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Pastor & wife, despite losses in wildfire, remain thankful

EL CAJON, Calif. (BP)–With shaking hands, Helen Winterton prayed for God to help her drive her car piled with her belongings out of the dense, black smoke in Peutz Valley at 5 a.m. Oct. 26.

She prayed 2 Timothy 1:7 from Scripture: “For God does not give us a spirit of fear, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.”

“Praying that was the only thing that got me through,” said Winterton, whose husband, Bob, 68, is the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in El Cajon, Calif. “I told God I needed those things [in the Scripture] right then. All I could do was rehearse what I knew.”

Out of 100 homes in the Peutz Valley near San Diego, about eight or nine are still standing.

At 4:15 a.m. Sunday morning, Oct. 26, Helen, 65, got a call to evacuate their home as flames were approaching. Her husband was in Nevada at a speaking engagement.

“I called my youngest son and he had a team of people over by 5 a.m. to load up trucks and get me out of there,” said Helen, who had lived in the house on three acres for 12 years. Within five hours the entire valley had been destroyed.

After the devastation, her daughter first returned to the house and could hear a gas and electric worker yell to someone to call the coroner’s office because they had found two bodies in the rubble by the home. Helen was able to visit the site on Friday, Oct. 31. “I am so thankful for these kids who helped me out. We were able to get out in time.”

The Wintertons, who started Trinity Baptist Church in 1969, have four children, 17 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.

“Our home was a great place for the family,” said Helen of the 3,000-square-foot home once surrounded by tall sycamore trees with hanging tire swings. “We will miss that.”

After escaping to her son’s house nearby, his family was evacuated.

“We ended up sleeping on the church floor for a couple of hours before church started,” said Helen, who is the church pianist. “I woke up that day to get ready for church and played the piano. Bob’s worst fears were told to him on Monday morning when his plane landed.”

Winterton lost all 1,140 volumes in his library, including commentaries that cannot be replaced.

“Those are the only things that I wish we could’ve saved,” Winterton of the commentaries. “Everything else can be bought again. I’m amazed at what they did get out.”

Helen and her son’s crew were able to save most of Bob’s clothes and half of her clothes, some jewelry and China from Bob’s great-grandmother.

The couple are now being housed in a small one-bedroom apartment until they can find a place to rent.

“The most important thing is my relationship with the Lord,” Helen reflected. “With Him we realize these are just things. We’re grateful nobody has been hurt in our family and we’re not at a shelter.”

After Bob led a child to Christ and three others joined the church during the Sunday morning service at his church Nov. 2, he expressed how thankful he is to God.

“We know that all things work together for good,” he told the congregation. “God is a wonderful God. I assure you we’ll do just fine.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: PASTORAL SUPPORT, STILL TOGETHER and RELECTIVE MOMENT.

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  • Kelli Cottrell