"Wildfires scorch a hole through Southern California's mythology of paradise." This was Monday morning's headline in the Los Angeles times. It's been said that John Milton's Paradise Lost is one of the greatest epic poems in the English language. It tells the story of the Fall of Man, and of innocence pitted against corruption, as Satan and his band of rebel angels plot their revenge against God through global catastrophe. In the essence of Paradise Lost, the tribulation caused by the #ThomasFire has turned out to be the worst event in Ventura's 151 year history.
Monday Dec 10, 2017 marked 7 consecutive days, 9 at the time of this writing, of wind fanned wildfires that have devastated Ventura County. Providentially we found ourselves bearing the brunt of the disaster as it swept through our community and forced us to evacuate on Monday night. Just an hour prior Steve received a series of text messages, one from Jamie stating that the power was out at home, that led him to drive to the top of the Foothill neighborhood to look east at a fire in Santa Paula that was "getting out of hand." As I stood between two houses, with the homeowners and other concerned neighbors, we all agreed that with nothing standing between it and us, the Thomas Fire was too close for comfort. Not long after returning to our home, the distant glow, had become a red wall towering over the foothills.
Not much time passed before our community spilled out into the street. At about midnight people were running door to door demanding that everyone stay awake and alert. I’d been watching them and the fire from the second story bedroom window. Needless to say, by the time the flashing lights and evacuation announcements reached our door, we were already doing a head count on the stairs.
Most of the first night was a blur, because power was out and the fire was so menacing. All we knew was that we’d better leave the area. So we hit the 101 S and drove to a friend's place in Oxnard. The 10 minute drive was a raceway that sadly claimed one life. By the time we pulled into our friend’s condominiums, we realized power was out there and they were evacuating voluntarily too. It wasn't until we pulled back onto the highway that we could see what appeared to be the entire city on fire and spreading fast. We could also see that being among the first several hundred to evacuate was a plus; the 101 behind us was a parking lot now as roughly 30,000 people were ordered out.
The unprecedented Santa Ana winds made driving difficult. By God’s grace we were low on fuel and literally had to stop in Camarillo. Though power was out there too, we stopped at a gas station with 10-20 other cars and parked at pump deciding to wait for electricity. As God would have it, members of our new family came to the rescue. It wasn't long before Sean and Amaris showed up with gas they'd sucked out of their vehicles by straw, and were escorting us to their house where all of their beds were waiting for us.
Today the 2 houses I first peeked between, and 97 others in the neighborhood are ash heaps -and chimneys. What has been known as Paradise for some, was undoubtedly lost this week. Thomas was just a reminder that, in line with Milton's poem, the effects of the fall of man have wreaked havoc on creation as we know it. Eighty mile an hour winds that multiply a 50 acre brushfire to 250,000 acres that claim > 700 structures, is proof enough that sin devastates all of creation.
Seed Communities, the church Steve now serves as Executive Pastor, had 80% of our church affected by the fires. Dozens beside us were displaced under mandatory evacuation orders, including our Lead Pastor Shaun and his family who live in the Ojai Valley. While we were able to return home under voluntary evacuation orders Shaun's family slept in a camper loaned to them, uncertain of the condition of their home until returning home yesterday. "We returned home last night... smells like someone has been smoking inside for 50 years" Shaun updated us all. Their home, impaired but inhabitable, is a success story among the ruination of thousands. Tuesday - Friday Shaun and Steve spent mostly at the church attempting to care for displaced members and out in the community talking and praying for affected families. Numerous opportunities to share the unfailing love of God shown to us in Jesus Christ, and His plan of redemption have developed. At one point a spanish cable network broadcasting live in Mexico interviewed and translated Steve as he shared hope from Isaiah 61 and walked through the rubbish of a destroyed home not yet returned to.
As we've begun to look to the days ahead we recognize that the work in front of us extends well beyond sight. To redevelop and rebuild this community will take years. In addition the distress Thomas has placed on the community will inevitably cause depression and anxiety that only the Church has an answer for. For this reason we're planning for the future and with the help of individuals, churches, and partners like Acts 29 and Children's Hunger Fund, preparing our long term response commitment to bring restoration and transformation to lives and communities in the 805. To read our full response strategy visit www.seed805.com and consider partnering with us.
We at Seed Communities are responding to those impacted, beginning with those displaced in our own church family, but with plans to help broadly within the surrounding communities as well. There are several ways you can get involved.
Please pray for:
- There is still an atomic plume of smoke hanging over us as Thomas rages toward Santa Barbara to the north and Fillmore to the east, forcing more people out of their home
- Families displaced due to total loss or mandatory evacuation
- Open doors for the gospel and resources for on-going mercy ministry
Seed’s goal in the immediate wake of the fires is to raise $50,000 for a Seeds of Mercy Fund. This will provide relief for families affected, whether through temporary aid, relocation, or other means. You may give to the fund HERE. 100% of donations given toward the fire relief will be used exclusively for that effort.
Seed is planning support and rehabilitation for the area for the next 3-4 years. As a part of this, we are spearheading a coalition of organizations, non-profits, and businesses, to make a sustainable impact in restoring Ventura County.
We currently have a list of about 54 church leaders in our immediate area who've met twice to speak about partnering with schools and spearheading various long term projects. Additionally we have a growing list of community and social service organizations. If you would like to stay informed on this coalition’s plans, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What has been known as paradise to some, was undoubtedly lost this week. For others of us, Thomas proved to be quite doubtful as victor over God’s creation. There is hope through the fire. Joy in Christ overcomes temporal suffering and crowds out earthly concerns, stimulating believers to sacrifice for and absorb the suffering of others. Dark times are those in which the Church and it’s hope of a true, eternal, Paradise radiates most.
----> Let your light shine. <----