Paradise Strong – Jesus Followers Ready to Serve

In the now decimated Paradise community of about  27,000 people, most Jesus-following congregations lost buildings, including Paradise Church of Christ, First Assembly of God, Paradise Foursquare, Paradise Pentecostal Church of God,  and Hope Christian Church.  All told, roughly two-thirds of the churches in Paradise were burned to the ground.

Hope Christian’s lead pastor Stan Freitas took to social media and declared, “The building was burnt down, but cross and rock still standing.  The church is still alive.”

Freitas and church members had constructed a new worship space just this year, building a tall wooden cross in front of the new structure. This week, he shared a picture of the hand-carved cross, bearing the motto, “Love God, Love People”—which remained erect though the rest of the building had crumbled.

“Our building has been lost … but our hope and our trust in Jesus has not!” declared a Facebook post by First Assembly of God.  New Life Apostolic, which lost its parsonage and church building, quoted Psalm 30:5 (NKJV), “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning!”

Some church buildings were damaged but not destroyed. Jubilee Church lost its sanctuary, but its office and new construction survived.  Given the limited access to return to Paradise, multiple congregations initially relied on reports from others on their status; Congregation Harei Yeshua, a Messianic community, first got the news that their buildings burned down, only to later hear confirmation that they were still standing.

Even churches whose buildings were spared face the same harsh reality as the rest of Paradise; the vast majority of their pastors, staff, and congregation have lost their homes.

“Our church is [now] spread out all over California and the surrounding states. That’s been the hardest part because being the shepherd, you now have no idea where your people are even at,” Josh Gallagher, pastor of Paradise Alliance Church told Christianity Today.

Gallagher left Paradise last Thursday, initially for a shelter at Neighborhood Church in Chico.  He later learned that his family had lost their home, along with 18 of 21 families on the church’s staff.

Gallagher was asked by Christianity Today, “What message would you want your congregation to hear right now?”

Pastor Gallagher replied, “I would tell them to grieve well.  This Sunday, I told them we serve a God who understands the ‘ands.”  We can love Him and still be mad at Him.  We can have faith and still question Him.  We looked at Psalm 88, where [the psalmist] declares, ‘God I know that you’re God and you can save me,’ but the whole rest of the psalm, he blames God, he questions God, he’s scared, he’s raw with his emotions.  I [told our congregation], ‘This is our psalm right now.’

“That was the hardest message I had to deliver because we found out confirmation that we had lost our home, and we didn’t grab a whole lot. … God’s been faithful with helping me take it one step at a time. I need to grieve well with my family, then I need to grieve well for myself, then with our church, and then with our community.”

Gallagher told Christian Broadcasting Network he’s hopeful that Paradise can be reborn. “We believe that we will see revival in this community, physical revival, emotional revival, and spiritual revival.”

Brian Sussman

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