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Grief and Gratitude


Two-thousand gather in Chico to mourn losses, share burdens, worship God, and reaffirm their dependence on His provision in the aftermath of the Camp Fire.

Central Pacific District Superintendent Ray Van Gilst reflects on a joint worship service between the Neighborhood Church of Chico and Paradise Alliance Church on November 11:

Yesterday was a Sunday filled with raw emotion as nearly 2000 people gathered at Neighborhood Church of Chico (NC Chico) for combined services with Paradise Alliance Church (PAC). PAC pastor, Josh Gallagher, who has only been there three months and also lost his home, brought the message and encouraged his people to grieve, and to grieve well. As Donice and I walked through the main NC Chico sanctuary, the “Dome,” seeing people sitting in their seats weeping told me this was exactly what was needed. We are all so grateful to NC Chico for taking in this sister church and providing a home for this season.

Josh stated, “We will be back up on the hill, but for now we are here.” He shared of wrestling with his own reactions to God in the service. After the worship team sang “You Are Good,” Josh spoke of knowing with his head, “Yes, God is good, but, I sure don’t feel like it right now,” and of it taking several times singing through the song to finally gain the peace of God in this dark time. He spoke of the importance to remember that God is the God of AND—we can be Sad and Happy, be Angry and Love, have Questions and Faith, Fear and Trust, Cry and Smile. This is exactly where so many of these precious people are right now.

Along with the tears and sorrow, there was relief as friends came together for the first time since the fire. And laughter as someone blurted out, “Maybe now we will finally get a sewer system in Paradise!” Out of 21 staff members, we have confirmed 16 lost their homes. A couple have confirmed that their homes are safe, and others just don’t know yet. We don’t yet have the number of families in the church who have lost homes, but it is scores—we can estimate it will be 90 percent of the church body.

As I met with the PAC board after the service, it was amazing—and humbling—to sit around the table with these men and women, most of whom had lost everything, and hear them talk about leading the way to rebuild their city—talk about a new beginning for Paradise. One of the board members also serves on the city council, and they have already been meeting with FEMA. While FEMA is promising support and helping to figure out how to move on, they are also saying, “This is the worst we have ever seen. This is new territory for us.” To hear FEMA saying this is sobering to say the least. PAC has a huge challenge ahead, but they feel called to their city, and the long-term opportunity for the gospel is amazing!

The PAC board meeting was followed by a meeting with representatives from Bayside in Granite Bay (Sacramento) who are pledging their help as well, and figuring out what a game plan looks like to help us in Paradise. God is moving His people all over the place to lean in to this desperate situation. Thank you for all your prayers as well. We know from many of you that you are taking offerings and mobilizing financial, as well as physical, help. This is all appreciated more than you know. The needs are far beyond anything I have ever seen.

Anyone wishing to provide financial help can give directly to either church by sending contributions straight to Neighborhood Church of Chico at 2801 Notre Dame Blvd Chico, CA 95928, or to the Central Pacific District office, 715 Lincoln Ave, Woodland, CA  95695, as we will be collecting funds for PAC and NC Chico. You can also give online through Push Pay. After you login, just search for Neighborhood Church of Chico, and there will be a category for Benevolence or Camp Fire. Both categories will be used to help families of PAC and NC Chico who have lost their homes.

In his love and service,

Ray