SAN DIEGO (BP)–Hispanic Baptists were ready to help in any way they could during the mass evacuations caused by Southern California’s sweeping wildfires.
Fortunately, several pastors in the area reported no loss of homes among their Hispanic members, and some even found ways to minister to residents who were displaced.
“Two of the ladies that attend our church and live in Poway work in a hotel where they were receiving evacuees,” Paco Vidales, pastor of Iglesia Broadway, a mission of Broadway Baptist Church in Escondido, told Baptist Press. “It was a very stressful time for them because all the hotel rooms were overcrowded as people ran from the fires.”
Virginia Raya, one of the women Vidales mentioned, manages a Ramada Inn in Poway and spent plenty of time with evacuees at the hotel.
“Most of the people were white people, not Hispanics, because not many Mexicans live around that area,” Vidales explained. “It’s kind of like a rich town. But she did get the chance to stay there. She was working, but as I understand it she spent a couple of days there nonstop, getting very little sleep, just handling everything and being supportive.”
Meanwhile, Vidales was at the church, working the phones to check on church members who live in Poway, which was more affected by the fires than Escondido.
“I just called them throughout the day, checking on them and how they were,” Vidales said. “I got a chance to pray with them over the phone and encourage them through the whole thing. We just couldn’t get there because the roads were closed and we couldn’t even move.”
Hugo Campos, a Hispanic missionary with the San Diego Baptist Association, said he didn’t know of any Hispanic Baptist churches threatened by the fires.
“Most of our churches are in the South Bay area or are inland, so they did not suffer any major losses. [The members] might have friends or relatives, but not directly with our churches,” Campos said.
“We have a network of Hispanic churches, and we’re ready to go. As a matter of fact, we’re going to meet this Friday to go over some things and such. We have not been called on to do any official ministry, but we’re ready to go wherever we’re needed,” Campos added.
Alberto Ballasteros, pastor of Iglesia Bautista de El Cajon, reported that he and others in his congregation went to the areas ravaged by fire to help people who were directly affected. And for several days, he opened his home to a family whose house was partially damaged by fire, until they could return home. The church also gave a special offering of around $350 to be used for food and clothing for people affected by the fires.
Fernando Rivera, pastor for the Spanish service at The Well in Poway, also gave a positive report.
“Most of our brothers were evacuated, but none of their houses got burned,” Rivera told Baptist Press.
Jim Bouchillion, pastor to Hispanics at Shadow Mountain Community Church in El Cajon, said he personally did not know of any Hispanic members who lost their homes.
“Our church here has been collecting fruit and bottles of water and snack foods to distribute to people in need,” Bouchillion said. “During last week, all of these things were collected and taken to Red Cross centers in about five different places. The Red Cross centers then distributed them according to the needs of the people.
“Our church also has been collecting donations of money that have been distributed in a similar way,” Bouchillion added. “The majority of people have now sent their children back to school, and life is beginning to return to normality.”
Bouchillion said the fires did not burn in El Cajon extensively.
“San Diego County can be divided into three sections from north to south. The northern third and the southern third were the thirds that were burned severely. The central third is where our church is located, and we did not suffer fire loss in this area,” he said. “Four years ago, in 2003, it was the central area of San Diego County that burned excessively, and fire came within 500 meters of our church property at that time. But this year we were spared any of that tragedy.”
Among the challenges ahead for the region may be ministry to local farm workers, as San Diego County’s No. 1 cash crop — flowers and ornamental plants, which bring in $1 billion each year — was significantly damaged by the fires, The San Diego Union-Tribune said.
No official estimate of overall crop damage has been given yet, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said, because some rural areas remain closed. USDA teams were being sent to assess the losses in San Diego, which ranks 12th among U.S. counties in agricultural production.
“The damage is going to be several thousand acres, but we just can’t pin down that number yet,” Eric Larson, a representative of farmers in San Diego, told Bloomberg News Oct. 27. “The majority of damage is going to be avocado trees.”
An avocado industry spokesman told The Union-Tribune that as much as 20 percent of the county’s avocado crop was destroyed, and losses could be in the tens of millions of dollars.
Also, four charred bodies were found at an apparent migrant camp in a wooded area east of San Diego and near the Mexico border Oct. 25, AP said.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. Lauren Crane of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary contributed to this report.