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California wildfires take toll on 182-church Baptist association; official requests prayer

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP)–The Inland Empire Southern Baptist Association — 182 churches strong — sits right in the thick of the California wildfires.

“Virtually our whole association is on fire,” director of missions Paul Wilkerson told Baptist Press Oct. 27.

Thankfully, thus far none of the church buildings in the association has caught fire, although one was in danger before it was saved. But church families have been affected. Some 30-35 families from Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland lost their homes, Wilkerson said. The church — one of the largest Southern Baptist congregations in the state — has been used as an evacuation center and as a site to feed people, he reported.

Wilkerson was on the phone much of the day Oct. 27, checking on other churches in the area.

“One of our pastors lives right in the Del Rosa area that burned first, and almost every home in his neighborhood was burned except his,” Wilkerson said. “His house was saved. Where the church is located — up in the north part of San Bernardino — a lot of houses around it were burned but the church was saved. In fact, they were one of the few places that had electricity [Oct. 26].”

All total, the series of fires has resulted in at least 13 deaths and has destroyed more than 825 homes, according to the Associated Press. Some 30,000 homes are in danger. There are six major fires and several smaller ones, as firefighters battle high winds and dry conditions.

The fires — at least one of which is thought to be the result of arson — stretch from the Mexico border and San Diego in the south to Simi Valley, just north of Los Angeles, in the north. The Inland Empire Southern Baptist Association sits east of Los Angeles and north of San Diego.

Wilkerson said the fire in his area is 40 miles long.

“The problem is that we’re having Santa Anta winds,” he said. “The winds go down at night … but in the morning they pick up again.”

Workers for the association were preparing to take bottled war to some of the affected areas Oct. 27 and participate in evangelism and counseling but were turned back by police because of the danger, Wilkerson said.

The association has a disaster relief feeding unit — also known as a mobile kitchen — and will begin preparing meals for firefighters and displaced families as soon as the Red Cross gives the go-ahead, he said.

“We just purchased a new disaster feeding unit for the association not knowing we were going to use it so quickly,” he said. “But they’ve requested that we be on standby to use our feeding unit.”

In addition to praying for the firefighters and their task, Christians should pray for those affected, Wilkerson said.

“Just pray for the families that have been displaced by the fire,” he said. “Pray for the churches as they find ways to minister to the families.”
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  • Michael Foust