new faces as many of the original families have still been unable to return to their homes or have moved from the area.

Conforti doesn't believe the church could have ever made this kind of impact upon its community through evangelism, crusade meetings or programs.

"I don't see how," Conforti says. "Even if we went door-to-door in this community - half the doors would never be opened and those that did open, once they heard where we were from, they would never listen."

He explains that once people come to realize the offer to help is legitimate and they aren't asking for anything in return, attitudes change.

"Many have seen acts of love before," Conforti observes, "but for a person to go down into a crawl space loaded with mold and scrape it out for a total stranger? That's love. And people are responding to a demonstration of love they've never seen before!

Full Gospel Church -- interior
Stripped of the "amenities" of most churches and acting as a storage area for donations, Full Gospel Church has found God doing incredible things in the community as the church places the community's needs ahead of its own.

"We prayed as a church for many years to be a lighthouse to the community and to see people come to the Lord," Conforti says. "Look at what God is doing! People know us and not in a negative way - 'You're the church that's helping the community even though you have damage to your building.' Only God can do that. He's the One that's changing hearts and minds - even when we still have concrete floor, blue tarps and wet dry wall around us."

Author: Dan Van Veen

Editor's note: Convoy of Hope is also helping families with recovery by working through churches, in conjunction with local recovery efforts and case managers, to provide insulation and sheetrock. The church is following up on Samaritan's Purse contacts with a team of 12 people and is also developing small groups to meet within the community. For those desiring to help, contact Convoy of Hope, the New York District Office or the church for additional information.

 

Keywords: AG churches

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