Fire Restoration Unites Communities

December 22, 2021 | Church | Wendell Downs

On July 24, 2021, during the Sabbath morning offering appeal, Alaska Conference camp meeting attendees were called to help restore the home of Andrew and Rhianna VanOrnum, members of the Sunshine Church near Talkeetna, Alaska.

The VanOrum home had burned to the ground the night before while Andrew was out. His wife, Rhianna, and their children had miraculously escaped without injury. The offering and conference matching funds came to approximately $20,000, laying a solid foundation for a reconstruction project launch.

Word spread through the Wasilla Church congregation. Patrick Teagarden, Wasilla Adventist Community Services director, immediately called for volunteers. Wendell and Linda Downs were assigned to assist with identifying volunteer help and perform cost accounting. Members of the Palmer Church wanted to be involved, too. Lee Grimstad and Rob Carleson, Craftsmen for Christ leaders, offered to share their skills for the project.

The Talkeetna Fire Chief launched a GoFundMe campaign to help the family. It eventually netted $45,000. In addition, Moore’s Hardware agreed to provide building material at cost, and cover costs for rental equipment from its store.

God’s miracles were evident. With funds in place, the group was ready to organize.

On Aug. 5, a planning group met at the Wasilla Church. Under Teagerden's leadership with ACS, the wheels began to turn and generosity continued to stir.

All the windows needed for the new home were donated during the meeting. It was determined that a 300-foot driveway to access the property was most urgent. But God was moving. Almost unbelievably, the very next morning Sam McCullough, a local contractor, had already fulfilled the need with the help of his crew. 

God also moved in the hearts of Tom Bosnjak and Mark Woodward, Adventist volunteer missionaries, who provided free demolition and cleanup of the property, which took place Aug. 8, 2021.

Every Sunday thereafter was dedicated to home rebuilding. Experienced craftsmen, Grimstad, Carleson, Robert Carey and George Alder, led teams in specific areas of construction. Both Talkeetna church members and community locals continued to show up for work on Sundays and sometimes during the week as well. Wasilla and Talkeetna church members even provided lunch for the workers.

 It was thrilling to watch the house progress with little fuss or friction. By October, the home was sealed up with exterior paint, a wood stove in place and insulation and sheet rock installed. The family moved into their new home at the end of October, though there is still more work to be done. God continues to move in the hearts of volunteers to keep this project moving forward.  

This project brought together people from three Adventist churches as well the Talkeetna community. People have marveled at the comradery developed between a broad cross-section of volunteers. God truly blessed, and continues to bless the hearts and efforts of all involved.