As many of you know, even though the winds have calmed down today in several places, a number of fires continue to burn here in Oregon and Washington (and in other parts of the country, too). KATU reports that as of Friday evening, 1 million acres have already burned in Oregon.
Many people have wondered what is happening with our churches and church families who have been potentially in harm’s way. This rather lengthy letter is to give you an update on what we know at the moment. However, it is important to point out (as one of our evacuated pastors mentioned to me today), it can be difficult to separate truth from rumor. Literally the smoke has not cleared in every region, and so we don’t have all of the solid facts yet.
We are thankful that so far as we know, no one in any of our churches has died from the fires. However, please be in prayer for our pastors and church families who have evacuated and been impacted directly by them. Here are some new updates from several of our pastors:
Syd and Kathy Wyncoop (pastor, Talent Friends) had to evacuate suddenly to Central Point. He said they could see the flames as they left and were not able to really take much of anything with them. As of today, Syd believes that the church building and his home may have a chance to still be standing, but they have not had direct personal confirmation yet. He gave me this update a few minutes ago: “Today the National Guard is blocking access because (1) it is still an active fire and unsafe to enter, and (2) there is a health hazard because there are an unknown number of bodies to be found. The problem is that many were unable to and/or refused to evacuate, since many are senior citizens.” Syd believes that as many as NINE families in their church may have lost their homes so far, along with thousands of others in the area.
Jesse and Emily Davis and baby Grayson (pastor, Medford Friends) evacuated to the church initially, but are back in their house today. Jesse is a volunteer Fire Dept chaplain, so he said he anticipates receiving calls to get involved. He doesn’t think anyone in the church has lost their house yet, although “one fir is still raging northeast” of them.
Wanda and Ed Jenkins (pastor, Scotts Mills) evacuated to their in-laws as the fire raged near their town. Later, “lots of fire engines” were “going up the hills” around them. They are doing OK today, and think that “things may be calming down,” but it is difficult to know for sure. Now they are playing the “waiting game” until they can find out things with certainty. At the moment, Wanda doesn’t believe that anyone in the church has lost their home, but the smoke remains unbearably thick. She thinks that all but one from their church are still in evacuation.
Aaron and Molly Carlson (pastor, Netarts) tells me that as of yesterday, no homes had burned yet, but that at least four families in the church had to be evacuated this week. All are staying with friends and/or families.
Dave and Renee White (pastor, New Life) had to evacuate a couple of times this week from their home north of Vancouver. They have stayed in an RV, but the wind shifted again “blowing east away from us” and so they are now back in their house.
Ken and Tonya Comfort (pastor, Clackamas Park) shared that no one has lost their house so far, but that two families (along with their animals) evacuated from south of Molalla. Another family is evacuating Damascus in their RV and bringing their large animals (and a portable corral) with them to the church property. “Fire is still close” to some.
Keith and Tahnee Reeser (pastor, Newberg) told me that altogether, six families in the church who live near Chehalem Mountain had to evacuate their homes. Some stayed with friends or family, and some at the church or a nearby house. He said he thinks that this fire is mostly contained at the moment, and that there are no reports of the loss of dwellings from families in the church.
Paul and Nancy Almquist (pastor, West Chehalem) shared with me that “a couple of families evacuated,” including one who lives near Hagg Lake, and “a few more” were “on standby.” But at this point it doesn’t seem as though anyone has lost their house.
While some in our churches have been displaced, and many of us feel on edge during these days of uncertainty, I’m reminded of these encouraging words from Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” He is our hope and help in confusing days and unsettling nights. Let’s continue to trust in Him! Let’s also remember that there are many around us who are going through these same trials without knowing Him (and so it’s good to keep our eyes open to opportunities to share the love and hope of Christ with them)!
Please pray for everyone who has been impacted by the fires, for continued protection and safety for each one, for their homes and possessions, and for God’s strength and help. Please pray also for the churches that are located nearby (and for those of us who live far away) that God will help each of us to know how best to provide help and assistance to those in need going forward!
If you would like to support financially those individuals or churches who are in need due to the fires, CLICK HERE to give to the new “Friends Emergency Relief” fund on our NWYM website. You can also write a check to NWYM and designate it to that fund.
Please share this information with other prayer warriors as you see fit, but please also be careful to not make firm pronouncements about loss until we know with certainty. Also, please let us know if you happen to find out additional information that might be important to share with others.
Thank you for your prayers!
Because of Christ,
Jim Le Shana
Superintendent, NWYM of Friends Church