PARADISE, Calif.—Even though most of its people are still living in temporary housing, Calvary Baptist Church gathered on a recent Sunday for a Christmas banquet. “The ladies really wanted to have it,” said board chairman Ron Hutto.
Calvary Baptist was destroyed by a wildfire that wiped out most of the community on Nov. 8, and nearly every church member’s home with it. Pastor Gerry Zordel said the church is looking for a place to rent for one year, but in the meantime the congregation gathers on Sundays in the home of church member Carolyn Rice in nearby Chico. “We are seeking God’s will for a place to meet for the next year.”
Ron said none of the church family’s members who lived in Paradise have been allowed back in town to visit their properties. Only law enforcement and utility workers have permission. “We have no idea when we might be able to get back there and look at the [church] property and see if anything is left,” Ron said.
Ron said financial assistance with living expenses is the main thing the church family needs. “Right now everyone has a residence somewhere,” Ron said. But he added that about 15 people remain in temporary housing, and while for some, insurance offsets portions of their expenses, such as hotels and food, others are using their resources to pay for daily needs. “Others are with friends and some are renting, but everything right now is temporary.”
Because of the high volume of displaced homeowners looking for properties, the cost of homes in nearby communities like Chico have skyrocketed, and there are not enough homes for buyers and renters. Subsequently, six church members have moved out of the Paradise area; three have moved out of state to Washington and Oklahoma.
Ron said his church family is extremely thankful for financial assistance from Regular Baptist Builders Club, the California Association of Regular Baptist Churches, individuals, and churches. Twelve Regular Baptist churches and 51 individuals have given more than $26,000 to Regular Baptist Builders Club’s California Fires Disaster Relief emergency fund to assist the church. The 12 churches, from California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, Montana, and Ohio, took up special offerings last month to leverage the resources of the GARBC to help this church family in need.
“Everything our church has received has been given out in checks,” Ron said. “Most people are quite surprised by it, and they are really happy.”
Mike Hess, GARBC national representative, said that people’s generous giving to the emergency fund is a great example of the blessing of being part of the GARBC network.
The church family and leadership are still in a state of uncertainly about what they should do in the future. “Some people are still living in hotels—and will for a while because they will not be able to rebuild for a year or two,” Ron said.
Pastor Gerry Zordel hopes that the church will eventually be allowed to meet in a temporary building on the church property, but he fears it may be a year before the church gets permission. “The city is concerned about toxic ash and soil,” he said. “I hope that we can get help quickly when we can set up a temporary structure perhaps in a year or two.”
The city of Paradise is predicting that some parts of town may get electricity by the end of this year, but natural gas will not be available until the first quarter of next year. “We still have a lot of big decisions to make about rebuilding,” Ron said. “We don’t know what the city is going to do as far as requirements when we go back in to rebuild. It may take this community three to five years to recover.”
Ron said the church leadership is wondering how that time frame will impact the church. He said some members may be leaving because they don’t want to rebuild.
Last Sunday about 22 members held a celebration of life for church member Sally Gamboa, a 69-year-old widow who perished in the fire. In addition to supporting its own members, the church is also reaching out to those outside Calvary Baptist. “Our people have been doing a great deal of witnessing. Our emphasis remains on fellowship, love, and comfort.”