NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–While May is usually a time of last-minute preparations for summer conferences at Glorieta, a LifeWay Conference Center, employees this year opened their doors, arms and hearts to more than 1,000 people and animals displaced by the largest forest fire in New Mexico history.
“We are a ministry of Christian hospitality,” Ray Ezelle, Glorieta director of sales and marketing told local media. “God gave us a 10-day window to practice that in its truest sense.”
As of May 18, the Cerro Grande fire had consumed more than 47,000 acres, causing damage in loss of homes, property and businesses estimated at $2 billion. More than 1,200 people were still fighting the fire estimated to be 70 percent contained. In the city of Los Alamos, more than 400 families or individuals had been left homeless.
At Glorieta, evacuees began arriving Thursday, May 11, around 1 a.m. By 7 a.m., 70 were staying at the conference center. By Friday morning the number had grown to 300; to 600 by Saturday morning and topped 900 on Sunday afternoon. By May 17, a total of 1,088 people had been provided free housing and food.
While pets normally are not allowed on conference center grounds, rules were relaxed to allow evacuees to bring whatever belongings they had. Small pets stayed with their owners. Large animals were housed in the stables.
Some began returning home May 14. As of May 18, approximately 100 were still on campus.
In addition to food and shelter, Glorieta employees and volunteers provided nightly worship services, counseling, recreation, a 24-hour washateria and crafts where children could make Mother’s Day gifts.
The two children of Patricia Moore of Los Alamos created a necklace for their mother and chose soap and shampoo from rows of items donated by churches, businesses and individuals throughout New Mexico.
The Mother’s Day gift “was special for them and special for me,” Moore told the Albuquerque Journal.
Charles “Tex” Felts, a Los Alamos resident who had been working at Glorieta since May 1, tuning pianos for the summer, thought he had seen on television the remains of his home. However, he learned May 15 that his home and business had been spared.
James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention, which owns Glorieta, said he was “grateful the conference center could be a shelter for people fleeing the fire. I am so proud of our employees who welcomed them, worked long hours to meet their needs and called in pastors and counselors to lead in worship and provide a listening ear.”
Draper said the cost to Glorieta may approach $200,000. He noted that inquiries have been received at Glorieta and at LifeWay from persons interested in giving to help defray the costs. Contributions will be accepted and may be sent to: Glorieta Conference Center, P.O. Box 8, Glorieta, NM 87535.
However, he said, “the privilege of ministering to others in this time of crisis outweighs the cost.”
Contributions, meanwhile, to help individuals who lost homes and property may be made to the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, P.O. Box 485, Albuquerque, NM 87103-0485.
Mike Arrington, vice president of LifeWay’s corporate affairs division, which includes Glorieta, said people already have dropped by the conference center to make contributions.
“In the midst of this tragedy, Glorieta and its employees have ministered in the name of Jesus Christ. Our director, Larry Haslam, the management team and every employee deserve our commendation and support,” he said.
David Sims, pastor of First Baptist Church, Los Alamos, told those gathered in a Sunday morning worship service that the fire had caused everyone to evaluate what is really important in life.
“People are important. Our families are important. … Let me assure you today, even with what is going on with all of us, God is good.”