On November 8, 2018 the small town of Paradise was hit by the deadliest and most destructive fire in California history. Among the 27,000 residents stood a church that clung to hope in the midst of the blaze.
Just weeks before, Stan Freitas, Senior Pastor of that little church called Hope Christian, had helped design the tall wooden cross that would mark the completion of their new Worship Center. Engraved in the hand-carved cross were the words, “Love God, Love People.”
That motto was never challenged more than the moment the church burnt to the ground, leaving only two items remaining: The wooden cross and the rock on which it stands. The photo of the ash-dusted cross went viral, serving as a symbol that the church is alive.
“Hope is in the hearts of our people,” says Pastor Stan. “I remember seeing that cross and the rocks, and thinking of the lyrics: ‘On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.’ To me, this is our time as the body of Christ to rise up.”
In spite of losing both his church and home, Pastor Stan encouraged his members to worship God in the good times and in the bad, knowing that Christ’s perspective is much bigger than our own. With resilience and enthusiasm, he viewed the disaster as an opportunity to share Jesus with a multitude of people in the midst of pain.
Humbled by generosity, he thanked God for immediate provisions from outside partnering churches who raised money, lent a church building in neighboring Chico, and sent in support teams. Among them was the PEACE Relief Team from Saddleback Church.
“When Saddleback showed up to help us, there was still smoke in the air,” recalls Pastor Stan. “It blew my mind. I was so touched, humbled, and grateful to see my hero church encouraging my mountain church!”
Since the early 1980’s, Pastor Stan has been listening to sermons by Saddleback’s Pastor, Rick Warren, and his wife Kay. He credits them both for changing his ministry and life forever.
Ironically, at the time of the fire, the Hope Christian congregation was studying Saddleback’s campaign, 40 Days of Prayer. Closing out the series, they planned on hosting a campaign celebration and unveiling their new building on Friday evening. But, less than 24 hours before the planned event, the church went up in flames.
“Most of our members lost their homes and places of work,” explains Pastor Stan. “The Scriptures from the last week of 40 Days of Prayer prepared us for this disaster. We have not missed a Sunday worshiping together since the fire.”
Due to lack of housing, and families having to relocate, attendance has taken a hit from 300 down to 130 people. Through the lull however, Hope Christian Church has placed its focus on becoming a model Purpose Driven Church. Since they launched in 2010, they’ve ended every service with the words: “In Christ we always have hope!”
Now, says Pastor Stan, is their time to prove it. He plans on bringing his leadership team to the 2019 Purpose Driven Church Conference in June, and is taking steps to keep church health at an all time high.
“We’re not done yet,” he says. “In fact, we are just getting started. Our heart’s desire is that God will raise us up out of the ashes and rebuild this church to glorify him.”
If you’re interested in attending the Purpose Driven Church Conference, learn more at pd.church.