Update: As of late Tuesday afternoon, 14 February, officials lifted the mandatory evacuation order but remained cautious as weather threatens the Oroville, California, area. Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains will remain in the area working alongside local churches and offering emotional and spiritual care. Please continue to keep all involved in your prayers.
Crisis-trained chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team arrived on Tuesday afternoon in Northern California where thousands of people have been relocated to shelters due to the threat of flooding from the Oroville Dam.
Situated about 90 minutes north of Sacramento, the Oroville Dam is the tallest in the United States, standing 44 feet above the Hoover Dam. The Oroville Dam plays a key role in California’s water system and has received extra pressure this year due to winter storms swelling the Feather River and its tributaries. Anticipated rainfall in the area makes the situation even more precarious.
When officials noticed a hole in the main spillway, a mandatory evacuation was ordered this weekend as a preemptive safety move, and 188,000 people were forced to leave their homes. The possibility of catastrophic flooding meant a hasty exit for homeowners. That means in many cases important things like medicines were left behind, adding more stress to an already alarming event.
“It’s definitely traumatic because the evacuation order was very sudden and unexpected,” said Jack Munday, international director of the Rapid Response Team. “We realise the fears of the people who have evacuated. I try to put myself in their position: What would I take? What would I determine is of value knowing I may lose my home and everything in it?
“So it’s the fear, it’s the unknown. The storm hasn’t actually happened yet so there’s anxiety there of wanting to go back home and not being allowed to do so.”
The Rapid Response chaplains are planning to assess opportunities for ministry upon arrival and have been in touch with local churches and agencies from neighboring Chico, Grass Valley and Yuba City. The chaplains will offer emotional and spiritual care alongside these churches, notably sharing the love of Christ by listening to worried residents who aren’t sure when, or even if, they’re going home.
“We’ve already communicated with church leaders representing these areas that are there,” Munday said. “They’re asking for our assistance and support. I believe the Lord is giving people a heart to have a sense of identifying with what people are going through and a compassion to serve them and help them.
“It’s a great time for the church to be the church, a great opportunity to reach out.”
Please pray for displaced residents during this uncertain time and that repairs would be made swiftly so a tragedy can be averted.
You can listen here to an interview with Nigel Fawcett-Jones, who leads the Rapid Response Team in the UK. We are looking for more people to train as Rapid Response Chaplains. The next training seminar is in Doncaster on 25 February 2017. Places are still available and you can sign up here.