The Rock Assembly's gymnasium was filled with clothes, food and water for most of the summer. The gym also continues to house volunteer workers from around the country. Photo by Kyle Schwab, The Oklahoman
When John Gifford answered the phone an hour after the May 20 tornado, he had no idea what was in store for his southwest Oklahoma City church.
The call came from one of the deacons at The Rock Assembly. Gifford, 71, has been the Rock's interim pastor for the past eight months.
The deacon told him there were about 400 emergency workers wanting to set up a command center in front of the church, at 12500 S Pennsylvania Ave.
Without hesitation, Gifford approved.
“It was like I just knew that this is the right thing to do, and I saw it as an opportunity,” Gifford said. “Somebody's got to do this stuff; we've got the perfect place.”
For the next two weeks, the Rock's 20-acre property housed multiple mobile command units for Oklahoma City police and fire departments, as well as a Red Cross feeding station.
“We never locked the front door for two weeks,” Gifford said.
All church facilities, inside and out, were utilized for tornado relief. Emergency workers were able to hold conferences, set up bulletin boards with maps, and coordinate resources.
Gifford canceled the church's Wednesday and Sunday night services to ensure emergency workers would continue having full access.
“I've been studying the Bible for over 40 years, and I haven't found anything about Wednesday services in there, but I found a lot about helping your neighbors,” Gifford said.
It was, he said, “a no-brainer.”
“It was more important for us to be a part of the community, helping them serve the community, than to be a church running its programs,” Gifford said. “Programs have their place, but people always come ahead of programs, and they were helping a lot of hurting people.”
‘Walmart for Jesus'
John Gifford poses with emergency relief workers at The Rock Assembly. Photo provided by The Rock Assembly
The Rock began collecting food, water and clothing in the gymnasium behind the church. Supplies were available for tornado victims through July.
“This is what we like to call the Rock General Store or Walmart for Jesus,” Gifford said as he walked up and down the aisles of groceries.
Volunteers from across the country continue to use the gym as a place to sleep. Cots and air mattresses are strewn throughout its two floors.
“It was a terrible natural disaster, but it was a wonderful opportunity to put Christian principles into practice,” Gifford said. “And we're ready to do it any time.”