Whenever someone asks me about something that happened in the last year, I apologize immediately and declare that I don’t remember any date since November 8, 2018. Yes, the Camp Fire here in Butte County changed everything.
I do remember that day and the days of darkness that followed, when we would huddle each day, put on our masks, and ask the question: What is the Jesus Center’s job today? Just when it seemed obvious what our “lane” was for the day, we’d get new information, and would learn that someone else had answered that need, or that a greater need had emerged. I found myself often pulling the reins back on my staff. You have to understand they are all givers, servants, and eager to do. Yet, I knew at the core of my being, that there would be plenty to give, many ways to serve, and so much to do for a very long time. Of course, at the time, I didn’t know how right I was.
The question we were asking was: What is our purpose? One thing we knew without a doubt was that we were to be light in the darkness (literally)!
“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
And we knew that our core mission was to care for all of God’s children suffering from homelessness, hunger, and poverty, to offer respite, restoration and lasting transformation. But as usual, the tricky part was what were we to do. Were we to feed more? Clothe more? Give out N95 masks? Offer shelter? Assist in communication? Console? Encourage? Work more? Work less?
And we knew that we were right where we needed to be. We knew that it was no mistake that our organization was standing in the midst of a county in crisis. We were made for this.
I love the story of Esther who found herself in such a unique place as a Jewish woman married to the King. Her people and God ordained her to her role and her mantle simply said: “for such a time as this.” I think we who are still in Butte County one year later with little intention to move on, feel compelled, called, and even anointed to be here. Even though it is hard.
There are signs all around us of miracles, new people who were unknown before are now in authority, servants made overnight, and all unified to help the thousands displaced, some permanently, because of the largest fire in California history.
More and more each day it seems we are on a sort of island.
I moved here from another island more than 17 years ago after another disaster—9/11 in New York City—where my husband and two daughters and I lived for 6 years. This island is different and even more remote. Because, when disaster struck the Ridge, and spilled out to the rest of the county, some of us had to leave the region if we were going to move on. We aren’t in a sprawl like Silicon Valley or the tri-state region surrounding NYC. Many had to move out to move on.
I believe that those of us remaining on this island, have a purpose.
The Jesus Center certainly does. Twelve months later, we are quite clear what our contribution is (and has been).
- We are offering leadership: Our senior staff is strong in visioning, strategy and execution. It is for this reason that we have taken up the roles we have in the Long-Term Recovery Group. We are also expert in knowing what resources are available and have become more aware post fire. I have had the privilege of birthing a new nonprofit as a part of the board of the Camp Fire Long Term Recovery Group and our Director of Services utilizes her social work education every day to improve the overall service delivery as a part of a network of Disaster Case Management.
- As a provider for over 35 years, the Jesus Center is well established in Butte County. As a result, we have strong networks and a pattern of collaboration. Over the last 2 years, we’ve built a coalition of private and public entities in anticipation of our expansion and move. Every collaborating partner has been fortified and new partners have emerged, and we are thankful.
- We are motivated not to let Camp Fire Survivors become part of the chronic homelessness. Given our primary service area: the homeless, we are acutely aware of the intrinsic risks with being and staying homeless. It is high on our organization’s priority list to ensure that fire survivors are not ultimately counted among the long term homeless.
We believe that as followers of Christ, grateful for all that God has given us, that we are called to serve others, particularly the weak, the vulnerable, the lost and the poor. This is the purpose that unifies us all as a community. In 2019, this has certainly focused on those surviving the fire. But as we have been committed for nearly 40 years, the Jesus Center purpose is to care for the least of them… for the long term.
We believe that the only way we can fulfill this purpose, is for you to embrace it as your purpose too. Won’t you join us, as a sign of your gratitude for the life and purpose you have been given, in support of our work? Last November and December our fundraising was hit hard and for good reason. Our entire community focused on the live event which was the Camp Fire. Today, one year later, we recognize that for our community
to rebuild, we need the work of the Jesus Center to continue and to thrive.
Your partnership to the Jesus Center is mission critical and I will be the first
to thank you for asking yourself how you can help more this year.
Blessings and thank you,
Laura R. Cootsona