21 March, 2023

Churches Respond to Wildfires Scorching the West

by | 14 September, 2020

By Jim Nieman

We don’t know how many churches have been impacted by the multiple wildfires that have destroyed millions of acres in California, Oregon, and Washington, but we scoured websites and Facebook pages to get an idea of what churches are going through and how they have responded. Here’s what we found:

Pursuit Christian Church, Oroville, Calif. — Last Wednesday, lead pastor Fred Wood wrote on Facebook: “Hey, Church! Check in, leave a comment and also let us know you are OK! If you’ve been evacuated and need anything, let us know and we will do our best to connect you to resources.”

On Friday, Wood wrote: “As of right now, we have one family from our church that has lost their home. . . . I am in contact with them and if they have needs . . . I will update [that] on our page and let you all know how you can help. Keep the prayers coming!”

That same day, via a Facebook Live, Wood said: “As far as I know right now everybody [connected] with the church is safe. . . . I’ve gotten reports . . . that everybody got out and that everybody is doing the best they can under the circumstances. As a community, this is something sadly that we’re all used to, as bad as that is to say. . . . It seems like I have to pack up and evacuate about every six months. . . . This weekend, this Sunday we won’t be having traditional service [though] the church building will be open . . . and we’ll be there to pray with you, to talk with you, to hang out, to share stories, and just to try to meet the needs of each other and come together in a time of fellowship. . . . We’re going to still push through and be the church for our community and try to meet needs where we can and do the very best we can to keep focused on God.”

Rogue Valley Christian Church, Medford, Ore. — The church is serving as a Community Drop-In Center all this week (through Saturday) as part of the Southern Oregon Wildfire Response. The drop-in center is open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. The church is providing breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, prayer, laundry, quiet places, and Internet service. The church wrote on its website, “Our desire is to provide a safe, smoke-free space for people to find respite.” Volunteers from the church are working in four-hour shifts.

Redwood Christian Church, Grants Pass, Ore. — The church opened a fire evacuation shelter late last week. “We have plenty of space for those who have been evacuated due to fires in Southern Oregon,” the church wrote on Facebook. “We have restrooms and showers, drinks, food, and cool shelter from the smoke. We also can accommodate RVs and campers. . . .

The church was accepting donations of prepared and packaged food, toiletries, and bedding.

“We did this a couple of years ago when we had the Taylor Creek fire just out to our west,” lead pastor Kurt Witten said via Facebook Live several days ago. “This year is just so different with fires popping up all over the place. Being from Oklahoma, it reminded me of watching a tornado outbreak. . . .”

Santa Clara Church, Eugene, Ore. — In addition to helping with Red Cross relief efforts, the church is collecting gas gift cards to provide to people in need (possibly with the assistance of local police), while also looking for other ways to help meet the needs of those affected by the fires.

Thurston Christian Church, Springfield, Ore. — The church is helping collect needed items and providing volunteers for Lane County’s 2020 fire relief efforts.

Oregon City (Ore.) Christian Church — The church is making its parking lot available for people to park their RVs. OCCC also has set up a relief table in the parking lot to feed firefighters and others.

Mill City (Ore.) Christian Church The church has a disaster response page on their website encouraging people to get involved in one or three ways: Serve, Pray, Give.

Senior pastor Paul Luna shared a video with his congregation via Facebook on Saturday. He said, “A few days ago we had a fire that just ripped through our community and just caused a wake of destruction. [So] here we were in the midst of this global pandemic, and we thought, Could life get any worse? And we have racial tension going on, we have political division happening, and we have kids going back to school online, and we thought, It can’t get any worse than this. And then, we had a fire in our backyard. So how do we respond with all this anxiety, with all this fear we are facing?”

After quoting Isaiah 41:10 (“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand”), Luna resumed, “God is with us in this disaster. He is walking through this with us. So I can cast all my anxieties on him.

“For us who have not lost our homes and maybe not even lost our jobs, we have an opportunity to serve in a very real and tangible way in showing people the love of Christ by letting them know there is a God who loves them and cares for them.

“We want to be known as a church that is mobilizing to help our community to let them know of the love of Christ and that we care for them. . . . We want to make sure that we love our neighbors next door and also our neighbors in the surrounding communities. And let them know Christ love’s them and we’re here—we’re here to do this together.”

_ _ _

We learned Tuesday that IDES (International Disaster Emergency Services) is partnering financially with several churches in California and Oregon to help victims of these fires. IDES is accepting donations for these relief efforts via its website. (Select “Wildfire” in the designation box.)

We also learned this week that a volunteer firefighter from a church of Christ in Texas who was in California to help battle the blazes there had died as a result. (The Christian Chronicle article also told of a Detroit firefighter—also a church of Christ member—who drowned in a successful effort to help save three children in distress at a Michigan beach.)

Jim Nieman serves as managing editor of Christian Standard.


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