In the shadow of rolling black-outs, political tensions, COVID-19, and a record-breaking heatwave, California is now battling some of the worst fires in state history. But one small local church is stepping up to offer crisis relief to its community in their moment of need.
Over the weekend of August 16, lightning strikes sparked hundreds of fires across the state, and flames spread quickly through dry forests and vegetation. On Monday, August 24, Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted an update: hit by over 13,000 lightning strikes, California was fighting 625 fires — including some of the largest in CA history. Over 1.2 million acres had burned so far, an area nearly the size of the Grand Canyon.
Northern California is bearing the brunt of this disaster. According to Cal Fire Assistant Deputy Director Daniel Berlant, two fires alone have devastated more than 771,000 acres of land. That is roughly the size of Rhode Island.
Many Acts 29 churches in the Western US are suffering the effects of these fires. One of them, Santa Cruz Baptist Church, is located just south of the third-largest fire raging in California.
As of Friday, August 28, the fire near Santa Cruz Baptist Church (named the CZU Lightning Complex) was 26% contained and had consumed 82,540 acres. The blaze devastated much of the iconic Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s oldest state park and home to the largest grove of coastal redwoods south of San Francisco. And according to local news channel KSBW, the CZU Lightning Complex forced “tens of thousands of people” to evacuate. It has destroyed 554 homes and counting.
The Local Church Responds
“The local church,” writes Pastor Drew Cunningham, “is the visible expression of the Body of Christ here on earth.” In the midst of this loss, Santa Cruz Baptist Church jumped into action to serve their community with the tangible love of Jesus.
The fire began on August 16. Just three days later, the church’s Facebook page announced that they were “here and ready to help anyone affected,” with “room to house 6-8 families who have been evacuated.”
This Acts 29 church family gathered food, prepared rooms with mattresses and linens, and even constructed showers in order to help people displaced by fires.
They transformed church classrooms into comfortable family bedrooms, complete with houseplants, board games, and lamps; they set up tents and air mattresses in the larger rooms and outside in order to house as many evacuees as possible; they collected enough food to overflow the small church kitchen, served donuts and hot coffee, made pancakes, and presented buffet-style meals. Despite the necessity of face masks, photos reveal smiling eyes offering welcome and friendship.
“Because Christ Loved Us, We Love People”
This is the truth that motivates Santa Cruz Baptist Church. It’s the headline message on the “Who We Are” section of their webpage, and it’s the reality that compels the love their neighbors are experiencing from them right now.
At the time of writing, this fire is still more than 70% out of control. The believers sacrificing time and resources to support others could very well be facing hardship themselves. As they serve their community in word and deed, they are a picture of the welcoming kindness they’ve received from Jesus.
When a local church is present and active in their community, they’ll be trusted in times of crisis — able to offer gospel hospitality when it’s most acutely needed. This is why Acts 29 is single-minded about church planting. If you’re able to give to Acts 29, you will be helping to ensure that local churches like Santa Cruz Baptist keep getting planted across the globe, proclaiming the gospel and loving their neighbors in times of peace and disaster.
Please pray with us for Santa Cruz Baptist Church, and for the recipients of their help in these devastating circumstances.