By Dick Duerksen
“If someone shows up wanting to give us another toothbrush, shoot ‘em!” – A recovery worker in Chico, Calif.
The refugees from the Paradise, California Camp Fire do not need anymore toothbrushes. They also do not need your used socks, shirts, or teddy bears. They do not need more tents, more motorhomes, or even sleeping bags.
The refugees of the Paradise, California fire do not need “stuff.” There are dumpsters in the Walmart parking lot filled with some of the excess “stuff” they’ve already received.
Many of the people you see in the Walmart parking lot, or in the neighboring field, are sleeping in their own tents and have turned down invitations – and urgings – to move to an established FEMA or community shelter. They are okay where they are today as they transition to something better tomorrow.
Yes, norovirus has infiltrated some of the shelters. Yes, some folks lost everything and were uninsured and homeless. However, all the folks are being cared for by the churches, service clubs, restaurants, supermarkets, hotels, medical centers, and others who serve in the communities around Paradise. Folks who look up and see giant pine trees shedding needles understand, and care. People who look down and see the blackened earth along the roadways they travel understand, and care.
The refugees do not need your “stuff.” They need your respect, and your love.
Let me tell you a story.
Steve, a Seventh-day Adventist pastor who watched the fire consume his home, his favorite Jeep, and almost all his earthly possessions, was filling the tank on one of his salvaged vehicles at a local gas station. His church family has provided him with a place to sleep, food to eat, and a ton of work to do. They’ve also given him a collection of gift cards, some of which work really well at gas stations.
As Steve was gassing up, another car drove up to a neighboring pump. It was a “fire car,” with blistered paint and blown-out windows covered with old blankets. Two small children hugged worn toys in the back seat. Mom began fingering through a small stack of coins – nickels, dimes, and pennies – to see if there was enough to fill her tank with gas so she could drive south to stay with family.
Steve had watched her count out enough for about 10 ounces of gasoline, when he slipped her a couple of $35 Visa gift cards and a $50 gift card for Walmart. That opened the floodgates of thankfulness. Pastor Steve asked if he could pray with her before they headed on.
“We can only get through this with God,” she told him.
“Do not lose heart in the narrow window of today’s need. Focus all on the long-haul of God’s eternal realities,” Steve responded – along with a Paradise Hug.
“The eyes of the Lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9 NLT