Christmas Eve was a historic day in Paradise, CA as they had the first large-scale public gathering since the Camp Fire with the theme, "I'll be Home for Christmas." Paradise Alliance Church received special permission to open up the church for the three services which ended up totaling about 4,000 people in attendance, with pastors from numerous churches in the community, all representing the whole "church" of Paradise. The water is still not potable, and PG&E brought in special gas tanks to heat the building, but the services went on as a tribute to the HOPE God is inspiring in Pastor Josh Gallagher and our church family there.
A.B. Simpson, the founder of this movement we call "The Alliance," said "God is preparing heroes, and when the opportunity comes, He can fit them into their places in a moment. And the world will wonder where they came from."
While the news coming out of Paradise and Chico has slowed down, efforts to help our CPD churches here have only ramped up. Our C&MA family across the nation has mobilized prayer and resources on an unprecedented level. We're also seeing support from non-Alliance churches as God prompts them with this great need.
While Neighborhood Church in Chico is no longer being used as an evacuation center, NC Chico is still housing our Paradise Alliance Church. Now that we're past some of the initial chaos, I thought it would be good for you to hear directly from Josh Gallagher, the new pastor at Paradise Alliance Church.
I thought I would be ready for what I saw today. I wasn't. Not by a long shot. I'm not sure I could ever be. I'm not sure I should ever be. Donice and I were back in Chico Sunday for the combined service of the Chico and Paradise churches, joined by Terry Smith, C&MA Vice President. At one point all the people were asked to stand that had lost homes so we could pray for them. As hundreds of people stood all around this large auditorium, the gasp was audible as we experienced a new depth of grief for those affected by this disaster. It was another service where tears flowed freely.
As many of you know, the devastation caused by the Camp Fire has directly impacted two of our alliance churches. I have never been in a situation where I have heard and said so many times, "Words fail. There are no words to describe this."
It is in times like this that we have no choice but to rely on the Lord like the Psalmist in Psalm 46:1, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." And then the end of the chapter, vs 10-11, "Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."