GREENVILLE, Calif. (BP) – Southern Baptists near the largest wildfire in California recorded history are working together to provide practical relief to their community.
The Dixie Fire started in mid-July and continues to burn throughout northern California. The Associated Press reports the fire has burned more than 783 square miles and destroyed more than 1,000 buildings.
The community of Greenville was particularly affected, and churches of the Feather River Baptist Association have joined with California Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers, Send Relief and the Red Cross to bring help.
Jay Ballard, associational mission strategist for the Feather River Baptist Association, said half of the 20 churches in the association are in areas currently under either an evacuation mandate or an evacuation warning.
“We need to be in the midst of the fight, rather than standing on the outside throwing Gospel bombs hoping it hits someone,” Ballard said. “People live out their theology on mission and ministry. When we give people an opportunity to serve, that’s when they live out the Jesus we keep teaching about. When people in the community get to see multiple churches working together in partnership with the state convention and NAMB, that’s the picture of the Cooperative Program of the SBC.”
Due to the constantly changing status of evacuations, Ballard said relief effort locations have changed over time and have included local colleges and churches in the association.
Volunteers have provided hygiene supplies, clean water and even temporary housing for those who have had to evacuate. They also have prepared more than 1,000 meals, Ballard said, adding that hundreds of people indicated they were open to pastors in the association calling to follow up with them.
Feather River Association President Daniel Hanna echoed the importance of seeking to meet spiritual needs while serving physically.
“Even if we could help people with every physical need that they have, they still have an eternal spiritual need that we need to be concerned about,” Hanna said. “Natural disasters make people think about eternity, and it’s clear that Jesus met people’s physical needs but also meet their ultimate spiritual needs.”
Hanna is pastor of Chester (Calif.) Baptist Church, which is currently one of three in the association providing relief and supplies to the community. Hanna praised his church staff and volunteers, including associate pastor Luke Hall who organized meal distribution with the Red Cross.
As other relief organizations eventually leave after immediate needs are meet in the wake of the disaster, Hanna emphasized local Southern Baptist churches and associations can have the “staying power” necessary to make a lasting impact. The association will need to stay involved in the lives of those they helped in the coming weeks and months.
Hanna guest spoke at Greenville Baptist Church as it held its first service since losing more than half of one of its buildings in the fire. He reminded the congregation that the power of God is far greater than any physical disaster.
“The infinite glory of God is far greater than this fire,” Hanna said. “As I say that to brothers and sisters, I can see their eyes sparkle with being reminded the reality of that truth.”