A team of Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR) chaplains has been among those assisting casualties of the worst wildfire season in Washington state history, offering help and hope in the face of loss.
The volunteers were deployed by FDR to support two small-town Foursquare churches reaching out to people in their local communities affected by the fires that have raged across more than 1,000 square miles. Described by Gov. Jay Inslee as “a statewide slow-motion disaster,” the widespread burning claimed the lives of three firefighters last month. Scores of homes have been lost, with hundreds of people evacuated. National Guard personnel have been sent to bolster the efforts of firefighters.
As crews continue their fight to contain the fires, a nine-strong team of FDR volunteers trained to respond to emergency needs has been mobilized to support two Foursquare congregations in Okanogan County, where the fires have caused extensive damage and disruption.
Crossroads Christian Fellowship (Tonasket Foursquare Church) in Tonasket, pastored by George Conkle, has one member who was displaced by the fires. The church has been caring for local people in need by providing grocery store cards to buy basic supplies, and is out in the community touching lives.
River of Life (Omak Foursquare Church), about 20 miles away in Omak and pastored by Marc Doney, has opened its doors as a shelter and distribution center for emergency supplies. The church’s website features a link to a map of the wildfires and emergency information.
The group of Foursquare ministers and service chaplains from four states was recruited and sent out by FDR’s U.S. Operations Chief Gary Grubbs, himself a Foursquare chaplain, after he deployed an Advance Lead Team last weekend to assess the situation for the two local churches and develop a plan that would further their outreach to their communities.
Since arriving in the area this Monday, the FDR volunteers (Task Force 1) have been helping with relief supply distribution, assessing needs and visiting people who have lost homes and property. Their deployment requires an FDR disaster relief training course approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), spiritual sensitivity emphasized in FDR’s training, and Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) training, also taught by FDR.
“You can be helping people go through the ashes, picking up things that remain,” says Gary. “You have to be very pastoral, very compassion-oriented, and led by the Holy Spirit in how you approach people at times like this.”
The need for sensitivity is heightened in small communities—Tonasket has a population of around 1,200, Omak 5,000—where everyone knows one another. “We are helping represent the local church to their community,” adds Gary. “It’s a team effort.”
FDR funds also are helping to pay for construct sheds, costing around $2,500 each, in which people can safely store equipment and materials as they begin the work of rebuilding, and the installation of showers at the church in Omak to serve residents and relief crews.
As the first FDR team’s deployment draws to a close, Gary has been working on more help for the area. That could include sending out further FDR teams in the near term, and helping coordinate volunteers from Foursquare churches that want to be part of long-term rebuilding projects in support of the local churches’ goals.
FDR is there to support the local church, not take over, Gary asserts, as the local church members remain in the community and continue to touch lives and make disciples. As “the constant hands and feet of Jesus,” they run the operation. “These sorts of situations are an opportunity to really serve the local community, to stand with them and help them, and demonstrate to people who may not know the church that it is not just a building, it is the body of Christ,” he explains.
Gary asks Foursquare members around the country to pray that the fires would be contained, for safety for those trying to bring them under control, and for the Foursquare churches and FDR volunteers working with them, “that they would be able to reflect the grace of Christ, that people will see Jesus in what Foursquare is doing, walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Gary and his FDR international counterpart, Chad Isenhart, help coordinate and deploy teams offering practical and ministry care to crisis spots across the U.S. and around the world.