PORTERVILLE—Spring flooding in California’s Central Valley yielded opportunities for California Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief (DR) workers to extend compassion in the name of Christ. In the process, a declining local church took a step toward revitalization.
“There were several reports that [DR workers] got to talk to the people who were displaced,” said CSBC DR director Mike Bivins. “They appreciated the food and they appreciated the love that we were sharing with them as we served.”
Flooding struck hard in Tulare County, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco and approximately 80 miles inland. More than 1,200 structures were destroyed in the county, according to NBC News. In late March, storms in the towns of Alpaugh and Allensworth led to evacuation orders in lowland communities. Eventually, more than 100 people were stranded in areas that turned into islands amid floodwaters.
The crisis prompted the Red Cross to call the CSBC for disaster relief help. The convention deployed a rapid response kitchen that provided approximately 300 meals per day to displaced residents across three shelters—150 meals at lunch and 150 at dinner. CSBC volunteers delivered meals to a shelter at Porterville College, while Red Cross workers took meals prepared by DR volunteers to shelters at the Tulare County Fairgrounds and in Exeter.
Some 2,200 meals had been served by the end of the deployment April 1.
As with all DR deployments, Bivins wondered whether this one would help empower a local church to reach its hurting community with the gospel. Bivins learned the answer when he called Nestor Amaya, director of missions for the local Sequoia Baptist Association. The Hills Community Church in Porterville sat on high ground, Bivins learned, and was a perfect place to set up basecamp for a DR operation. Amaya, who is the church’s interim pastor, invited CSBC DR workers to base their operations there.
That’s just what The Hills Church needed. The congregation had dwindled to 10 people and was about to close its doors last year when Amaya stepped in to help. He became interim pastor and started moving the church toward revitalization. Although spiritual life was starting to flow through the church, neighbors didn’t know it.
But they found out when a team of yellow-shirted volunteers showed up in the parking lot to love a community in crisis. Volunteers from The Hills and other local congregations assisted.
“It caught neighbors’ attention,” Amaya said. “Some of them have lived there for a long time. They saw that we’re open and there’s stuff happening, even if we’re a small group.”
Last Sunday, one neighbor showed up for worship and told Amaya she was a long-time Christian but needed a church. He responded, “I think you just found a church.”
More DR ministry could be needed in the days ahead. Amaya says The Hills is ready. Snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is at 249 percent of its normal level, The Los Angeles Times reported. That could continue flooding through the summer. If residents are displaced once again, they will find help from local Southern Baptists.
“When we talked about it two weeks ago,” Amaya said, “every member [of The Hills] was open to helping out.”
David Roach is a pastor, author, and professor. A native of New Mexico, he has pastored Shiloh Baptist Church in Saraland, Alabama, since 2020. He attended Vanderbilt University (BS in philosophy) and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (PhD in church history, MDiv in biblical and theological studies).
He has pastored Emmanuel Baptist Church in Shelbyville, Kentucky, and worked as chief national correspondent for Baptist Press in Nashville, Tennessee. He also has taught at several Southern Baptist colleges and seminaries and served on the staffs of churches in Kentucky and New Mexico. His writing has appeared in Baptist Press and Christianity Today among other outlets. He authored the 2021 book The Southern Baptist Convention & Civil Rights, 1954-1995.
David is married to Erin, who is from the Lexington, Kentucky, area and holds a journalism degree from the University of Kentucky. Erin served nearly two decades as a writer and editor for Baptist Press. They have three children—Caroline, Mallory, and Hutton. David enjoys reading, golf, and sports—including the Vanderbilt Commodores. But he really loves spending time with Erin and their kids.
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