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Near the flames, Saddleback rallies to help

LAKE FOREST, Calif. (BP)–Three of the 18 fires that ravaged Southern California in recent days scorched portions of the valley where Saddleback Valley Community Church is located.

Saddleback’s facilities escaped the rampaging flames. But the crisis lit a fire of urgency for Saddleback members as they mobilized for disaster relief efforts to provide food, housing, comfort and counseling.

“It’s been a busy, busy week,” Rick Warren, Saddleback’s senior pastor, said on CNN’s “Larry King Live” show Oct. 26. The church’s 128-acre campus served as an evacuation center for refugees and as a “refreshment center for about 500 of the firefighters,” Warren said. “We have been housing animals, pets, feeding people.”

With more than 22,000 attendees, Saddleback also has about 3,500 small groups “in every city in Southern California,” many of whom welcomed evacuees into their homes, Warren said.

Students of the church’s college ministry, CRAVE, worked alongside firefighters on the fire lines, Warren recounted. On Saturday morning, more than 600 people from 120 small groups went into the hardest-hit areas of San Diego to pray, clean up and offer help.

“As the fires have raged this week, I’ve once again seen the undeniable importance and benefit of being a part of a small group,” Warren said in an e-mail to church members.

Saddleback also has dispatched about 100 “volunteer chaplains” who are “counseling, caring, comforting, coaching, praying for people,” Warren said. And the church is a “clearinghouse for donations, as we have been getting food and getting money out to those who — who literally lost everything this week,” he added.

On Oct. 25, Warren appeared on Fox News Channel’s “Hannity & Colmes” program, when Colmes cited an article Warren wrote about dealing with grief in response to the 2003 California wildfires that approached Warren’s backyard.

Warren noted that Saddleback’s counselors seek to encourage fire victims in five ways:

— release the grief.

— receive help from others.

— refuse to be bitter.

— remember what’s important.

— rely on God.

Warren said his sermon last weekend, titled “How do you look up when you’re burned out?” dealt with aspects of the tragedy.

Ken Blanchard, author of the best-selling “One Minute Manager” whose San Diego-area home was consumed in the wildfires, joined Warren for two of Saddleback’s four services Oct. 28.

Blanchard, who also appeared on Larry King Oct. 26, commented about his loss: “As a follower of Jesus, I just tried to quiet myself because I knew that He wanted me to have peace and joy and righteousness.” He continued, “I am so proud of this country in crisis, but I also really want and hope and pray that when times are good, we can have compassion and love and serve each other.”

Saddleback’s website details how church members and others can help:

“Pray: Our community needs our prayers and spiritual support. Pray for the families that have been displaced, for the thousands of public safety workers, and for the rebuilding and restoration process to come. Go: Help with clean-up efforts and resource distribution in the areas most affected by the fires. This is a great opportunity for your small group to make a difference! If you’d like to serve this way, send an email to [email protected]

“Let our local firefighters, law enforcement officers, city management personnel, and other public safety workers know how much you appreciate them. Here are a couple ideas for you or your small group:

“– Write a thank-you note and send it to your local fire station, sheriff’s office, or city hall….

“– Reach out to neighbors, family members, or friends who work in public safety with a gesture of your appreciation.

“– Invite your local public safety workers to one of the services at Saddleback Church the weekend of November 3-4 for a public recognition of their efforts.”
Norm Miller is a freelance writer based in Richmond, Va.

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