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Wildfire victims to receive coordinated help from churches

SAN DIEGO (BP)–More than 100 San Diego-area pastors from various denominations have begun a cooperative effort to make sure all victims of the wildfires in late October are covered with physical and spiritual help.

It is called the “Jesus Project.”

“This is a new type of ministry we’ve never done before,” said Jim Garlow, pastor of Skyline Church in Rancho San Diego, a few miles from Harbison Canyon where hundreds of homes were burned, who hosted a meeting Nov. 4 to launch the effort. “We are learning as we go and we want to pool all our information to help our communities.”

Representatives of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s Rapid Response (BGEARRT) team were on the scene to offer help and training on how to minister most effectively through the fire disaster.

“We realize there is a sense of urgency,” said Chad Hammond, who was sent to Southern California by the BGEA Rapid Response Team to assess the damage and train laypeople in how to counsel the hurting. “I want to compliment the city for working together. We want to train people to minister six months from now when the Red Cross and other emergency services back out. It is the local churches who will be left to minister.”

Hammond set up several training events for laypeople from local churches during the coming weeks. Areas covered in the training include: how to share Christ in the midst of crisis, the clinical side of trauma, and help and encouragement for pastors and leaders in the church during a crisis.

“Jesus didn’t come to end suffering but to bring peace in the midst of it,” said Johnathan Olford, one of the BGEARRT trainers. “The people who have been traumatized are fragile and we want to teach churches how to best minister to them and bring them into a relationship with God.”

Many of the churches participating in the initial planning already have started donations, emergency sites and other ministries to families who lost their homes.

“The unity of the churches is high here,” said Ray Giunta, a chaplain who worked in New York City after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and recently wrote a book titled, “God at Ground Zero.”

“I’ve never seen the churches as unified in a community before. We can bless the people,” Giunta said.

Many of the pastors found the meeting helpful in giving them direction for how to meet the needs.

“I appreciate what they did,” said Dwight Simpson, director of missions for the 150-member San Diego Southern Baptist Association. “It’s been like nailing jello to a tree organizing the help. We will give lasting help through this type of organization.”

Southern Baptist disaster relief leader Mickey Caison expressed appreciation for faith-based organizations like the BGEA for assisting in this aspect of disaster recovery. “The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is making a significant commitment to disaster relief,” Caison said, “and we certainly welcome their training programs which complement the ministries of Southern Baptist churches and chaplains.”

After the Nov. 4 meeting, pastors divided up into groups relating to about 10 different areas ravaged by the fires according to where their church is located. They planned strategies and talked about what each church was doing so as to not duplicate efforts.

“Our members have been wanting to do something and now we have a vehicle to do that,” said Terrell Eldreth, pastor of Carlton Hills Baptist Church in Santee, which was outside the fire zone. “This has been very useful. The training will be helpful. Instead of our members just watching the disaster on TV we can get out there and minister. We have a great opportunity right now.”
Kelli Cottrell is a freelance writer based in the San Bernardino, Calif., area. (BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HEALING THE BROKENHEARTED and GROUNDS FOR OUTREACH.

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  • Kelli Cottrell