A team from CDF Capital visited Paradise, California in December 2018, one month after the deadly Camp Fire destroyed the town and Hope Christian Church’s newly renovated building. Please look around on the special page of our website dedicated to Hope Christian Church; you can watch video and read stories from our time there.
Now it is March 2019, and we called Stan Freitas, Lead Pastor and Jeana Darby, Worship Minister to get an update on the healing taking place in their church and community.
They’re Fired Up!
Hope Christian Church’s resiliency was evident right away as Stan explained, “We’re one of the few churches—or maybe the only church—that met every Sunday since the fire. We’ve not missed one week at all. I didn’t have a grand plan; we just all wanted to see each other.”
Grace Community Church in Chico, nearby Paradise, contacted Hope after the tragedy and offered both a place to worship on Sundays and one office so that the three Hope staff members could work during the week.
While some Hope members made the difficult decision to move away—some out of state as far as Idaho, Arizona, and Florida—just under half of the previous church members have been able to attend church services. Before the fire, the church had been growing, averaging 250 a week and sometimes up to 300. “I think we were ready to jump,” Stan said of their growth.
Stan and Jeana communicated to their people that it’s OK to do what’s best, even if that means moving away. “No guilt if you have to move for your family or your work,” Stan had said to the family of believers. “But be hope wherever you go. If you have to leave, you’re a missionary. The rest of us are going to keep building here.”
Those who have stayed in the region may be displaced miles away, according to where insurance could find places for them. Members still drive from afar to attend Hope when they can.
“You get a different group that comes every week,” Stan noted. “Probably over 100 in each service. A good core. The worship band is displaced, but they haven’t missed a beat.”
Both Stan and Jeana noted that there is a sense of energy and positivity during these services. “Excuse the pun, but they’re fired up!” Stan exclaimed.
Hope members with shirts that picture their cross that didn't burn. They're cheering: "In Christ we always have hope!"
Old Agendas Are Gone
Despite watching months of renovating efforts go up in flames, Hope is using this current season as an opportunity for the Lord.
“I’m praying for something incredible to happen out of this,” said Stan. “Like maybe two churches when the town of Paradise is rebuilt. Because we’re starting to reach people in Chico, which is what we’re supposed to do—reach people where we are—but we also care about the Ridge.”
People from Paradise refer to their community as the Ridge because of its topography. Jeana explained that there was an entire section of the Ridge that survived the destruction.
“There is kind of an isolated segment at the north of the Ridge that wasn’t affected,” said Jeana. “They still have water, a grocery; there’s a whole community. But they’re separated by charred land to travel to come to church in Chico with us.”
These members had some survivor’s guilt to reckon with early on. With his good-natured humor, Stan had told them, “Don’t worry. We’ll need you to host people in your homes!”
And now they do. The original small group hosts were going to have a hard time gathering people while living in trailers. But now those with homes still standing host midweek groups.
“God has been faithful,” Stan praised. He noted the spirit of care and unity at the church. “All the old agendas are gone. The church members are just so glad to see each other alive. Our relationships are deeper than they’ve ever been. We just love each other with all our quirks.”
Walls Are Coming Down
Another picture of unity created in the aftermath of the fire is the faith community of Paradise.
“A cool thing is that churches are working together that didn’t before,” Stan said. “Walls are coming down in the community. It’s not competitive.”
One example of this was the Paradise interdenominational Christmas service: “Nine pastors read the account of the Lord’s birth, and Jeana lead the worship band,” Stan described. “Pastors that have never worked together took the stage together.”
People are now looking to Hope Christian Church for leadership because of all the years of community involvement that came before the fire. Each year the church hosted Rock the Ridge, a music event where all proceeds were given to a different community need.
“The relationships we built from Rock the Ridge opened doors. People know we care about the community,” said Stan.
In fact, Stan was recently asked to be on a committee to represent the faith community of Paradise during this time of rebuilding.
“I’ve never been one to work on politics, committees. I love the local church. I hardly ever went to the all-pastors gatherings. I wasn’t against it; I was just doing my own thing. Now I’m working with the Ridge pastors and regional leaders. We’re coming together to determine how we can pool our resources to make a major impact. What I found out: they’re having same discussions we’re having as a church. We’d like to make a big statement for Christ by working together on a few big projects.”
Some of the projects they are brainstorming include a large-scale tree planting, since so much foliage burned down, and building sheds for people to begin storing items again.
“Hope has been asked to be a leader in this. We’re a little church, but I feel like God is saying, ‘Keep going.’”
Images from a community-wide Christmas service: Jeana Darby and the Hope Rising worship band leading. Nine pastors from area churches gathered their congregations.
We Want to Help Rebuild
Hope has taken the donations sent to them and formulated a relief ministry. Holly Maddalena, one of the church members, has a heart for missions and was not displaced in the fire—so she had the available time, skill, and energy to head up the efforts.
Jeana said the process has varied in the months following the fire, based on the needs of people. “Initially it was housing. People didn’t need supplies, they need somewhere to sleep.” Holly focused on finding and connecting resources to get people trailers, RVs, vehicles to pull them, places to park them.
“As people got those, she began helping get dehumidifiers,” Jeana explained. “We didn’t know we needed them at first, but it’s so mold won’t grow in the RVs. I can’t count how many we had to get!”
They also realized the benefit of gift cards. “One thing you don’t want to worry about is eating,” said Jeana. “Grocery cards give access to both food and fuel.”
Holly is available each Sunday and takes on each concern individually. Church members give her specific needs, and she works to find solutions.
“As needs change, we want to be flexible to help,” said Jeana. “We want to help dig through stuff with them. As people begin to build, we want to physically and financially help, God wiling.”
Through the relationships they’ve built with the community, Hope Christian Church also wants to provide resources to the schools and other organizations in Paradise.
“We want to help rebuild,” said Jeana. “Whether it’s physically, whatever structures need to be repaired. Or emotionally.”
God Has Provided Every Step of the Way
Stan and his wife and Jeana and her husband have all been blessed to have places to stay. They had been living in trailers and now each are in an apartment.
“God has provided every step of the way,” Jeana said. “Right about the time we were being done feeling uncomfortable, He’s opened another door.”
“There’s a learning curve everyone is on,” said Stan. “We’re dealing with red tape, FEMA instructions; we have to fill out forms, get help. Every day there’s stuff like that to do. The staff is doing that like everyone else.”
“All of us are going through the same thing,” Jeana agreed. “We give each other grace, give each other time to recoup.”
Both ministers have recognized the ways God has been moving in their own hearts as they grieve what was lost but move forward in ministry with determination.
“I’m really thriving with the lack of things to organize and put away,” Jeana said with a laugh. “You get a whole new start. I don’t know how long that feeling will last. I’m determined this will change me for the better and that God will use this as growth. It’s an opportunity to be better and make good, positive change and to impact people and Hope.”
“I didn’t grow up here in Paradise,” Stan noted. “But I have my favorite years of ministry here, and I love the place. I feel motivated by all this. I want to transform the town. It doesn’t depress me. I have to be patient with those who are more down. I see our job to be hope. Make Sundays the best they can be. Keep small groups going. And keep ministering as we wait.”
More from Hope Christian Church
We were so moved by the ways we have seen the Lord working through the people of Hope Christian Church that we want you to have the opportunity to hear even more from them. Please follow the link below to find additional stories and videos from Paradise, California.