Missionary family battles back after fire
By Gary Popp
Published in News on December 25, 2011 1:50 AM
News-Argus/FROM STAFF REPORTS
From left, Aiden, John, Tabitha, Eliza and Olivia Groeneveld stand in front of their former home. They lost everything in a fire, but were able to save their computer which contained some family photographs. Since the fire, the family has received many donations from their church, Faith Free Will Baptist, and from the community.
While many people were finishing their last-minute holiday shopping, John and Tabitha Groeneveld, both nurses in the intensive care unit at Wayne Memorial Hospital who also perform missionary work in Africa, were making sure they and their three young children would have a roof over their heads on Christmas morning.
In early December, a fire started outside the family's Goldsboro home at 201 Morgan Trace Lane while Groeneveld, his children and his sister were sleeping. Everyone evacuated safely, but the home was destroyed.
Groeneveld was jolted from his sleep around 3 a.m. on Dec. 4 by his sister, who was visiting from out of town, warning of the fire in the home.
He quickly realized the fire had started in a doghouse next to the home and went for a garden hose.
"I got the hose, then I looked up and saw smoke coming out of the overhang around the roof," Groeneveld said. "I knew then that the fire was not limited to the doghouse. I ran back inside, got the kids out and called 911."
Moments later Groeneveld called his wife who was in the middle of a work shift at the hospital.
Mrs. Groeneveld was driven by a friend to her burning home to join her husband and their children, Aiden, 2, Olivia, 3, and Eliza, 5, a student at Faith Christian Academy.
Mrs. Groeneveld said it was not until the next morning that what had happened fully sank in.
"It really hit me that I could have lost everything, and that I didn't," Mrs. Groeneveld said.
The flames ripped through the young family's home, catching fire to the kitchen, garage and attic. Firefighters said the attic and roof burned quickly after the plywood sheets caught fire.
The Groenevelds said some of the most difficult items to lose were the sentimental symbols from their children's lives, Mrs. Groeneveld's wedding dress, wedding photos and family heirloom furnishings.
Groeneveld said while all the print photos were damaged, they were able to salvage the photo files that were stored on their computer's hard drive.
"The material things are hard. I was thinking about the baby footprints from the hospital and all those little things us moms cherish, and I realized I have my family, and that was more than I could ask for," Mrs. Groeneveld said. "The Lord has been very good to us."
The Groenevelds said they are very appreciate of the support they have received from their "work family" and the community at Faith Christian Church.
"People have been incredibly, incredibly generous and kind," Mrs. Groeneveld said. "I knew we had a good town, and I knew we had a good church, but I have never seen a community rally behind anybody like they have."
As a nurse and a missionary, she said it has been a little uncomfortable being on the receiving end of the kindness.
"It has been very humbling. It is hard to accept help," she said. "It means a lot."
She also said the experience has given her a new perspective.
"When everything is stripped away, I think you see what you really need and what is really important, and I think that is our family, of course, and our friends," she said.
The Groenevelds said the children are still coping with the big adjustment.
"They didn't just lose the physical structure of their house. They lost their security of a home. Their whole little word was right there at 201 Morgan Trace Lane, and that just has kind of been ripped from them. So we are trying to be extra careful and sensitive and pay attention to needs that they might have. They are three sweet children."
The family has stayed remarkable positive des-pite losing so much. The couple said the experience has inspired them to continue to do what comes naturally to them, which is helping others.
"This has made us very aware of the needs and the hurts of other people," Mrs. Groeneveld said. "There are people in the community who are hurting much more than we are."
The Groenevelds are preparing to spend two years in Togo, a South African nation, to perform medical missionary work in a Baptist hospital with the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism.
The extended trip will be the second time the couple have worked in Togo. Their 5-year-old daughter was born there on their last missionary trip.
This year, they will be spending Christmas in a house they are renting, which is located near their former home.
"It will be a different Christmas for us," Groeneveld said. "It will be an opportunity for us to count our blessings and be thankful for what we have been given. It leaves us with the challenge of how can we give to others."
During a time of year when the focus is on material things, Mrs. Groeneveld, despite losing nearly everything she owns, said she feels wealthy with her husband children beside her.
"I have told people that we lost everything, but we have more than we deserve."