By Pastor Ricardo Graham
An unparalleled, devastating, catastrophic event has struck our state of California, which houses four of the seven local conferences in the Pacific Union Conference territory. Fires in both northern and southern California have left a trail of ruin and destruction.
In northern California, the worst fire to ever blaze through the state has left the town of Paradise obliterated. I am sure that you have seen photos of the Camp Fire and the town’s inhabitants fleeing for their lives.
News reports state that on November 8 the Camp Fire destroyed 7,100 houses in eight hours. As of this writing, 63 people are reported dead and 631 people are still missing. Thousands of people have lost everything in their torched homes.
And our Seventh-day Adventist family has not been spared. The Paradise Adventist church has been completely destroyed—burned to the ground. Pastors and members have lost their homes to the fire. Adventist Health Feather River Hospital has been damaged.
People we have known for years, our friends and fellow church members, have been left homeless. This firestorm has been unmerciful and indiscriminate.
As humans, we wonder what caused this. We look for something we can hold responsible; we want to blame someone. Mother Nature seems to be an apparent culprit, but that is just an indirect way of blaming God. While God certainly could have started it or prevented it, for many reasons I am not convinced that He did.
We are grief stricken by this but not without hope.
We are not insensitive to this monumental loss. The Pacific Union staff grieves with the victims of the Camp Fire. However, we grieve with hope—the hope that is central to Christianity. The hope that we have in Jesus.
David wrote these words: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4, KJV). The survivors of this Camp Fire have certainly been through the valley of the shadow of death. And they have experienced the deliverance of God’s presence.
We claim these inspired words of His reality as our own today in view of the loss of property and life during these fires.
Talk, it is said, is cheap. Talk is easy. Real faith is demanding. It demands us to move forward even while we are surrounded by tragedies and challenges to which we see no solution or resolution.
The Paradise Adventist church has these words emblazoned across its webpage as I write this: #ParadiseStrong. The staff has already moved into action to somehow resume the continuation of their ministry. They know that the real Church is not a building. It is the people gathered together in ministry. God bless all those affected by this fire.
We who have put our eternal trust in the Lord are able to take courage even in horrific times. As Psalm 130:7 states: “O Israel, hope in the Lord; For with the Lord there is mercy. And with Him is abundant redemption” (NKJV).
Somehow, in His own way, the Lord will redeem this situation. Keep hope alive.
We’ll continue to pray for our friends, family, and colleagues in ministry in Paradise.
Sending a check helps, too.
Ricardo Graham is the president of the Pacific Union Conference.