Colo. wildfire ministry: Baptist volunteers among first to return with homeowners

BLACK FOREST, Colo. (BP) -- Dave Fulbright’s first job as a Southern Baptist Disaster Relief assessor has been “extremely difficult.” His team was among the first volunteers allowed to accompany homeowners returning to survey wildfire damage near Colorado Springs.

“Everything we have seen has been total destruction,” said Fulbright, whose work began Friday morning (June 21). By Sunday afternoon Fulbright along with a second SBDR assessor and a chaplain had completed 11 property assessments with homeowners.

All 11 sites were total losses.

“We accompanied an older single woman who worked from her home. Everything she had -- her possessions, her business -- everything was gone. I told her we will be with her every step of the way, from today through the cleanup and the rebuild. I assured her that God cares and we care,” Fulbright recounted.

In Black Forest, Colo., near the U.S. Air Force Academy, more than 400 homes were destroyed by wildfires in early June. In all, more than 500 structures were lost to the fires, which claimed two lives.

“We were able to pray with every family we accompanied,” Fulbright said. “They all said yes when asked and told us they need our prayers.” Fulbright, a member of The Vine Church in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., is serving on his first SBDR deployment. He arrived with other volunteers from California on Thursday.

Among the 11 families Fulbright’s team accompanied were two deacons of First Baptist Church in Black Forest, the host church for Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers and command center for the response. The difference in their demeanor and attitude was obvious to Fulbright.

“They told us that God had blessed them and they were thankful that their families escaped the fires,” Fulbright said. “Yes there was anger. Yes there was frustration, but there was a peace and an overall sense of joy. It is rewarding to be able to help all of these families, even in small ways, and assure them that there is hope in God, and that we will be here to help them.”

John Wells, FBC Black Forest’s executive pastor, said hosting the volunteers has been a blessing to the church.

“Everything has been going great,” Wells said. “God has shown Himself faithful in allowing us to host this team. Our people have stepped up.” While the church campus was spared, many members suffered loss in the fires, Wells said.

“We have 20-plus families who lost their homes,” said Wells who recounted the story of one member, a father of five, whose home was destroyed. “He said he thought they had lost everything, but when they came to worship Sunday, surrounded by the love of his church family, he realized he had not lost anything [of ultimate significance].”

In addition to Colorado and California, SDBR volunteers also have responded from Oklahoma and the Northwest Baptist conventions. Additional volunteers are expected from more than a half-dozen other Baptist conventions in the coming weeks.

In Canada, the North American Mission Board will be assisting the Canadian National Baptist Convention in flood relief efforts in Calgary and other parts of Alberta. Record rainfall coupled with snowmelt caused the evacuation of more than 100,000 residents in Calgary and southern Alberta last week.

“We experienced the worst flooding in recent memory,” Canada disaster relief director Peter Blackaby said. “Yesterday the water finally began to recede. Officials have not allowed anyone back in yet, but we will be ready to serve as soon as we can.”

NAMB coordinates and manages Southern Baptist responses to major disasters through partnerships with 42 state Baptist conventions, most of which have their own state disaster relief programs.

Southern Baptists have 82,000 trained volunteers -- including chaplains -- and 1,550 mobile units for feeding, chainsaw, mud-out, command, communication, childcare, shower, laundry, water purification, repair/rebuild and power generation. SBDR is one of the three largest mobilizers of trained disaster relief volunteers in the United States, along with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army.

To donate to SBDR efforts, contact the Baptist convention in your state or visit (namb.net/disaster-relief-donations). Other ways to donate are to call 1-866-407-NAMB (6262) or mail checks to NAMB, P.O. Box 116543, Atlanta, GA 30368-6543. Designate checks for “Disaster Relief.”


Joe Conway writes for the North American Mission Board. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).