Situation Update: California Wildfires
Seventeen separate fires are burning in Northern California in the areas of Santa Rosa, Napa, and Sonoma. 13 people are confirmed dead, and 150 persons are reportedly missing, according to reports at midday today. More than 1,500 structures and 73,000 acres have burned. Geyserville Christian Church opened its doors yesterday to take in evacuees.
Smoke is causing health concerns across much of the state. In conversation with Week of Compassion staff, one pastor described the smoke that has blown west from the fires, blanketing the coast and causing the sun to appear red.
Another fire in Orange County, California has burned over 7500 acres and required evacuations for thousands of residents. A report this morning from the Orange County register indicated two dozen homes have burned. Among those evacuated are several members from First Christian Church, Orange, though the church building is currently in a safe area. Disciples-affiliated Chapman University, also in Orange, reports that campus is "safe but smoky." Operations are suspended and classes are cancelled for the health and safety of staff and students.
Week of Compassion will continue to be in communication with regional and local churches and partners to provide support as needed. We join in praying for all who are affected, all who are working to contain the fires, and all who will work for recovery in these communities.
Reflections on recent South Texas Pastoral Visit
By Rev. Terri Hord Owens
"How long must your servant endure?" Psalm 119:84 "When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you..."- Isaiah 43:2 (NRSV)
As I traveled to Houston, Corpus Christi, Beaumont, Katy, Aransas Pass, Lake Jackson, and other areas in Texas recently hit by Hurricane Harvey, I was blessed to talk, pray and eat with Disciples pastors and laity. Week of Compassion had been present on the ground, and everywhere we went, Disciples expressed gratitude for the checks for congregants and members. Their gratitude for your generosity was palpable and abundant. The presence of regional ministry staff was steady and sure.
In the midst of inexplicable disaster, I shared the importance of lament. In the Psalms we find expression for every facet of human emotion. David felt close enough to God to on one hand, shake his fist, asking "Why?" "How long?" But David always ended in praise. In a sense, he released his fist, opening his hands in praise to a God whom he knew was always there. For some, the work of "muck and gut" had already taken place, and they were awaiting final word from insurance adjustors. In several cases, the estimated damage fell below the policy deductible-yet another blow to those who had flood insurance, yet without benefits. Some churches were stripped to the studs, having gutted their entire sanctuaries and building. Many pastors' homes had flooded, and they were managing their own recovery alongside that of their congregation. "It's not losing the stuff that matters; it's the memories attached to all the stuff", one pastor shared. Piles of drywall, carpet, furniture and cherished belongings in front of homes everywhere reminded us of just how much had been lost. And so we hugged, prayed, sang and ate together, reminding each other of God's love in the midst of the storm.
Alongside the affirmation and thanksgiving that God had seen them through, I also saw tears on the faces of saints whose faith in God over a lifetime stood despite their tears. For some, it was the first time that disaster had touched them. For others, Harvey represented one of many factors that shape their daily existence, always on the edge of insecurity. Churches that had been spared extensive damage had organized relief efforts and served as supply stations for the entire community. Churches whose entire buildings were unusable were allowing themselves to consider how ministry might look differently going forward, how God might use their rebuilt physical resources in a different way for the future. And as I saw weariness and the fatigue that comes with the trauma of such disaster, I also saw that spirits were reaching upward, desiring to offer God praise.
There will be a time of rebuilding, a time when Disciples will be welcomed to mission stations to support the long-term recovery. In the meantime, Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering and other General ministries such as DCEF and Pension Fund, will be there to support the long road to rebuild. As we lament yet another natural disaster that has ravaged another community, we lift our voices in both lament and praise, knowing that the God we serve is able to hear both, and will be there with us as we together work to reconstruct homes, churches and lives. God is with us; the storm will not overtake us.