By Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross

After only eight weeks as the new Pastor of the Pateros Community Church, Pastor Earl Lane found his community in disaster mode for the second time in a little more than a year. Last year wildfires devastated the town, wiping out the church parsonage and 43 additional homes, according to Lane. Now, wildfires have again rampaged through the community, once more destroying or damaging numerous buildings, and causing the evacuation of many from their homes during the height of the danger.

Pastor Earl Lane talks with Red Cross disaster worker Lloyd Ziel in his office at the Pateros Community Church. Photo Credit: Robert W. Wallace/American Red Cross

“People are angry. Some have no insurance. They want to get back to normal, but it’s never going to be ‘normal’ again,” said Lane. This past Sunday Lane’s church was packed, and he talked about displaced anger. “People are mad and don’t know who to be mad at.” They were still talking about and processing the fire from last year when this one came along,” noted Lane.

When the American Red Cross asked if the church would open its facilities as a shelter, Lane readily agreed, even though the Red Cross has been a target of some of his church community’s anger. “This past weekend we were serving 75 meals a day,” noted Lane, but now there has been an exodus as people have been able to go home and school is about to start. “It’s the first time the church has agreed to serve as a shelter… The Red Cross workers have been wonderful. They care about the people. We’ve enjoyed their staff and have worked well with them… It shows we can work together… We welcome you to stay as long as you need to.”

Although Red Cross shelters do not allow pets to reside in shelters, the church made arrangements for an additional facility where twelve dogs and three cats found respite.

When the Bishop of the United Methodist Church asked Lane to move to the Pateros Community and assume the role of new church Pastor, the first thing Lane did was to take a look at the videos of last year’s wildfires and talk with some of the people who were affected. “I found people who were hurt, who were still processing that disaster, but many people who had stepped up to help their neighbors,” said Lane. “You can’t have better people than that… I had to come, and it’s been a blessing.”

“A lot of people here need help but when they are paralyzed by fear you almost have to hold their hand… The biggest obstacle is pride… Listening is what I do most. I do what I can to restore dignity.” We have to remember that “there is never a wrong time to do the right thing… We have to be patient. People are still processing,” but we’ve learned from all of this that “we have the ability to put our differences aside, do what’s right, and take care of one another,” Lane concluded.

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