Aside from thousands of homes and structures, more than twelve churches were destroyed as a wildfire hit Paradise, California, but the community spirit and faith remain. Referred to as the Camp Fire, it was considered the deadliest in the history of the state. The community consists of about 27,000 people.
Pastors in Paradise worked to manage physical and spiritual relief for churchgoers who took shelter in Chico. They were also asked to give updates on what happened to their church buildings, sharing the hope of residents that their homes and schools were spared.
According to Christianity Today, the Paradise Adventist Church was burned down, but its leaders said, “Though the physical attributes of our earthly Paradise are destroyed, the spirit of Paradise has spread across the country and around the world, as people are moved to volunteer resources to help.”
Other congregations that lost their buildings include Our Savior Lutheran Church (LCMS), Ridge Presbyterian Church (PCA), Paradise Church of Christ, First Assembly of God, Craig Memorial Congregational Church, Paradise Foursquare, New Life Apostolic Church, Paradise Pentecostal Church of God, Community Church of the Brethren, Hope Christian Church, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) meeting house, and a Center for Spiritual Living. Homes of many pastors, staff, and other churchgoers were also in ruins. Nevertheless, lead pastor Stan Freitas of Hope Christian Church wrote, “Building was burnt down, but cross and rock still standing.”
There were churches that were damaged but were not burned down. For instance, the office and new construction of Jubilee Church were spared, while only some parts of Paradise Adventist Academy and Adventist Health’s Feather River Hospital were destroyed.
As of this writing, over 85 people lost their lives in the wildfire, while more than 600 are still unaccounted for. Christians continue to gather at churches in nearby Chico to spread positive messages of hope and renewal.
After the evacuation, church leaders checked in on families and coordinated with relief efforts. According to Pastor Josh Gallagher of Paradise Alliance Church, “Our church is spread out all over California and the surrounding states. That’s been the hardest part because being the shepherd, you now have no idea where your people are even at.” He sought shelter at Neighborhood Church in Chico. He then found out that his family’s home was not spared by the fire. The same fate happened to the homes of almost all families of the church’s staff.