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Foursquare Disaster Relief (FDR) is helping New Life Church (Santa Barbara Foursquare Church) in Santa Barbara, Calif., bring care and comfort to victims of the devastating Jan. 9 mudslides that left at least 20 dead, hundreds homeless, and disrupted the lives of thousands more.

Through funds from FDR matched by a gift from the Southern California District, the church has distributed several thousand dollars’ worth of gift cards to help people dislocated by the disaster pay for food, clothing and transportation. FDR representatives are set to arrive this week to assess how the ministry can help the church further in the days ahead.

Coming in the wake of recent fires that had forced many people in the area to previously evacuate—and which stripped large areas of land of vegetation, precipitating the mudslides when heavy rain fell—the Jan. 9 tragedy has left a community “emotionally and spiritually fatigued,” says Jason Reynolds, FDR’s national coordinator. “We want to see how we can assist our Foursquare family in ministering to their neighbors.”

Although much of the surrounding area is known to be affluent, with several celebrities owning homes in the area, not everyone who lives there has an opulent lifestyle. New Life Church, for example, is predominately made up of people in service industries.

Though no Foursquare families were directly affected by the disaster, “everyone in this community knows someone who was,” says New Life’s senior pastor, Dale Swanson. Located just a few miles from the Montecito disaster, the church is due to open its doors this week to the Red Cross as a venue to provide training for official responders. The church is also planning to help pay for funeral services for one of the families in the community who lost several members.

“We have this opportunity to share the unconditional love of Jesus with people in need,” explains Dale. Practical help, such as the gift cards, is a way to “show them a taste of heaven’s heart for them,” he continues. “To let them know that God has not given up on them.”

With four people on Monday still missing and many forced to evacuate their homes or unable to leave the area because of blocked roads, “a cloud of fear” hangs over the area, notes Dale.

Among the church’s other plans is opening up to the wider community an annual workshop on grief, planned for February. “We believe that tears are a healing agent from heaven,” says Dale, who with other New Life members attended Sunday’s vigil at the Santa Barbara Courthouse, joining the crowd “crying, praying and grieving.”

The mudslides came as New Life—which celebrated its 90th anniversary last fall—started the year with its annual several days of prayer and fasting. “It opened our hearts up even more to want to do something,” Dale says. He began to receive requests from local leaders for help that he notes came from awareness of the church’s growing involvement in the community in recent years: among New Life’s activities are leadership of an annual city cleanup effort, a food pantry and support for a transitional housing project.

Receiving a call from FDR asking how the ministry could support New Life left him “grateful for being part of a bigger family,” he says. “Knowing that we weren’t alone, that we had a family behind us, was a big deal.”

Thanking other Foursquare churches for their support, he asks for prayer that fear might be lifted, especially among the children. He also requests churches praying for the situation to send him details of how God directed their intercession, for him to share with people in the community.

The disaster is “a sobering reminder of the need to be prepared, in season and out of season” to respond to needs, both practically and spiritually, Dale asserts. “The community is looking to a people that walks courageously, without fear. You can feel it in the air.”

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is a freelance writer living in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.

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