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Beginning at the local church, California Baptists minister amid heavy snowfall, rain

California has seen massive amounts of snowfall in recent weeks, which some areas receiving 12-15 feet.

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (BP) — California Baptists are collecting supplies and delivering sandbags while grappling with both a historic snowfall and incoming heavy rains.

“You can’t stop the local church from ministering in times of disaster,” said Mike Bivins, director for Disaster Relief of the California Southern Baptist Convention. “Disaster Relief is ready to come in and support those efforts, but it starts at the local church level.”

Members of North Parkway Baptist Church in San Bernardino place sandbags along the edge of the church property in anticipation of expected flooding. The church also distributed sandbags in the community, buying more when those supplied by the city ran out.

North Parkway Baptist Church didn’t experience the snow levels others did. But Pastor Sal Martinez and others became aware of the conditions less than 30 minutes away in the San Bernardino Mountains. Officials are investigating 13 deaths in the region to see how many are linked to the powerful storm.

“We got snow at the same time they did, which was kind of strange,” said Martinez of his church located along the foothills. “It was enough to stick, which was kind of nice.

“But then we started hearing reports on what was going on. We hadn’t realized the magnitude of it all.”

To be ready when roads did open up, Martinez and North Parkway began organizing food drives. He spoke with Claudio Medina, associate director of missions for Inland Empire Baptist Association, about connecting with California Disaster Relief. North Parkway also partnered with Sandals Church San Bernardino, a Southern Baptist congregation whose pastor, Matt Brown, happens to be the son of former longtime California Disaster Relief director Ed Brown.

“I couldn’t help but think how this reflects the work of the Cooperative Program,” Martinez said. “It started at the local level where we saw the need. We got in touch with our association and they contacted Disaster Relief through our state convention, who immediately asked how they could help and then we followed up with that. Now others are hearing about it nationwide because of Baptist Press.”

Martinez called Bivins March 7. The city had provided sandbags not only for the church, but for members to deliver around their community. By today (March 10) the sandbags had run out and North Parkway bought their own to distribute. A Disaster Relief team is scheduled to arrive Sunday with more supplies and volunteers.

At left, Paula, a homeowner in San Bernardino, Calif., stands with Felicia and Raul Adame, members of Sandals Church, and Pastor Sal Martinez of North Parkway Baptist Church after the group delivered sandbags to her house.

A two-week snow event left several feet in the mountains with not only roads impassable, but vehicles and even homes buried. Beach areas that rarely saw snow experienced a dusting, while elsewhere residents in Donner Pass received up to 16 feet.

It has all but erased a historic drought for parts of the region, but concerns have increased over flooding from melting snow and a rain system making its way through the central part of the state.

California Disaster Relief hasn’t been involved in clearing snow in an official capacity, but has offered those services in conjunction with similar relief groups working with the state, Bivins told BP.

Martinez expects his city to rally together and respond as it did in 2015, when a terrorist attack killed 14 and seriously wounded 22 others.

“I was amazed at how the city and people came together,” he said. “Right now, I’m just as amazed of the outpouring we’ve had from the church and community. It’s great to see the Lord working through the city and organizations. People are getting blessed and it’s just awesome to see.”