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Pastor recounts close call with fire


RANCHO BERNARDO, Calif. (BP)–Around 4 a.m., Rik Wadge, pastor of First Baptist Church in Poway, Calif., received a call from a church member telling him his street was on fire.

“So I went outside, and there was an intense heat coming across the front lawn,” Wadge said. “The sky was a red blaze and the air was on fire. Ashes were flowing into our house, and the fire was right down the street, coming toward us.”

As his Rancho Bernardo home suddenly was in the path of destruction, Wadge’s family fled to their church.

“We just grabbed what was immediately in front of us, and that was enough. It didn’t matter,” he told Baptist Press.

Wadge had been at the church until around 1:30 that morning, caring for fire evacuees from nearby Ramona.

“It was very interesting the way the church responded,” he said. “It was an immediate coming together, no hesitation at all. It began Sunday evening around 9 or 10. Way before there was a huge crisis, there were fires burning up in Ramona.


“We began a networking system immediately, preparing for evacuees from Ramona. We didn’t know how many. We thought 30 or 40. We just said we’ll fill the church up with cots and do whatever we have to do,” Wadge recounted.

Before long, the crisis was affecting Rancho Bernardo and Poway residents.

“We had people on top of roofs, hosing off other people’s homes. Everyone came together. All the deacons were making phone calls, checking on the elderly. It was a tremendous act of the faith community coming together,” he said. “We had people from the community that were not part of the church, that were coming in to find shelter in the church and the church was loving them and caring for them and bringing them coffee.”

Soon the fire was creeping toward the church, and the evacuees at First Baptist Poway relocated to Qualcomm Stadium, home of the San Diego Chargers.

When it was time to go to Qualcomm, Wadge was impressed with the church members who chose to sleep on the ground at the stadium rather than take up offers for more comfortable accommodations at beach homes or at the safe homes of family members.

“Many of them had nice condos to stay in, relatives they could have stayed with, but they made the decision to be that friendly face and that warm embrace for the people around them who did not have homes. That is Christian love,” he said.

Wadge’s experience as an evacuee at Qualcomm was “absolutely incredible,” he said.

“We slept on the ground, but we had food and we had love and care. There were arts things for the kids to do, there were movies, there was a ton of stuff to make people feel like they weren’t alone and it was going to be OK.”

Before long, Wadge was able to return home and find that his house had survived though many homes in his neighborhood were destroyed.

“Our home is fine. We have no electricity, but that’s no big deal,” he said. “We’re thankful to be alive.”

Looking back, Wadge described the uncertainty of the moments when the fire was an immediate threat.

“You see it on the news, but being in the midst of it is different,” he said. “Not knowing which way to drive your car out, not knowing where the fires are at, no communication going on. You just say, ‘God, here we are. If You want to take us today, You take us today. But do what You can to give me the wisdom to care for my family.'”

And the experience reiterated the importance of a relationship with Jesus and the fleeting nature of material possessions.

“When we were out sleeping on the ground at Qualcomm Stadium with 300,000 of our closest friends, it just didn’t matter,” he said of what he owned. “What I had was yours; what you had was ours. That’s the second chapter of Acts. That’s when the focus is right. The focus is right when it’s not on the stuff we have.

“It’s great to know that everything we’ve been living as Christians is the sole priority in life,” Wadge said. “It’s not about now. It’s about preparing for being in the Kingdom. If we’re Kingdom citizens now, we can help all those others see Christ.”

In related news, Southern Baptist disaster relief workers continue to prepare meals and look toward other forms of assistance as the fires still burn in some parts of Southern California. Firefighters had contained 14 of the nearly two dozen fires that burned almost 500,000 acres or 778 square miles, CNN reported.

The number of meals prepared at PETCO Park in San Diego has declined as people have moved out of Qualcomm Stadium, Don Hargis, disaster relief coordinator for the California Southern Baptist Convention, told Baptist Press Oct. 26. As the fires move north, he is moving workers from San Diego up to San Bernardino to meet increasing needs there.

Hargis explained that the kitchen set up at the fairgrounds in San Bernardino was donated to the Red Cross by Sysco, a food distribution company. The Red Cross in turn gave the mobile unit to Southern Baptists to maintain and use for training, Hargis said, and Southern Baptist blue caps are taking the lead at the site.

Stretch Krege, a blue cap, told BP the San Bernardino feeding site is the first place he has seen Southern Baptists, the Red Cross and the Salvation Army working at one site.

“The Red Cross and Southern Baptists are cooking the meals, and the Salvation Army is serving the meals under the tent for the evacuees,” Krege said. “It’s exciting.”

Krege said he expects the kitchen to produce about 4,000 meals each day.

“We’ll do lunch and dinner, and then the Red Cross provides a continental breakfast,” he said.

Clean-up teams are starting to organize, Krege added, and disaster relief workers are gathering information from homeowners concerning their needs and applications that must be completed before workers can arrive on site.

“I just love doing this because the main thing is we serve God and we’re serving the people here and watching the ministry grow. When a disaster happens, people come together to help each other,” Krege said.

Donations for disaster relief efforts are needed. Online donations can be made at www.csbc.com or donations by check can be sent to California Southern Baptist Convention, Disaster Relief, 678 E Shaw Ave, Fresno 93710. Also, donations may be made to the North American Mission Board at www.namb.net.
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. As the Southern California wildfires subside, the work of Southern Baptist disaster relief volunteers continues as they serve rescue workers and fire victims. A video available for online viewing or download shows the work of Baptist volunteers in the San Diego area: www.namb.net/videogallery.