Editor’s note: For this week and next, Our Faith will share the stories of the faithful and some faith-based relief workers in Paradise, California. And, especially from the congregation whose church building is the sole structure remaining that wasn’t burned in its neighborhood.
The Bible presents two worldwide disasters as matters of God’s judgment: Noah’s flood and Revelation’s destruction of the Earth by fire. Fire and flood have frequently left the pages of scripture and entered into the lives of the faithful with dramatic results.
You probably know well the toll Hurricane Harvey had. Today, we’ll take you to Paradise, California. Where residents and relief workers reflect on last year’s Camp Fire (see content box for more details).
We’ll start with Ron Jones. Before we go on, it’s important to note that Jones’ medical history includes leukemia, congestive heart failure, badly damaged lungs as well as the resultant serious weaknesses.
“I was in bed in my home in Paradise, when my daughter came in, telling us something strange, even apocalyptic was going on outside,” Jones recalled. “We packed up both cars and our two dogs, but only got a quarter-mile before traffic stalled completely and the cell towers went out.”
A man of faith who had already experienced two near-death experiences in the last decade, Jones was still shocked when firefighters rushed up to the line of immobile cars with an urgent appeal.
“‘Get out of your cars and run for your lives,’” they told us, Jones said. “Burning embers, were falling, all around us. There were fires everywhere we looked. We could hear propane tanks exploding.”
The couple and their canines staggered through 55 mph wind uphill into a neighboring Walgreens pharmacy, joining 70 others who sheltered in place while the firemen struggled to keep the roof from falling in atop them with streams of what water was still available.
“Looking out the drive-up window, we could see the fire go around the building,” he said. “We knew exactly what happened: It was God’s provision, for us. We have seen God do many miraculous things, during and after the fire. Although we lost our home, and everything in it, our whole family survived, even though 85 people perished that day.”
But the Jones’ trial wasn’t over. Next he was herded onto a school bus heading for the relative safety of nearby Chico Valley.
“As we rode down to Chico, there were flames on both sides of the bus, very close.” he recalled. “At one point, traffic stopped, and the driver told us where the emergency exits were. Although it was toasty in the bus, we figured it was crispy outside, so we stayed in the bus. There were dogs, cats, birds and people crying. We were holding hands with a woman crying across the aisle. We were praying, but both had a sense of God’s peace.”
The bus driver eventually delivered them to the local fairgrounds where they joined some 20,000 refugees who each had little more than the clothes on their backs.
The 71-year-old Jones would like to thank relief workers like Dan Holman, who heads up a ReachGlobal Crisis Response team, part of the Evangelical Free denomination.
“Since the fire, I have met and heard of so many wonderful, good-hearted people who are helping,” Jones said. “Any who wish to help, can contact ReachGlobal, and help with their Camp Fire Fund. You may think I’m a strong old guy, but it really is an all-loving, all-powerful, God, who has extended unwarranted grace, to me a sinner. God is the best, every moment, of every day.”
Holman explained that the ReachGlobal Crisis Response team of staff and volunteers are splitting their time between rebuilding efforts for victims of the Camp Fire and the flooding of Hurricane Harvey.
“Most of these same staff are still living in Houston and Friendswood, helping churches reach their communities and leading rebuilding efforts on homes damaged from Hurricane Harvey,” Holman said. “Even though the damage in California was different then Hurricane Harvey, the purpose for ReachGlobal is still the same, to be the hands and feet and to share the love of Christ.”
Having seen these and other disasters, Holman adds that even those with a might dose of faith shouldn’t be surprised that hope can be hard to come by afterward.
“The devastation in California was unprecedented, even for the staff in Crisis Response, and it is easy for anyone who went through the California fire to get discouraged and lose hope,” he said. “We also need to help reach the emotional, spiritual and relational needs knowing that physical needs will continue to emerge long after other organizations have left.”
Next week in Our Faith: The conclusion of these stories including a cautionary tale of one who refused to evacuate in the face of the flames.