Brethren share from areas affected by wildfires and hurricanes

A NASA image from Sept. 6, 2020, shows the intense heatwave that broke temperature records in several locations in southern California. “The dry, hot conditions helped fuel new and existing fires, which have consumed tens of thousands of acres of land. According to recently published research, these extremes fit a long-term trend toward longer and more intense heatwaves in Southern California,” NASA reported. “Much of the Southwest roasted in a dramatic heatwave. The map was derived from the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) model and represents temperatures at 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) above the ground. The darkest red areas are where the model shows temperatures surpassing 113°F (45°C).
On September 6, 2020, around 1:30 p.m., Los Angeles County recorded its highest temperature ever at 121°F (49°C) at Woodland Hills.” Image courtesy of NASA

Church of the Brethren leaders have been sharing information from areas affected by disasters, including wildfires in the western US and hurricanes on the Gulf Coast.

“We feel like the whole northwest is on fire!” said Debbie Roberts, who is on the interim district executive team for Pacific Northwest District. She reported last Friday expressing concern for the Portland area of Oregon, where there were evacuations taking place in some suburbs at the time.

Following up from Portland Peace Church of the Brethren, pastor Sarah Kinsel wrote: “We grieve with friends (and strangers) who have lost homes.” At the time, on Sept. 11, a couple of church families had evacuated and others were in “get ready” zones, poised to leave if necessary. “Other folks are hosting family or friends who have been displaced,” Kinsel said. “Most of the congregation are in their homes and doing all right, worried and stir crazy but safe. Individuals have been gathering donations for relief, and we just opened our church parking lot and yard to house RVs or tents as a short-term emergency place for fire evacuees to land (in partnership with an ecumenical organization here in Portland).”

Pacific Southwest District executive Russ Matteson reported late last week that although the rest of the district was not being directly affected at the time, the El Dorado Fire was approaching the area around Camp La Verne in the mountains of southern California.

Following up, camp board chair Jeff Brehmeyer reported by email that “the Barton Flats area, which includes Camp La Verne and 15-20 other organization camps, has been evacuated because of the El Dorado Fire. While we are not in immediate danger, there is only one road in and out of camp–so the evacuation is primarily a safety measure at this time.” At the time, the fire was “creeping closer to Angelus Oaks–a community about 7 miles away from camp. We are certainly keeping those residents in our thoughts and prayers.”

Brehmeyer asked for prayer for the firefighters, the police and sheriffs securing the safety of residents and visitors, residents of the evacuation area, Camp La Verne, and the other organizations’ camps.

On the Gulf Coast, Hurricanes Laura and Sally have hit in places where there are Church of the Brethren congregations. Matt Prejean, volunteer district executive for Southern Plains District who is from Roanoke (La.) Church of the Brethren, spoke with Jenn Dorsch Messler of Brethren Disaster Ministries by telephone last week.

“The good thing is they are not needing our help right now,” Dorsch Messler said. There were no reports of congregation members sustaining major damage to their homes. There was minor damage to the roof of the Roanoke church building and parsonage, and damage to a fence and a shed as well as many fallen trees on the church property. It is expected that the cost of repairs will be covered by insurance.

Brethren Disaster Ministries is concerned that Hurricane Laura “is not getting much media attention anymore because of the other news items and the predicted storm surge not happening, but the winds were incredible and there is a long recovery ahead,” Dorsch Messler said. She shared specific concern for the hospital where Prejean works, which had been evacuated and was still without power as of last week. Prejean said it could be at least a month before power is restored, and generators were being brought in so the hospital can reopen.

Prejean asked for prayer for all those affected and their community.

Similarly, the Church of the Brethren congregations in the area of Alabama affected by Hurricane Sally suffered no serious damage or losses. Wallace Cole from Southeastern District reported on the two Church of the Brethren congregations in Alabama, Citronelle and Fruitdale. “I talked to folks there,” he wrote by email to Nancy Sollenberger Heishman, director of the Office of Ministry. “They had wind and rain and thankfully no damage other than tree limbs down. They were on the west end of the storm.”

For more information about the work of Brethren Disaster Ministries go to . To give financially to the disaster relief work of the church, donate to the Emergency Disaster Fund at .

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