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After Calif. wildfire, ‘God just keeps’ providing

MAGALIA, Calif. (BP) — His town devastated by the deadliest wildfire in California history, Pastor Doug Crowder was leading Magalia (Calif.) Pines Baptist Church to serve 300-500 meals per day to the community. The problem was he had no bread to make the French toast his cook had planned for the next day’s breakfast.

That’s when a man from a local food bank walked up and said, “Hi, I’m Chuck…. Our warehouse burned down, and we need to get rid of some stuff. Do you need any bread?”

Such unexpected provision, Crowder told Baptist Press, repeatedly has sustained community ministry by Magalia Pines even though the congregation launched its effort weeks ago with no money and no food. Through their ministry, the church also has seen a spiritual harvest in Magalia, which was approximately half destroyed by November’s Camp Fire.

Meanwhile, the neighboring town of Paradise, Calif., is almost completely destroyed. Most residents scattered, and churches are undertaking a ministry of counseling and listening.

The Camp Fire ravaged Northern California Nov. 8-25, killing 86 people and causing an estimated $16.5 billion in damage, according to media reports. The California Southern Baptist Convention’s disaster relief ministry has partnered with local churches to help meet the physical and spiritual needs of fire victims.

In both Magalia and Paradise, pastors have had to decide whether to maintain a focus on ministry amid destruction of their own homes.

That’s what Crowder did at Magalia Pines after his home burned down. And he’s glad he did. The unsolicited provisions the church has received have included produce, meat, a forklift, RVs, tools, clothes, propane and enough water to distribute 12 tons per day.

“We didn’t actually go looking for anything,” Crowder said. “God just keeps bringing the stuff,” including “that ridiculous water supply.” The “worldwide flood” of provision began, he said, following publication of a Baptist Press story about the church’s plight and Crowder’s harrowing rescue of some 30 locals Nov. 9.

As the community ministry continues, Magalia Pines has seen full worship services, salvation decisions and two weddings for local couples convicted they should not live together apart from marriage. One man who had never been in a church before told Crowder, “God and this church saved my life. The least I can do is give it to Him.”

Regarding the destruction of his own home, Crowder said, “We consider it a blessing” because no fire victim can say to him, “You have everything, so you don’t understand.”

At Paradise Ridge Southern Baptist Church in Paradise, Pastor Bob Sorensen likewise is ministering despite the loss of his house. In the early days of the fire, Paradise Ridge hosted firefighters and CSBC disaster relief volunteers in its building. Now, less than 5 percent of the church’s 60 regular attendees remain within 20 miles of Paradise, Sorensen said.

In addition to tending to minor damage of the church facilities, Sorensen has “walked the ashes with a lot of people.”

“I wept with them,” Sorensen told BP, “rejoiced when they found something. About the only thing that lasts [through the fire] is pottery.”

First Baptist Church in Paradise — whose pastor, Sam Walker, also lost his house — has hosted CSBC disaster relief chaplains in the church building. Walker has connected with and prayed for fellow community members and opened the congregation’s food pantry.

“I’ve really appreciated” the Southern Baptist Disaster Relief chaplains’ “being there” to counsel community members, Walker said. “I can’t be there every day” because “there’s a lot of stuff we are trying to do to just get our own family back into a place of functioning.”

Charles Woods, director of missions for the local Sierra Butte Baptist Association, asked believers everywhere to pray for recovery efforts in Magalia and Paradise.

“This is a time to pray for them that God’s presence would be revealed in a very loving way,” Woods told BP, “that even through the fires and flight, God is still there.”