It’s been a little over a year since I deployed to the recovery efforts in Houston due to hurricane Harvey, and more recently I heard the Spirit calling out to me for those in turmoil from the catastrophic fires in my own state. During my growth as a Community Chaplain with Rock Church under the guidance of Pastor Mickey, it was he that introduced me to Crisis Response International (CRI), the Christian organization that truly plunged me head first into the arena of recovery. I will discover on this deployment that the circumstances causing hopelessness may have changed, but the faces and the stories seem to blend into analogous fate. Again I am blessed with an opportunity to work alongside responders who bring relief, hope, and healing to the darkest and most desperate places in the world. Today’s hell on earth is called Paradise.
The stories from the people of Paradise, California, that I ministered to were mostly of a similar devastation—the loss of everything due to the greatest, most destructive wildfire in state history. One tale was from a man who begged his neighbors to get in the car, but instead watched him go back in his house for a belonging. He never made it out. One gentleman lost his home, his neighbors, and his employment since the local business burned down as well.
Although these people had their lives, families and pets, an emptiness was in their eyes.
The Point of Distribution (POD) offered food, clothing, and incidentals such as linens, hygiene items, diapers, etc. We arrived in the POD to sort items and categorize as quickly as donations came in. It was here in this parking lot that the CRI organization wished to roll out their newly procured Hope Trailer, a mobile sound stage that could assemble a worship team in less than an hour. The Hope Trailer made its debut in this parking lot and many said when the worship music launched, the mood changed from despair to optimism. But the enemy would have no such thing.
A secular dogma was evident and one of the organizers, known locally for his music vocation, concluded he would arrange something different: worldly musicians to use the same mobile stage to sell tickets and fundraise. Jason, our team leader, had to clarify that this asset had one purpose only, and that was to glorify God. It was here that CRI was given an ultimatum: share or be gone. We packed up and left for home base. At home base, every day starts in the upper room with prayer, and each day ends in prayer. The team met after dinner to pray for the next day’s need.
Rumors and reports had filtered back to CRI on social media that the Toys R Us POD started to struggle after we departed. Prayer revealed some prophetic words, that the team would go ten feet and build an altar, then another ten feet and build an altar, which translates, we will go where the Spirit leads us, when He leads. He led us to the Hope Center in Orville, CA.
The Hope Center is a faith-based organization running an effective POD close to Paradise and the idea of a worship team singing and playing as evacuees shopped was extremely appealing. Several of my fellow CRI volunteers were blessed to become trained Shoppers who shopped for families and eventually pray life, hope, and blessings over them. It’s what the people of Paradise needed most.
My fellow volunteers were blessed to pray life, hope, and blessings over them. It’s what the people of Paradise needed most.
Jennifer had the same story as most: she lost everything, home and stuff, but her loved ones were safe and well insured. She even mentioned that she had already secured a rental to house her family. I could see reluctance and mood shift on her face. She verbalized that she shouldn’t be here at the POD, and this place is for people who have nothing. She wasn’t proud to be taking handouts, she was ashamed to be taking from those who have less. Peggy stepped in to educate and reveal that the items in this facility were for everyone impacted, and slowly she came to realize that it was okay to be there. What Jennifer didn't know was that she was about to have a divine encounter with Heather and Neesha.
Heather was shadowing our team leader, Jason. She is on fire for Christ and possesses many spiritual gifts. Neesha is a born-again Christian that walked away from gang violence, drugs and other unmentionables….and has a heart too big for her little frame to contain. Both these women are prayer warriors who speak God’s truths and admonish any evil spirit that does not edify one’s nature.
As I witnessed Jennifer’s emotional freefall, I backpedaled into the POD to look for female teammates who could minister over Jennifer, and that is when I found Heather and Neesha inside praying over one another. I rudely interrupted them and declared an emergency for both of their presence in the lobby. I could see their facial contempt for me, but they followed my direction. As Peggy finished briefing Jennifer, I politely asked Jennifer to follow me to the waiting area, and plop her in the middle of these two warriors. God is so good, and truly knows how to orchestrate His love. It’s here that I promised myself to go the extra step and publicly express God’s endless ability to use each and every one of His children for His purposes.
As I casually peaked over to see Christ’s work in action, I saw Jennifer’s dejection melting away as her facial expressions changed to hope and acceptance. Heather and Neesha were holding her hands and pouring God’s love into her life. Not knowing what exactly was being said, it became obvious what Jennifer received was sufficient, and after twenty minutes, she entered the POD with belief that she wasn’t walking alone throughout this hardship.
An hour later, a woman named Aidi relieved me and was now a Greeter. She introduced me to Joseph, 30, who reminds me of my son. Joseph was rescued by the First Responders atop of one of the fiery mountains in Paradise. Joseph appeared to be homeless, wearing only a ski cap, T-shirt, sweat pants and flip-flops. Aidi asked me to take Joseph shopping even though I was not a “trained shopper.”
Joseph was rescued by the First Responders atop of one of the fiery mountains in Paradise wearing only a ski cap, T-shirt, sweat pants and flip-flops.
I grabbed a shopping cart and took Joseph through the POD to gather the essentials. After inquiring Joseph's shoe size, I asked my daughter, Sammy, to take over so I could get a closer look at the inventory. There was nothing but women’s shoes and kids' slippers. It was here that I think I heard God’s voice. The dots were quickly connected. Aidi insisted I take this kid shopping, a young man my son’s age who I looked at with awe for surviving life alone on a hill, and now I stood in front of a table with no size 10s. He asked me a question I already knew the answer to. It took me about 15 minutes to get in my truck, drive into a town I didn’t know, and return with a new pair of Nikes. I re-entered the POD like I was merely in the storeroom. Joseph tried them on. They were perfect. He left the POD with what he needed. It made me appreciate all that I have. The dots were all connected, and I truly know how blessed I am. Here in this POD, in this moment, I found this place called Paradise.
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