Middletown church a beacon of hope amid fire disaster

By Diana Chandler on November 01, 2015

MIDDLETOWN (BP) — God is using Southern Baptist Disaster Relief to share the gospel in a tangible way among survivors of California wildfires that killed seven people and burned more than 150,000 acres of land, pastor Michael Ent told Baptist Press.

The Valley Fire seemingly parted as it neared Ent’s pastorate, First Baptist Church in Middletown, he said, sparing the two-story wooden building. The church’s membership of 40 used the experience to encourage fellow survivors.

“We’re all survivors honestly,” Ent said. “Every one of us is blessed because the loss of life is so minimal. So in that respect we all recognize we’re going through this together, whether our structures are standing or not.”

A Middletown community member who was suffering from survivor guilt, as her home was spared, came to realize that her home was left standing as a blessing to the community, not her alone, Ent said.

“It dawned on her that the value of that property standing is not just for her. She knows that she’s going to get to use her house and her household, her home, to honor the Lord. And that’s what happening,” Ent said.

“But we’ve been hearing some miraculous reports about some of our membership (whose) home is still there. It’s kind of like the church building. Everything around the home is burned to a crisp and their home is standing.

“I don’t know what the rhyme or the reason is, but the Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” Ent declared. “That’s where we are and we’re giving God the glory for our property being there. It’s pretty clear to us we get to use it for His glory. And what a privilege that is.”

The Valley Fire killed four people and injured several firefighters and destroyed nearly 2,000 structures, according to a Cal Fire Department of Forestry and Fire Protection incident report.

Additional CSBC Disaster Relief Sites:

Other Southern Baptist Disaster Relief units served survivors of the smaller fire, the Butte Fire in Amador and Calaveras Counties, with a kitchen serving 2,500 meals a day in San Andreas. Nearby Glory Bound Fellowship, a county-designated evacuation center in Burson, hosted a laundry unit from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, as well as a shower unit. Glory Bound was a distribution site and shelter, where many of the meals prepared in San Andreas were served, Hargis said.

The Butte Fire killed two, destroyed nearly 500 residences and 350 outbuildings, and burned more than 71,000 acres, according to Cal Fire figures.

Southern Baptist volunteers worked at each church serving survivors, Hargis said. And those numbers will increase, he noted, as CSBDRM units help homeowners clean their lots after the damage is assessed.

Chaplains were at both church Disaster Relief sites, Hargis said, and all DR volunteers are trained to share Christ.

“We just want to be a witness. We want to be a witness to these survivors who have lost a lot. We want to help them to begin a new normal in many cases, because their old lives could be just ended and now they need a new normal,” Hargis said. “Those are things we want to try and help them to do by accepting Christ if they don’t know Him, or by increasing their faith in Christ if they do know Him.”

Ent noted monetary donations are needed to continue to help survivors. Donate online to CSBDRM. Checks made payable to California Southern Baptist Convention and noted for Disaster Relief can be sent to 678 E. Shaw, Fresno CA 93710. Donations go toward helping volunteers with travel and meals, and assessment and cleanup of destroyed properties.

“Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray,” Ent added. “That would be the first 10 requests I would make, because we have been praying that God would move in our town in a big way. We’ve been praying Ephesians 3:20 and 21. I don’t think we were quite anticipating something like this. But in the aftermath we’re seeing His presence working in and through us just in keeping with Ephesians 3:20. We’re begging God to move.”

Specifically, believers can pray that the church and volunteers would be good listeners and have clarity in moments when they’re called on to share God’s Word, Ent said. Such a tragedy can open survivors’ hearts to the gospel, he noted.

“People are done with their own sovereignty and they’re willing to look at and consider someone who’s stronger than them,and that’s clearly the Lord,” Ent said. “We’re praying for revival — that the Lord would use this to win people to Him. To allow us to be a part of it is just such an honor.”

Lake County has given CSBDRM permission to begin cleaning properties destroyed by the fires, as victims request assistance. To volunteer call 559-256-0855. For training opportunities visit disasterrelief.

This Convention serves our culturally diverse congregations as we fulfill the Great Commandment and the Great Commission.