Wildfire Updates and How to Help

From Bishop Mark 11/12/18

Traveled to Chico, CA yesterday to worship with Pr. Ben Ireta Colahan and the saints of Faith Lutheran. We were joined by the saints of Paradise Lutheran Church, most of whom have lost their homes in the wake of the Camp Fire. Pr. Rod Platte was able to share the news that although the parsonage at Paradise Lutheran was destroyed, the sanctuary and other buildings apparently survived. The stories of the people who were forced to flee their homes and saw their town being destroyed are compelling. Their faith and hope is inspiring. Lutheran Disaster Response and Lutheran Social Services will be walking alongside of these families in the long process of rebuilding. Smoke and ash-fall are making breathing difficult throughout most of the area, as evidenced by the orange glow of the sunlight pictured on the sanctuary well. Please keep your prayers and support coming.

From Bishop Mark, 11/9/18

Much has happened in the past few days that has shocked our sensibilities, even shaken us to the core of our being. The news reports out of Thousand Oaks about a mass shooting in a Western Bar less than a mile from Cal Lutheran immediately brought to mind the faces of many students from our synod who attend/have attended there. “How can this be?” I thought.

How could such a terrible tragedy have come so close to people I know whose children might have been harmed, to a university I serve as a Regent, to a town like Thousand Oaks — the “third safest city in America?” How could so many young lives full of hope and promise be taken in an instant? And are there adequate words to describe the heroism of Sgt. Ron Helus, a Ventura County Sheriff’s Deputy whose selfless actions likely saved more lives from being taken?

Lots of questions, without many answers. Questions, too, about how the shooter had gotten possession of the weapon he used, and the illegal ammunition clips which allowed so many to be killed and wounded in a short period of time. Questions about yet another mass shooting – the 307th mass shooting this year — in the first 311 days of 2018. Nearly one mass shooting every day since January 1st. At what point will we hear the cries of enough parents and spouses and children and friends who have lost loved ones to mass shootings and say, “Enough!”

And while such questions were still occupying our thoughts and prayers, we received word of fires that had begun in Thousand Oaks and near Paradise. High winds, low humidity and no rain this fall were the perfect recipe for fires that exploded to thousands of acres within hours of their starting. Thankfully, Cal Lutheran appears to be safe for now, but the fire is moving towards Malibu and will likely not be stopped before it gets to the Pacific Ocean. The leadership of Cal Lutheran is to be commended for how they have responded to both tragedies, providing support, counseling, prayer services, and comfort to students and their families who have had to try to absorb all of this in a matter of hours.

This morning, we received the sad news that most of the town of Paradise is gone, including Paradise Lutheran Church. There are conflicting reports as to whether the church was destroyed or damaged, but one thing is clear – many, many of the members of Paradise Lutheran have lost their homes, some for the second time (there was another fire in that area in 2008 that destroyed nearly 100 homes). Most of the people who were evacuated have sought shelter in Chico, while others have gone to be with relatives. Faith Lutheran in Chico and First Lutheran in Orland are providing food support to shelters that have been established in the area.

For a while on Thursday night, it was unclear if the city of Chico would need to be evacuated, but thankfully, firefighters were able to hold fire lines and set backfires which prevented the fire from moving into Chico proper. Our synod office is in contact with Pr. Rod Platte of Paradise Lutheran, Pr. Ben Colahan of Faith Lutheran and Pr. Stephen Jahn of First Lutheran to see what assistance might be needed. Lutheran Disaster Response and Lutheran Social Services of Northern California have also been in contact with our office and local congregational leadership to see what assistance they could offer. But the fires are still not under control and there are concerns about more wind coming this weekend.

What can you do? Pray. Pray for those who have lost loved ones in the shooting in Thousand Oaks. Pray for those who have lost loved ones and/or property in the fires in southern and northern California. Pray for the first responders – the police and firefighters who consistently put their own lives at risk in moments of danger to protect others. Pray for rain. Pray for people to find each other who have been separated in the chaos of the fires. Pray for all whose sense of safety and security and community have been lost. Pray for those who are working to provide support, comfort and shelter for those who have lost everything, or are waiting to hear if their home might still be standing. Pray.

What else can you do? Donate. Donate to Lutheran Disaster Response and Lutheran Social Services. Use the links above or below and live into the new normal I referenced not long ago during the fires near Redding — respond in generosity even if you have responded generously before. That is, I believe, our “new normal.” These donations will go directly to serving people who have lost their homes and their places of work and their community and maybe even their hope. Help them know that God’s love and care, though perhaps not very visible through the smoke and ashes of their burned-out homes is alive and well in us and our response to their need. Please give generously.

Is there anything else you can do? Advocate. Get active and involved in efforts to curb the madness of allowing gun violence such as we have witnessed 307 times this year come to an end. Talk to your representatives at the local, state and federal level to let them know you are willing to stand with them to enact legislation that will limit the sales of weapons and devices that allow guns to be modified and used for mass killings. These killings have become another “new normal” which needs to end. God’s grace, hope, love and peace must have the last word.

Bp. Mark

A suggested prayer from the ELW Armed Services Prayer Book:

Loving God, in the communion of Christ, we are joined with the sufferings of all. Be with those who are enduring the effects of the fires which are burning in our area of witness and service. Protect those in the path of danger. Open pathways for evacuation and shelter. Help loved ones find one another in the chaos. Provide assistance to those who need help. Let your love be made known in those who seek to bring order in the chaos. Help us to shoulder the burden of suffering, and make us bearers of the hope that is your healing gift in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen