by Kathye Hamm
Last Friday, Pr. Katy Grindberg and I made our way to the town of Paradise. Four months ago, the Camp Fire destroyed 90% of the houses and other buildings in and around the town and took the lives of 85 people. The town looks much the way it did in the aftermath of the fire; there are still piles of debris and burned out cars and fallen trees everywhere. The devastation seems to go on forever, but there has been some progress. Trees that had fallen and blocked roads have been removed. And while nearly 200 homesites have been cleared of debris and hazardous materials, rain and winter weather are slowing the progress of workers trying to do more of this work. There are pictures on the Synod’s Facebook page that will help you understand the magnitude of the damage and the amount of work that has yet to be done to help rebuild an entire town.
As Pr. Katy and I were driving to meet with Pr. Rod Platte and the leaders of Paradise Lutheran Church, we noticed a flash of yellow among some burned out bushes on the roadside. When we pulled over, we saw a patch of Daffodils pushing their way out of the blackened soil to bloom among the ashes. It was startling (and heartening) to see this bit of hope amid what felt like so much hopelessness. We then made our way to the church, where we met with people whose lives have been turned upside-down and inside-out by this disastrous fire. Almost everyone had lost their home or knew many people who had. Most of their church survived the fire, but sustained damage from the smoke and ash fall that has taken a great deal of time and energy and funds to reclaim the use of their buildings. They have created a worship space in their fellowship hall and are now worshiping in Paradise.
They are anxious to see that programs and ministries which served the community before the fire will continue. Soon, they will be feeding whoever needs a meal on Fridays, and their space will be available for twelve step and other community groups to use as before. The Chamber of Commerce will be renting office space at Paradise Lutheran, since their offices were destroyed. The resolve of the leaders of this congregation to be Christ’s presence for the people of Paradise is amazing. They have lost so much, and yet their one hope is to serve others. And yes, you have been there to encourage them through your prayers and your donations to Lutheran Social Services and to Lutheran Disaster Response – you are making a difference. Thank you.
As we were preparing to leave, our attention was drawn to a bulletin board where dozens of cards and hand-written notes were posted, sent by Sunday School children from around the country who wanted to offer hope and encouragement. One note in particular caught my eye, and with disarming simplicity, a young girl named Vivian offered these words of hope, “Dear Paradise, I’m sorry for your loss. I know it’s hard for you. So I hope that you get to safety safe.” Please continue to remember in prayer our siblings in faith of Paradise Lutheran and all the people of Paradise who are rebuilding their lives and their community. They still have a great deal of work to do before they will “get to safety safe.”
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