The devastation of the Camp Fire is hard to picture unless you see it first-hand. There are burned out homes, businesses, and vehicles as far as you can see. So many lives have been changed forever. Closure will be hard to come by.
Nonetheless, the role of our recent Early Response Team mission to Paradise was to help start the journey of renewal. For about two weeks we sent teams with residents to visit their property and to assist with the recovery of what limited possessions that survived, if any.
It was heartbreaking. Most everything was gone. Look around your house and imagine losing every bit of it. Everything. We all recognize that a lot of it is “just stuff,” but there are also treasured keepsakes, photos, cherished jewelry, kid’s toys—a lifetime of memories.
Most days we sent out three teams of two people, each lead by an Early Response Team Leader. A full day was about three stops of two to three hours per site. We met with the resident at their property and first talked about their situation—how they are feeling, how they are doing now. Each person needs to tell their story. Then, as we suited up in protective gear (there are many hazardous chemicals and toxins in the ruins), they would tell us what specific things to look for.
Each situation was different. Most were looking for valuables of some type—a wedding ring, coin collection, or other personal treasure. After a few rains, finding such things in the soggy, soupy ash was nearly impossible. We had some successes and some disappointments. Others wanted to salvage grandma’s china, family knick-knacks, and mementoes of times gone by. Some were just looking for anything to remind them of their life in that place. Time is short. The bulldozers come in a few weeks.
Everyone processes loss in their own way. A good cry helps. Others wanted to reflect on special fond memories. We lent a willing ear for a couple of hours as we sifted ashes. And then we were gone. The clients were left with their own grief. Most are uncertain about their future: rebuild or not, where to live, what about the job they lost, and so many life decisions crammed into a few upside-down weeks. And yet, among all the sadness, we saw glimmers of hope, just like the sparkle of a lost ring in the debris.
Our mission participants will never forget this experience. We touched the lives of a few hundred people in a time of extreme crisis. It was a fleeting but meaningful impact. We marveled at the resilience and the determination of people so traumatized. “Grateful to be alive” takes on a whole new meaning!
Outside of our own comfort zone, we have grown as individuals who experienced the true meaning of living our faith in such a tangible way. Join us in prayer for the people of Paradise.
In Mission Together,
The California-Nevada Conference Camp Fire Response Team