By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
BLACK FOREST, Colo. – The words of Isaiah 61:3 were the battle cry of Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief teams ministering to hundreds of people who lost their homes from a massive wildfire.
“and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”
The teams from Louisiana gave physical and spiritual assistance to residents needing hope in a dark time. In the end, many found such hope, with five people accepting Christ as their personal Lord and Savior.
“Debriefing times at night were highlighted by ash-out crews telling stories of recovering and returning to home owners, jewelry, coins and heirlooms that were considered lost forever,” said Tom Higginbotham, a member of the Eastern Baptist Association team. “We were able to give out Bibles and [stuffed] bears, and pray with families who were present on sites.
“This time in Colorado may have been more about giving hope than anything else.”
Since July 7, Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief teams have spent time in the community of Black Forest, Colo., about 60 miles south of Denver. The wildfire burned more than 14,000 acres, destroyed nearly 500 homes and resulted in two deaths.
The most destructive in Colorado history, the fire began June 11 and was fully contained by June 20. Fighting the fire cost roughly $8.5 million.
Through early August, the North American Mission Board reported many of the 289 job requests were completed, mainly for property clearing and the cleanup of residual airborne ash.
The first Louisiana team to arrive in the area was five members of the Northshore Baptist Association crew. From July 7 to 15 the team cut more than 100 trees and shared the gospel with six families.
Many of the families the team met were depressed at first, but that attitude changed thanks to the love of Christ shown, said Duncan Freche, a blue hat – or leader – for the team. At each worksite team members prayed with the homeowners and signed Bibles that they left at each location.
“One homeowner said she didn’t think anyone was going to show up to help, but we showed up along with a team from Oklahoma, and she was overjoyed and thankful,” Freche said.
A second team from Louisiana – the Eastern Baptist Association – worked from July 15 to 20, completing 12 chain saw jobs and cutting down and removing 378 trees that continued to pose a danger to residents and volunteers working to remove ash and debris from home foundations. The team also prepared 198 protective well covers, which were installed by members of Black Forest Baptist Church.
Howard Turner, a member of the Eastern Baptist Association team, said the team prayed with and distributed Bibles to several of the residents whose homes were destroyed by the fire.
“One lady in particular talked to us about how important what we had done for a friend was; her friend was overwhelmed and had given up hope, but found encouragement to move forward because we demonstrated someone cared and began the process of getting her place cleaned up,” Turner said. “Children loved the bears and they are a very positive way to leave a physical reminder of the Southern Baptist presence in the midst of disaster. We are grateful for the opportunity to show the love of Christ in times of need.”
A third team from the Washington Baptist Association served in the area from last July to Aug. 3.
Additionally, an incident command team from the state is coordinating the chainsaw and ash-out work that is ongoing in the area from July 29 to Aug. 15. Ash-out work involves scarping off the remaining charred foundations or slabs from homes, clearing debris and cleaning burned lots.
“It is always good to know the work being done and the time spent is making a kingdom difference,” said Gibbie McMillan, LBC Disaster Relief state director. “Because Louisiana Baptists care and give we are able to go and serve. Thank you Louisiana Baptists for your continued support of the Cooperative Program, Georgia Barnette State Missions and Louisiana Baptist Disaster Relief.”