On Monday morning Christa Zapfe woke up, did some light cleaning, jumped in her truck and began the 200-mile trip to Colby, where she will become the associate pastor of College Drive Assembly of God Church. As pastor of the Lighthouse Worship Center for the past six years she formed a lifetime bond with the people of Greensburg while guiding her small congregation through the emotional aftermath of the May 2007 tornado.
“You can’t talk to me for long without me crying about something,” said Zapfe in an interview last week. It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, I don’t really want to think about it.”
Rebuffing a nearby box of tissues the self-confessed “city person,” who worked in churches in Chicago, Missouri and Florida before moving to Greensburg in Jan. 2006, is overflowing with emotion.
She’s manages to smile, frown and laugh all at once.
“Never in my wildest imagination would I have thought I would be in southwestern Kansas, living and serving in a community like this one,” she said.
Zapfe came to Greensburg from Winterhaven, Fla., where she worked as a staff member for a local Assembly of God Church. It was only a couple of months into her new position as the pastor of the Lighthouse Worship when the May 4, 2007 tornado destroyed most of Greensburg, her home and her church.
“There were opportunities to come alongside and help people,” said Zapfe, reflecting on post-tornado Greensburg. “Whether it was a family in need, or a person in need. The tornado will be connected with us forever. While it doesn’t define us, it will always be a big part of our lives. There have been great seasons of people coming together in the community, in their faith, surrounding each other and helping each other. With the tornado, we had to deal with all sorts of things in the midst of that. Everything was heightened.”
Like many in the local faith community, Zapfe has served as a pastor, a friend and a therapist for her church members. In most small communities pastors are more than just spiritual leaders, they are civic leaders and community ambassadors.
“Because we are a smaller community, [the pastors] just know more. That’s the community knowing the pastor and the pastor knowing the community. The pastors here are wonderfully connected and part of the community’s culture. We are a community and a family and we see each other everyday. I was telling somebody yesterday that it’s hard for me to run in-and-out of Kwikshop,” laughed Zapfe. “I start in the vegetable aisle and I hear about somebody’s medical issue and then I go to the next aisle and I hear about someone’s dog who got hurt. It’s community all of the time and I’ve really enjoyed that, I’ve liked that.”
Page 2 of 2 - Zapfe said one of her biggest challenges was finding time for herself.
“It took a while for me to get used to the loss of my anonymity,” she explained. “That’s a good thing, but it can be challenging. I like crowds, I love people and being around people. It was hard to get away and have personal time, I like doing that also. When I needed time, often I had to go out of town to find that time.”
It was an emotional service for her on Sunday, less than 24 hours before leaving.
A small group of her congregation stayed to eat a pasta and garlic bread lunch before helping her load moving boxes — a helpful gesture and part of Zapfe’s personal and professional philosophy.
“Let’s do life alongside each other,” she explained. “Let’s not just be in church, or be at school or be at work, let’s live alongside each other, together and not just on Sunday morning. There has to be more than just sitting in a building.”
She’ll have the opportunity to cultivate this as the associate pastor of her new church in Colby. She will be a connections pastor, helping to assimilate new members and working towards a discipleship post at the church of about 170 members.
Zapfe said her church has been supportive of her decision to leave Greensburg and that she felt “it was time to move on.”
That is when the tears come.
“I am so blessed to have been part of this community, I am so grateful for my time here. Not to sound selfish but, the impact that this community has had on me is amazing. I am grateful I was able to live here for as long as The Lord allowed me.”