CC La Habra Hurricane Disaster Relief

CC La Habra Hurricane Disaster Relief
CC La Habra Hurricane Disaster Relief

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Calvary Disaster Relief Grows Its Mission Amidst a Year of Devastation

Story by Sean Labar
Photos by Lisa Vallejo, Taylur Clemmons, and Michael Perez

A constant question arose from members of the Foley, AL, community to the 21 Calvary Disaster Relief (CDR) workers—comprised mostly of youth—who flew from California to Alabama in October to provide aid and share the Gospel with people piecing their lives back together in the wake of Hurricane Sally.

“They asked, ‘Why would you fly all the way from California to come here?’” marveled Calvary Chapel La Habra Youth Pastor Jay Vallejo, who oversaw the trip. “That question came up over and over again, and opened the door for us to share with them that it is the love of Jesus that compels us.”

The October cross-country trip marked the first-ever youth trip for CDR, a ministry of Calvary Chapel La Habra, CA. CDR has become a staple in the Christian community for providing necessary aid and ministry to communities in desperate need in the days, weeks, and months following a given devastating event.

“But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him.” Luke 10:33-34

Group prays for woman

Chad Bell (in sunglasses) and several members of a Calvary La Habra, CA, team pray for a Foley, AL, resident as they distribute bedding to a community damaged by Hurricane Sally. A total of 21 people, mostly youth, joined the trip in October 2020.

Jay noted that youth involvement will become a focal point for CDR in moving forward. He said that everyone who attended the trip saw their impact as soon as they began to help people. “One of the women we were able to help told us that her mother had just passed away and she was wondering how she was going to get through after the hurricane,” Jay recalled. “Then we showed up, cleaned her property, and prayed with her. She said we were the answer to her prayers.”

Jay recognized the obvious positive affect the trip had on the Foley community, but he couldn’t ignore the significance that the relief effort had on his youth group, either.

“The youth were blown away as they saw God’s faithfulness from the minute we got to the airport until we came home,” Jay observed. “People bought us Starbucks [food and drinks] and stopped to pray over us. They made an announcement on the plane that we were a group going to do relief work and the flight attendants wished us blessings, and people clapped and cheered. God demonstrated His faithfulness over and over again, and we were able to see it play out.”

Group talks with woman

Jay Vallejo (left) of Calvary La Habra, CA, and team members talk with a Foley, AL, woman, whose house had flooded and who had lost her electricity.

Unprecedented Opportunity to Help

In a year filled with hardship for nearly every American—from the shores of North Carolina beach towns to the mountains of California— it’s not hard to imagine 2020 as also leaving a legacy of being one of the worst periods for natural disasters in history. For Calvary Chapel La Habra Pastor Lance Cook, who founded CDR along with other Calvary Chapel pastors to aid communities in crisis through a Christ-centered approach, 2020 has also created opportunity.

“There was a world record set in terms of the number of hurricanes to make landfall,” declared Lance. “Numerically, there have been more fires in the western states than in previous years, and for a variety of reasons, the fires have created more damage and destruction in 2020 than they have in any previous year to date.”

In August, the Gulf Coast became a hub for CDR relief teams as areas of Louisiana and other coastal states were battered—some like Lake Charles, LA—more than once in the span of just a few weeks. Hurricane Laura, the second-strongest hurricane recorded in history, was responsible for an estimated $16 billion in damage and 77 fatalities. Six weeks later, Hurricane Delta made landfall just 13 miles from where Laura came ashore, creating havoc for communities, many that hadn’t regained power and water from the first storm.

Loading boxes in cars

Diego Mukai (right) and Ben Stead bring bedding to Foley residents. The team also distributed food and prayed and talked with survivors.

In September, Hurricane Sally became the first hurricane to make landfall in Alabama since Ivan in 2004. CDR crews spent the bulk of late August and most of September aiding Louisiana from the unprecedented damage caused by Laura and Delta. The October youth relief trip highlighted the organization’s October efforts on the East Coast.

While Lance recognizes that 2020 has been a rough blend of a global pandemic joining the uptick in natural disasters, he believes COVID-19 had an unexpected impact on his organization.

“In the five years leading up to 2020, we were starting to see fewer and fewer people sign up when we needed volunteers to help with natural disasters,” Lance acknowledged. “The teams that would network with us when it came to helping with natural disasters were getting smaller and smaller. Fewer and fewer churches were sending teams of people to help when a disaster hit. It got to the point where we were going to start training churches and speaking at conferences to stimulate interest in this crazy opportunity.”

This year, though, has been much different. The five-year drop-off took a drastic turn in the other direction. Lance elaborated, “Then boom, when COVID hit, everything changed in an instant. We are receiving record-breaking responses for every hurricane, fire, earthquake, or any relief effort we post on our website. People want to help people more than ever. Everyone that you and I know has had their world turned on its head this year ... even their kids. So I believe the pandemic, as bad as it is, has given people a spark to help people because we have all felt what it’s like to try to live our daily lives in the midst of a crisis.”

Loading boxes into truck

Left to right, Eliana Delgado, Chloe Robles, and Chad Bell load up bedding for hurricane victims in the Calvary Chapel Foley parking lot.

Physical & Spiritual Relief

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. Galatians 6:2

Lance began to get the vision for CDR while helping with aid efforts in Japan in 1995, when the Kobe earthquake left 40,000 injured and 300,000 homeless. The mass devastation was eye-opening for Lance, and he recognized an opportunity for a Christ-centered relief organization that could unite communities and Calvary Chapels throughout the United States. Lance and other Calvary Chapel pastors incorporated Calvary Disaster Relief three years ago.

“Sometimes the most open people [to the Gospel] are the most vulnerable people,” Lance shared. “Someone who has lost their home, lost everything, is the most open. Our goal, and everything we teach in our training, is to be good listeners. Let them talk. Let them get it out. Everyone has a story. The moment they understand you care about them, you care about their story, they will listen to what you have to say.”

Loading pillows in cars

The whole team helps load bedding for hurricane victims in Foley.

While Calvary Disaster Relief plays a major role by meeting the physical needs of people affected by these disasters, they also provide spiritual support through prayer and biblical encouragement when communities need it the most.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear. 1 Peter 3:15

Though 25 years have passed since CDR first lent aid in 1995, Lance continues to point to two major questions that arise from people in the midst of crisis. “In situations like these, the biggest questions we hear time and time again are, Why me? and Why, God?” Lance shared.

With COVID-19 creating uncertainty and hardship for church communities in 2020, added stress from an influx in natural disasters has hit many Christians at their core, according to Lance.

Man holding log

Leo Christiansen struggles with a log in a damaged Foley neighborhood.

“I can remember standing with some leaders in a church in Lake Charles, LA, after they had been hit—not once, but twice—by powerful hurricanes earlier this year,” Lance reflected. “Their church had yet to open because of COVID-19, and so now they look at this as things piling up on them. My concern for them was their losing hope, because as Christians we should never lose hope. Our hope right now should be fixed on not what is temporary, but that what is lasting and eternal.

“It’s very sobering to see Christians questioning God and questioning what they know to be true in Scripture,” Lance observed. “It shows us how much this world has a hold on us. The apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 2:11 that we are pilgrims and we are sojourners, but sometimes Christians, in those situations, forget that. How could it be your world if you’re a pilgrim or a sojourner? So, interaction with [questioning Christians] is sobering; but for us, it’s enlightening, as we bring them back to the reality of their identity in Christ.”

Still, in one of the toughest years to date for so many Christians around the world, Lance says it has, hands down, been the most rewarding for him and the Calvary Disaster Relief organization as a whole.

Men hold chainsaws

Chad Bell (left) and Pastor Jay Vallejo of Calvary La Habra are excited to work with chainsaws for the first time.

“For people who already had their personal GPS set on helping people in crisis, this has been the most fruitful year of their lives,” Lance exclaimed. “Churches and Christians that were outwardly focused saw opportunity. They saw something that would stimulate and grow their faith. They stepped forward and God expanded their boundaries of opportunity and blew their minds with creative ways to reach people that otherwise the church would probably never reach.”

Men moving big log

Ben Stead and Carson Vallejo help move a log in a Foley back yard.


Men moving logs

Ben Stead and Carson Vallejo move a log with instruction from Pastor Jay Vallejo.


Men work on branches

Leo Christiansen (right) carries a log while Justice Emery-Aldrete helps clear debris.


People walking around logs

The Calvary Disaster Relief team surveys the work they still need to do in Foley, AL.


Prayer circle

Youth team members Ben Stead (left), Diego Mukai, Chloe Robles, and Leo Christiansen pray for local Foley residents.


Prayer for person in wheelchair

The youth team prays for congregation members at Calvary Chapel Foley.


Prayer circle

The whole team gathers to pray for a Foley resident whose yard they had completely cleared.


Talking with people in car

A woman from Calvary Chapel Foley writes down requests from a community resident as Leo Christiansen and Haley Robles observe and listen to her concerns.


Walking in line with boxes

The team carries out items from CC Foley to waiting residents.


Working with branches

Calvary Disaster Relief volunteers from Calvary La Habra clear debris from yards in Foley, AL.


Worship on stage

Calvary Chapel Foley Pastor Joe Aldrete (center) prays as the Calvary Disaster Relief guest worship team concludes.


Demolished building

A family medical clinic in DeQuincy, LA, was demolished by Hurricane Laura. A team from Calvary Disaster Relief assisted victims there.


Destroyed house

A tree fell on a small house in DeQuincy during Hurricane Laura.


House with branches in yard

Winds from Hurricane Laura bring down debris, littering this front yard in DeQuincy.


Loose bricks in front of building

Hurricane Laura blew off parts of the siding of a commercial building in DeQuincy.


Men using ladder

Calvary Disaster Relief team member Tom Martin clears branches for neighbors in DeQuincy.


Men using ladder

Calvary Disaster Relief team member Mike Nelson heads up a ladder to start tarping a roof in DeQuincy with assistance from Tom Martin.


Worship in church

Amidst hurricane trauma, the congregation at Calvary Chapel Foley, AL, worships.


All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.