The worst fire in California history deeply devastates Paradise Evangelical Free in Paradise, California. While 150 individuals from the congregation survived the fast moving fire, nearly everyone lost their home. In this situation Paradise Evangelical Free is requesting help and the national EFCA is rising to the occasion. This blog deeply supports relief efforts and hopes that others who read this post can offer assistance to help Paradise Evangelical Free rise from the ashes of this disaster.
“There were thousands of pastors around California daydreaming about being at the ballpark, and I was at the ballpark dreaming about being in the ministry.”
“It’s so much darker when a light goes out than it would have been if it had never shone.”
“There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So just give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.”
Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him; I will surely defend my ways to his face.
Job 13:15 NIV
Paradise is a small community in Butte County, California. Located in the Sierra foothills northeast of Sacramento. In the 2010 census the town’s population was 26,218. From what I am reading Paradise is set into a canyon and the only way into the community is by road. Its against this that a tragedy devastated the community, but before we get into that let’s examine Paradise Evangelical Free and its current Senior Pastor Art Worthington.
Art Worthington and Paradise Evangelical Free
I did some research on Paradise Evangelical Free and I did not come up with much about the history of this individual EFCA church. On their website they have a history tab but when you look at the webpage it records the national history of the EFCA. The internet archives also didn’t reveal too much as well. Art Worthington came to Paradise in October of 2012. Art originally attended San Francisco State University where he earned a BA in journalism in 1982. He went on to Golden Gate Seminary which is affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, and picked up his Masters of Divinity in 1992. Art in time was the Director of Publications for the Oakland Athletics from 1982 until 1990. In that job he wrote programs, pre-season yearbooks and more. He also worked with the players, such as Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco to set up photo shoots and arrange for articles with the media. While it was a good job, and allowed him to travel Art wanted to do more with his life. He yearned to be in the local church. After seminary he eventually landed at Chico Evangelical Free where he was on staff as a pastor from 2003 until 2012. He then became the senior pastor of Paradise Evangelical Free in 2012 which is the role he maintains today. His wife teaches at a local Christian school and Art has three children.
An Overview of the Camp Fire
The Camp fire began on November 8, 2018 near Camp Creek Road in Butte County, California. The fire moved so rapidly that fire crews changed their mission to evacuate the town of Paradise and Concow. The chaos from the developing natural disaster led for many people to try and flee. In the traffic jam outside of town the raging fire started to overtake vehicles. A number of people abandoned their vehicles in place while some remained in the fire. As a result a number of people were tragically incinerated either in their automobiles or trucks or in trying to escape on foot. This fire has now officially become the worst fire in California state history. 146,000 acres are burned and 12, 263 buildings were lost. The death toll from the Camp fire is rapidly rising. According to the Los Angeles Times as of Friday November 16 there are a total of 71 people killed and 1,011 who are reported missing. In Paradise there was an exceptional amount of retirees who lived in the community. Human remains are being discovered as this disturbing situation unfolds. Fire fighters are working to recover and identify human remains. As the fire is fought in time the next question will be about rebuilding.
How Paradise Evangelical Free has been Affected by the Camp Fire
The Camp Fire hit Paradise hard, including the local Evangelical Free church led by Art Worthington. After the evacuation of Paradise it was later learned that the congregation was safe and sound. According to Art 150 have survived and all are accounted, and for that Paradise Evangelical Free is grateful. The problem that exists is that of those 150 that survived nearly everyone lost their homes in the Camp Fire. Only a few residences survived. In this calamity the actual church building, Paradise Evangelical Free survived unscathed. As the community deals with the devastation from the Camp Fire many people went to live with relatives and friends far and wide. Some went to the San Francisco Bay Area, others to Los Angeles. Yet others went to Chico, Sacramento, even Nevada and Oregon. In the meantime Paradise Evangelical Free will be meeting at Chico Evangelical Free at 11:15. Sunday school and nursery at Chico Evangelical Free will be combined. The church is putting out an urgent call for help as the members of the congregation have lost everything. They are requesting money, gift cards from places such as Target, Wal-Mart, or elsewhere. Plus they are requesting clothing and diapers be donated. You can donate to the emergency relief fund of Paradise Evangelical Free here.
A Call for Help from the Western District and National EFCA
When the disaster hit Paradise the EFCA at both the Western District level and the national level quickly moved to address the situation. The first email that Neal Brower sent out to the EFCA’s Western District occurred on November 9, a day after the disaster. This is what the email stated, “The Western District and the EFCA are ready to help. Mark Lewis, of EFCA Crisis Response has already been in touch with practical and emotional help, and will continue to do so. Several area Free Churches have reached out and are serving. Our DS, Neal Brower, is heading to the site on Sunday. If you have any other questions after reading through this announcement, give Neal a text or call. We thank you in advance!” In that same email the following response to Paradise was described as the following.
- All church families are accounted for and safe.
- There is no way, at this time, to determine how much property loss has bee suffered.
- All have evacuated, most of those to Chico, where our church has opened its doors for shelter.
- Several district churches have already engaged Pastor Art Worthington with practical help. More is needed.
On November 15, Western District Superintendent Neal Brower sent out another email called “Together for Paradise.” He released a video calling for financial help to those afflicted. The concern that Neal raises is those who have lost homes who still have mortgages and other bills coming due. Its a dire situation especially as some people’s jobs have been wiped out by the disaster. Neal is also wanting each dollar matched and for the staff of Paradise Evangelical Free financially helped for a year. Also the EFCA’s Kevin Kompelien released a video calling for help as well, and the national EFCA created a video that churches can use in this upcoming Sunday service for EFCA churches across the United States.
Within the EFCA some churches are responding to this calamity. For example NorthPoint Church in Corona, California is pushing for assistance at their website which you can read here. And other churches across the EFCA are also raising the disaster to their congregations. For example Senior Pastor Henry Williams of Five Oaks Church in Woodbury, Minnesota in the North Central District wrote about the situation in Paradise at his blog. Its my hope that this will continue. Also in the EFCA the ReachGlobal Crisis Response sprung into action. Mark Lewis who heads up Reach Global Crisis response immediately got the situation moving. They started to work with the Western District and the national EFCA right away. You can read the initial article at the EFCA’s Crisis Response Blog in, “Complete Devastation – Paradise, CA Fire.” Then on November 13, 2018 the situation with Paradise was written about again in, “Only two…”
Please Help Paradise Evangelical Free in this Difficult Situation
Though I reside in the Washington, D.C. area I am a California native. I grew up in the San Joaquin Valley and have a lot of memories and experiences in California. What strikes me as a Californian at heart, is how the wildfires have become worse and more devastating. Though fires happened from time to time when I was a kid, they have not been of this magnitude. The Camp Fire and the situation that came about is deeply disturbing. In my mind I think of the displaced families. The good news in the Paradise Evangelical Free disaster is that everyone is safe and accounted for. You can replace buildings, but you can not replace people. So for that news this blog is grateful. However, how do you replace the damage and lost family heirlooms? How do you replace the high school yearbooks or the jewelry that has been passed down from one generation to another? While the news is good that people survived the pain remains from the situation, and the rebuilding is going to be a long term challenge.
One possibility that might be considered by the EFCA is the following. What if the problem was managed by spreading out the responsibilities? For example what if a program was developed so that an EFCA church can “adopt” a family that lost their home in the Paradise fire? What if an EFCA church in Florida who adopted a family sponsored and helped a family until they were back on their feet? What if other EFCA churches in Minnesota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Missouri, or Texas also did the same thing? How much suffering can be alleviated and how much love and grace could be shown? Its my hope that this blog post can draw attention to the situation in Paradise Evangelical Free. I am asking for people to donate and support the EFCA and the Western District in their calls for assistance. I am also asking for people to give financially or give gift cards to help people get back on their feet. I will make an effort to donate a small amount, but will you join me to help those in dire straights who need assistance during this time?
You can give to the EFCA’s Crisis Response Team here.
You can also give to the Paradise Evangelical Free Fire Fund here.
This blog is pulling for Paradise Evangelical Free and is grateful that the EFCA is rising to the occasion. The people caught up in this disaster will be in my thoughts and prayers and I look forward to writing about how the EFCA helped people in need get back on their feet. To Art Worthington and Paradise Evangelical Free you are loved, and appreciated. Perhaps during this time the story Horatio G. Spafford can be of some inspiration and peace. Paradise Evangelical Free please take care of yourself.