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Ministries meet multiple needs of fire victims

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. (BP)–Fire victims at the largest evacuation site in Southern California are being fed, provided showers and even entertained, by local Southern Baptists.

A group of 50 students from California Baptist University in Riverside, for example, helped serve dinner Oct. 29 to the 1,800-plus people at the San Bernadino Airport evacuation site; the students also picked up trash and debris around the facility.

Of the 32 shelters open in Southern California to house fire evacuees, the San Bernardino Airport location is the largest, Frank Forsey, one of the managers of the shelter run by the American Red Cross, said.

Church members from various Baptist congregations have been staffing a mobile kitchen and a six-stall shower unit provided by the California Southern Baptist Convention.

And a wrestling match held outside the shelter by the Empire Wrestling Federation was opened with prayer from Set Free Church of Yucaipa youth pastor Kirk Overstreet and closed with a rap song and alter call by Ben Brown King, a member of Set Free.

A mobile children’s Sunday School unit from Set Free Yucaipa, called Kids For Christ, meanwhile, has been parked at the shelter offering free puppet shows, face painting, balloon animals, stories and free clothes and food items from the church’s thrift store.

“They are doing a great job,” said Forsey of the Southern Baptist volunteers. “They do any job we ask them to do. It’s a tremendous help to us.”

Most of all, Forsey said he appreciates the fact that the churches came to him, instead of him having to recruit volunteers.

“I always know when people really want to help because they will seek me out,” he said.

Various Southern Baptist churches are sending volunteers throughout the week to serve meals and staff the shower stalls, said Paul Wilkerson, director of missions for the Inland Empire Baptist Association.

“It has been a concerted effort by many churches,” Wilkerson said. “We started out this disaster without a dime and churches are taking collections and volunteering. God has really provided during this crisis.”

The outreach by the 182-church association has been undertaken at a time when many members have suffered the loss of their own homes.

And the evacuees are thankful.

“This is what we needed,” Maria Pena, 17, said of the hot showers. “We’re glad you brought in these showers because I won’t go in the other ones [at the evacuation site],” both of which have only cold water.

“This is great,” said Vanessa Campos, 17, from Arrowhead who has been sleeping in the shelters’ parking lot for four nights to protect valuables in her vehicle. “We get so dirty from the ashes falling it’s nice to have a hot shower. It makes us feel better.”

Wal-Mart, Target, Sears and Sam’s Club have donated toiletries, washcloths and towels for the shower unit which has dispensers for soap and shampoo in each stall. It also has three sinks for evacuees to brush their teeth and shave.

Several members of Inland Community Church of Chino acted as greeters and counselors at the airport shelter, walking around praying with people on green cots and passing out boxed meals.

Inland Community was planning to send several vans and trucks loaded with food, clothing and items Oct. 30 for children at the shelter collected by the congregation.

Meanwhile, 13-year-old Alexandria Graham was glad to have some entertainment at the site.

“We’re having fun,” she said of the wrestling event. “I’ve been here almost a week because my house is burned. This is cool. I like it.”

Don Bechtol, a Running Springs resident at the site, watched his four children scream and cheer on the wrestlers.

“They are having a great time,” he said. “We needed this. It’s great to see my kids having fun through this.”

King led the crowd surrounding the wrestling ring in a prayer for the firefighters, the safety of the evacuees’ homes and for the needs of those at the shelter.

“We just wanted them to forget their troubles for a couple of hours and this is the opportune time to minister,” King said. “This is the best time to let the love of God show.”

The Set Free church is offering to bus families from the shelter to their Yucaipa site for Halloween night activities on Oct. 31.

“We want to give them some fun and keep their mind on other things,” said Overstreet, who will wrestle another pastor at the event Friday. “We’ll have two buses available to bring them to our event.”

After the wrestling event, students from Cal Baptist served 2,000 meals at the shelter and cleaned up the site.

“Since I couldn’t help out during 9/11 I wanted to help during this disaster,” said Annie Hanson, 20, a Cal Baptist junior who served iced tea at the shelter. “I hope if I lost my home other people would volunteer to help me. I have a few friends who live in the burning areas and it just hits too close to home to not come help out.”

Hillary Hayes, an 18-year-old freshman and Tehachapi native who served fruit cocktail, said, “People are hurting and need the Lord right now. We need to minister to them.”

Thousands of people continued to be evacuated Oct. 2`9 from the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles as relentless flames engulfed hundreds of homes. More than 1,000 homes have been lost in the area, according to AP reports, and more than 1,000 others in the San Diego area and other parts of Southern California.

“We’re ready wherever we’re needed,” Wilkerson said. “We want to minister where we can.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: WALL OF FIRE, SEARCHING FOR MEMENTOS, FORGED BY FLAMES and PASSING TIME.

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  • Kelli Cottrell