Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback church in Orange County, California, released this letter by email to church members in the past 12 hours:
Dear Saddleback Church Family,
Our campus has been spared, but with 3 of the 18 California fires in the Saddleback Valley (Santiago, Modjeska, and Trabuco Canyons), so many of our members have been forced to evacuate their homes. So far, over 28,000 acres have burned here in our Saddleback Valley area.
Our hearts grieve for all who have lost their homes this week in the 18 fires of Southern California. News agencies report that almost 800,000 people have had to evacuate from their homes, and over 1 billion in damage has occurred so far. Monday night, we prayed together for these people as our 40 Days of Purpose Hosts met for training.
Of course your church has been at the center of relief efforts once again. This is the eighth national or international disaster that Saddleback has mobilized for, so our disaster teams are quite organized and effective as first responders.
HERE'S A QUICK UPDATE:
Our 120 acre campus has served as a Fire Evacuation Center, caring for and feeding people who had to evacuate their homes. We've also been taking care of a lot of pets and horses!
We've also been a staging area and Relief/Refreshment Center for the fire fighters. Today we fed over 425 fire fighters on our church campus. These fire fighters are from all over California.
Our ministry teams have been placing evacuated families into homes of members.
We've sent out trained volunteer chaplains to many other evacuation sites besides Saddleback care, counsel, and pray.
Today Saturday, many of our relief teams will head to the hardest hit areas of San Diego, as well as serving here in our local communities. Also members divided up in small groups to do clean up work in the Saddleback Valley. Each small group was given 4 houses to work with.
Saddleback is serving as a clearinghouse for relief donations for victims. Many individuals, organizations, and congregations from other states have called and wired funds to Saddleback that we're distributing to those who've lost everything. For information on giving go to www.saddleback.com
As the fires have raged this week, I've once again seen the undeniable importance and benefit of being a part of a small group. While people without a church home or a small group were sent to evacuation centers across Southern California (like our campus), I kept hearing story after story of Saddleback small groups opening their homes to fellow group members who had to evacuate. I also witnessed small groups actually fighting fires together when a group member's homes was threatened by fire!
THAT, my friends, is what small groups are all about! Your group carries you through a crisis! Right now I feel sorry for those who've never connected with a group. It's never too late to join one.
Also, I am so proud of how our 3,500 small groups immediately moved into action in this crisis. Jesus said, "Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples." John 13:35 (NLT)
(For those of you who asked: Yes, Kay (my wife) and Saddleback staff minister Elizabeth Styffe were captured briefly on video by a local TV news crew. Members of our small group were assisting in saving the Styffe home from the fire in their back yard. You may have also seen many of our college ministry ("CRAVE") students working alongside firefighters on the fire lines.
THREE THINGS YOU CAN YOU DO
1. Continue to pray for all the firefighters. MANY are Saddleback members.
2. This weekend, invite your friends and neighbors. I'm speaking on "HOW CAN I LOOK UP WHEN I'M BURNED OUT?" KEN BLANCHARD, the bestselling management author of all time, will share his personal testimony and response after his house burned down this week in Rancho Bernardo.
3. The following weekend, Nov. 3-4, invite everyone to join us as we publicly honor all the Fire Fighters at our six services Please pass on this word.
Remember, God's purpose for your life is greater than any problem you'll face.
"These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold - and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world." 1 Peter 1:7 (NLT)
See you this weekend during 40 Days of Purpose.