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Baptist pastor reflects on aftermath of N.M. firestorm

LOS ALAMOS, N.M. (BP)–It’s one thing when it’s a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. It’s something entirely different when it’s a real civil emergency. And there’s nothing quite like it when you and your family are personally involved.

“You get a really sick feeling in your stomach,” said David Sims, only hours after leaving his home on May 11 with 11,000 other residents of Los Alamos, another 7,000 from the nearby community of White Rock and as many as 7,000 more from portions of Espanola and the surrounding area.

Sims, pastor of First Baptist Church, Los Alamos, his wife, Marthe, and their son, Micah, had fled the Cerro Grande Fire that began sweeping through their community on Wednesday night, May 10, eventually destroying 191 structures and leaving 260 families without homes to which to return.

The wildfire started May 4 when a controlled burn by the National Parks Service at Bandelier National Monument raged out of control. By Sunday evening, May 14, the fire had consumed 42,000 acres and was still going strong.

Sims spoke with the Baptist New Mexican newsjournal by phone Thursday morning, May 11, upon the family’s arrival at the home of Francis and Pat Wilson in Albuquerque.

Wilson is the business administrator for the Baptist Convention of New Mexico. He and his wife opened their home to the Simses after the family was evacuated from White Rock, where they had been staying with friends.

Sims said he had been profoundly impacted by a renewed awareness of the limitations of humanity.

Many of the residents of the town that was the birthplace of the atomic bomb, and whose primary industry continues to be the national lab, possess a great deal of confidence in what they are able to do, Sims said. They are, indeed, able to accomplish many scientific marvels, he acknowledged.

Sims admitted thinking as the unstoppable blaze propelled by high winds raced toward town, “The government is not going to let this town and the national lab burn.” He said the wildfire reminded him there are some things the greatest human power and ability cannot prevent.

“It doesn’t matter how many Ph.D.s you have,” the pastor said.

“I don’t know what God’s purpose is,” Sims continued. “But his purposes are not going to be stopped by any man.”

Sims spoke with the Baptist New Mexican again two days later, before moving with his family to Glorieta, a LifeWay Conference Center, later that day so they could be with other families from the church and other evacuees.

Sims had spent much of the day before at Glorieta and in Santa Fe checking on church members. At least eight church families had lost their homes, he had discovered. He said that as far as he knew at the time, his home and all the churches in the northern New Mexico community were spared.

As of the weekend, Los Alamos residents were not expected to return to their homes for as long as another week. Sims had a place to preach on Sunday, though, during the May 14 morning worship service at Glorieta.

How can Baptists help? Both Sims and Chuck McCullough, pastor of White Rock Baptist Church, said they appreciated financial assistance being collected by the Baptist Convention of New Mexico, which will be used by the churches to minister to victims in the months ahead.

Most important, though, both pastors said, are continued prayers for residents of the displaced communities.

    About the Author

  • John Loudat