Fargo, North Dakota, pastor Jordan Peck has been through it all recently—a flood, a home birth, and a church plant. On the weekend of this year’s ASI Convention, he begins a full-message evangelistic campaign near the campus of North Dakota State University. Adventist Review editor Bill Knott recently interviewed Peck about the events made famous through a CNN news story in late March 2009.
KNOTT: You’ve been through some amazing experiences in the past three months, Jordan. Tell me about your battle with the Red River.
PECK: It was the largest flood they had on record there in Fargo, above what they had in 1997. When we moved there in early 2009, my wife and I decided we wanted to live outside of town in the country a little bit. We were north of town, actually on the Minnesota side, and we had a house near the Red River. We were out-of-towners, and we really had no idea of what the Red River could do. In late March we found out that this flood was coming and the waters were getting higher and higher, closer and closer to the house.
How many days did it take for this to happen?
It was a progression over about two weeks that we watched the river rise every day. We were a couple of football fields from the river’s edge in normal times, but when you get to a 40.5-foot crest, it doesn’t matter.
You must have been praying very seriously at this point!
The river continued to get higher and we continued to ask the Lord for some deliverance. My wife was expecting our daughter any day. In hindsight, we were so blessed to have the baby come prior to the real bad part of the flood. The baby was delivered March 23, 2009, at 11:43 p.m.—and I was the midhusband.
Were you planning on a home birth?
We actually planned on having a home birth, but the midwife who was going to come to help us from North Dakota wasn’t able to come. We made some calls and actually found another midwife on the Minnesota side, about two and a half hours north of us. But the contractions at this point were coming closer together, and my wife said to me, “Jordan, I think you are going to deliver this baby.” I said, “I don’t want to deliver this baby.” We got the older kids off to bed, and it wasn’t another hour and a half later when Natalie said, “Hey, this baby is coming.” We had all the supplies for a home birth there because we had been planning on it. The baby came about four hours after the contractions started. I caught the baby, cleared her mouth and throat, set her on top of my wife, and rubbed the baby until she started crying. It was really amazing.
Tell me where the river was while all this was happening.
The river continued to rise in the hours after our daughter was born. When the baby was a day and a half old, we decided that we needed to sandbag around the house. Because of the cold temperatures the sandbags were frozen solid, and so the National Guard decided to call it off. By then I said, “This river is getting too close. I have to get the family out of here.” So I evacuated them that Wednesday night.
Where did you go?
I helped my wife out of the house and into the car with the baby and the older children, and they headed out. They went to some Adventist friends who were just a little bit north of us. I decided I needed to stay back and figure out something. The following day we worked it out to have local high school kids bussed in to help us build a sandbag wall around our house. We had about a four-foot-high sandbag wall all around the house. The problem was the initial bags were frozen solid.
That meant that they wouldn’t hold back the water very well?
Right. I decided to stay there and fight the flood. I had been given some pumps and the power was still on. We initially had property that was riverfront; and then due to the flooding, â?¨we had lakefront property; and then we had our own private island. By Sabbath, March 28, I was on my own private island.
You were completely surrounded?
Completely surrounded with water. Some places it was two feet deep; some places it was five feet deep, but it wasn’t up to the base of the house yet. On Sabbath afternoon, the water started coming in under the sandbags a little faster than I could pump it out. By the end, I had four pumps going, pumping the water out that was coming in. Finally, though, the power flickered, came back on, flickered again, and then it was gone.
Did you have any generators for backup?
We did, but it was going to be a big challenge to get the gas out to the house across the flooded area for all those days to keep the pumps going. And I was also thinking, I can stay here and fight this thing, or I can just be with my family. I decided to leave, and finally got out on a canoe.
How deep was the water around your house by then?
By then, at least three feet. And it was starting to go into the basement. By the time I left, the basement was about a third full and just coming in too fast. So I left with my friends in the canoe. And that’s where the video was shot with the story that went on CNN and our local station. They were there with their cameras and they caught me coming in the canoe. There’s a lot of confusion that I battled two miles in the canoe to get my whole family to safety. Not quite that dramatic. I picked up my family from my friends and we went to the Bismarck area and stayed with family for a couple of weeks until we decided what to do with the house.
Where did you find a place to live?
The Lord provided a nice rental place while we wait to see what will be done with the house. The federal government is working with the state in a buyout plan for homes that got flooded. And ours is on the list. There is the possibility that they will buy out our home, so we will just go from there. We can see through this thing and know that the devil is doing whatever he can to prohibit the cause of God from advancing in Fargo. It seems like the devil doesn’t want this church to get going. The Lord has been so faithful, and I’m incredibly encouraged. Some of these trials we are facing in order to get this church going show that God has some great, great people out there for His cause. I’m learning through this whole thing to embrace these trials and to praise God for them. God is doing something great to my own heart, making me more like Him through what I’m experiencing. He’s also planning on doing something great for the advancement of the Advent message in the Fargo area.
Tell me about the church plant. Are you starting a new congregation out of the existing Adventist congregation in Fargo?
No, it’s a “cold” church plant, I guess you could say. It’s just my wife, myself, and a literature evangelist (LE) we’ve been blessed to be able to hire part-time. There wasn’t anything to build on. The whole idea of the cold church plant is that we aren’t taking members from another church.
A lot of Adventists would find that a formidable assignment!
I’ve had three years or so of Bible work—that is what I’ve been doing. I decided to do what has been working for me, and that’s knocking on doors. Most of the time I’ll say, “I’m a new pastor in this area and wanted to know if you had an interest in studying the Bible.” I’ve gotten somewhere between 10 and 15 Bible studies just using that simple approach. The LE working with us has found 10 to 15 Bible studies. Of mine, about eight or nine seem pretty seriously interested, and nearly 10 of hers. The neat thing about this is that the median age is somewhere between 20 and 30.
When do you plan to start worship services?
Two weeks prior to camp meeting (June 11-13) I signed a lease on a building, an office front. It’s 10 blocks south of the university, which was an answer to prayer. We found out that nearly 18,000 people on average drive by this place every day. So we threw our banner for our Web site out there and got our church name up really quick. . . . We plan on meeting for services August 8 for the first time.
What are you calling the new church plant?
Red River Adventist Church. I figured considering all the contact I’ve had with the Red River, and that everyone around there knows the Red River pretty well, it’s a familiar name.
What do you need for God’s people to do for you right now, Jordan?
We need God’s people to pray. I really encourage young people who have a desire to seek the Lord and be part of His work—there’s a place for you here in Fargo to join with the Advent movement. My wife and I, through this whole thing, have decided that we need to make a real big push in our universities, secular universities, to spread the message. I would love to see God’s people turn their backs to the prevailing winds, to the trials, and huddle together. I think if we would form a group, we would bring ourselves together into one cause, to bring glory to God and win souls to this message. Then many of these side issues would really fall away. That’s my prayer.