By Julie Lorenz
In late September and early October, a number of fires raged within the Northern California Conference (NCC) territory, causing mass evacuations. By the first week in October, the Glass Fire and North Complex West Zone Fire had destroyed 39 homes belonging to church members and NCC employees. (The number may go up as more reports come in.) No church members’ lives have been lost.
The Glass Fire hit the Deer Park area—a few miles southwest of Angwin—especially hard, burning 20 homes belonging to church members. On the campus of Foothills Adventist Elementary School, the fire destroyed Baldwin Hall, which housed the upper-grades classrooms, music room, library, kitchen, and school office. “When we picked our spiritual and curricular theme this year, we chose ‘resilience,’” said Principal Rob Ingham. “We wanted to inspire resilience in our students and school family. Little did we know the trials that the start of this year would bring!”
The fire also destroyed The Haven church’s thrift store, which sold clothes, furniture, books, and other items. Profits were used for church and community ministries, as well as scholarships for students at Foothills and PUC Elementary School. Through the years, people visited the store just to talk to deacon Hurshal Woodruff, known by many as the “mayor of Deer Park,” a daily volunteer. “The store was not just a place where people could get used items for a really great price, it was also a place where they could have community,” said The Haven church Pastor Josie Asencio. “It’s a big loss.”
Elmshaven, the final home of Ellen White, is still standing, along with the other buildings on its property. Many area residents and firefighters were certain the structures would burn, since they are located on Glass Mountain Road, near where the severity of the fire was first reported. “We praise the Lord that He has saved Elmshaven,” said manager Abner Castañón, during a video tour of the property posted on the “Elmshaven Landmark” Facebook page.
A week before the outbreak of the fires, NCC administrators put together the Disaster Response Team and established the NCC Disaster Relief Fund. Already donors throughout California and other states have made contributions. All donations will be used to meet the immediate and emergent needs of members and those connected to the local church within the first seven days after disaster strikes. “Local pastors are our eyes and ears on the ground—able to identify members and related community who need cash assistance immediately,” said Laurie Trujillo, director of communication and development. “Thanks to the donors of the Disaster Relief Fund, we are able to respond quickly to people’s needs.” Visit nccsda.com to make a donation.
The Disaster Response Team plans for a coordinated and effective response to future disasters, including oversight of the relief fund. The team consists of the communication and development director, the risk management director, the Adventist Community Services director, and two additional members who have experience with disaster response. Adventist Laymen’s Services & Industries (ASI) Pacific Union President Patti Guthrie is serving as an advisor.
“The 2018 Camp Fire and these current fires tell us that the NCC needs to develop a way to respond quickly and deploy resources to help members and those connected to our churches all over our territory,” said Trujillo.
Many people and organizations throughout the NCC have stepped up to support church members and others driven from their homes by the fires. To name just a few, Adventist Health, the Fairfield Community church, The Haven church, Napa Christian Campus of Education, the Napa Community church, the Pacific Union College church, and the NCC provided food in the Napa Valley area. Adventist Health donated food and other items that pastors, members, and PUC students distributed in Calistoga and Yountville. Willie Johnson, African American ministries coordinator/urban ministries director, is working with three churches that have clothing banks to prepare clothes for people to pick up at drive-through distribution areas. The Carmichael church and The Veg Hub ministry have also volunteered resources.
“The NCC is not an office building in Roseville; it’s the 41,000 members spread throughout our territory,” said President Marc Woodson. “When disaster strikes, it impacts all of us. We are an interconnected family.”