People in Colorado, particularly those affected by the 2012 wildfires that devastated many communities in the state, are again traumatized by major wildfires. The Black Forest Fire and the Royal Gorge Fire have already destroyed more than 480 structures, forcing thousands to evacuate and sadly, causing fatalities.
For members of Christ the King Lutheran Church, in Colorado Springs, the Waldo Canyon Fire of 2012 and the Black Forest Fire of 2013 is personal. During last year’s fire, the areas around the church were under mandatory evacuation. The fire came very close to the church but left it unscathed. Unfortunately, members lost their homes to the fire. Thankfully, this year, the threat of fire is not imminent but members, like the rest of the Colorado Springs community, are feeling traumatized. When visiting with Pastor Julie Bristch of Christ the King about the fire, she used words like stunned, anxious and a deep sense of loss to describe the mood of the community. “There is a lot of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder around as the same communities are being traumatized two years in a row,” said Pastor Julie.
On Thursday, June 13, Pastor Julie hosted a special evening prayer service at Christ the King Lutheran Church that was open to the community. During the gathering, participants shared heart-wrenching stories of individuals and families who are deeply impacted. Some of them have left their communities devastated by the 2012 fires and moved to a new area to build their lives; and now they are traumatized again in their new homes. Some church members have family ties with firefighters who have lost their homes as they are giving of themselves to save lives, which only increases the sadness and the stress of the situation.
Yet in the midst of the trauma and chaos, hope and grace abound! Pastor Julie reported she is moved by the selflessness and love in the community through last year’s fires, during the recovery after the fire and now during the current crisis. An interfaith group made up of 21 houses of worship has risen up to respond to the fires and to assist survivors with their unmet needs.
Pastor Ron Roschke, the Synod Minister for Shared Ministries of the Rocky Mountain Synod, attended the prayer service on behalf of the Synod. He spoke movingly of the experience of the prayer service and highlighted the deep connectedness between individuals and communities in times of crisis and recovery as a source of God’s grace. “In disasters people feel alone. But when we can find ways to let people know that they are not alone, people can find strengths to deal with their challenges,” said Pastor Ron.
Lutheran Disaster Response, in collaboration with our local affiliate Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, and the Rocky Mountain Synod, have been actively engaged in the responses to the 2012 Colorado fires. Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains has offices in areas affected by the fires and is providing disaster case management services to those impacted by the 2012 fires. Together, we are well positioned to understand the scope of what need to be done. We are monitoring the situations closely and will conduct careful assessments after the fires have been put out. We will then determine our best course of action in cooperation with local authorities and partnering with ecumenical, faith-based and civic organizations. Through Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains, Lutheran Disaster Response will be there for the long haul of recovery.
Please keep in mind the Black Forest and Royal Gorge Fires are not the only wildfires threatening lives, there are others in Colorado and New Mexico as well; and new ones are starting every week since the area is very dry. Continue to pray for the evacuees and all who are in harm’s way, especially those who are trying to save lives and homes. May the Grace, Wisdom and Strength of God be with them!
Helpful information about how volunteer organizations work together in Colorado: https://covoad.communityos.org/cms/
Lutheran Disaster Response webpage: www.elca.org/disaster
Donation webpage: https://community.elca.org/sslpage.aspx?pid=358