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Colorado Springs Wildfires Unite Christian Community

By Russ Jones


At the time of this report Peg Mamalakis was almost certain flames had engulfed her home. Fire coverage maps indicate her two-bedroom patio home is in the parameter where some 200 homes have been destroyed by the raging Waldo Canyon wildfires.

Mamalakis has lived in Colorado Springs for some 20 years. She has worked the same number of years as an award-winning graphic artist at Focus on the Family designing children’s publication Clubhouse Magazine.

But Tuesday her world of bright hues and smiling, youthful faces, turned to grief and sorrow.

Mamalakis was one of 32,000 Colorado Springs residents who received a frantic mandatory evacuation notice in recent days. She quickly packed some of her personal belongings, a few photo albums, some clothing and rounded up her dog and cat praying she would return to her white-trimmed gray home within a few days.

“I was lying in bed and would periodically think of something that I didn’t get,” Mamalakis said as her voice cracked. “I’m sure I am going to have those inklings. I knew I couldn’t take everything, but I’ve tried to have a positive attitude that everything would be there.”

With the likelihood she lost her home heavy on her mind, Mamalakis stayed with a friend, but Thursday had to evacuate that home as well to flee the wildfires, called by Colorado Springs fire chief Richard Brown, a "firestorm of epic proportions."

“I feel blessed that there are people who care about me and have taken me in,” said Mamalakis. “I am still kind of numb. This is a very surreal experience to go through. I know God is taking care of me. You have to be at peace because you have no control - God is in control.”

Her cousin’s home near the famous Broadmoor Hotel is now safe harbor for Mamalakis and her pets.

Thousands Evacuate Homes and Churches

Seven wildfires presently rage through the state of Colorado. Reports show that only 5 percent of the Waldo Canyon fire is contained, making it one of the most devastating in history.

The massive wildfire that started around the popular hiking spot Waldo Canyon west of Colorado Springs forced the evacuation of neighborhoods and caused many churches to cancel worship services and other activities. The Flying W Ranch, a Christian, Western entertainment ranch and a frequent destination for Colorado believers, was burned to the ground. Compassion International, a Christian child advocacy ministry, is within a mile of the evacuation area. Numerous Colorado Springs landmarks are threatened, including Garden of the Gods Park, Peterson Air Force Base, and Northgate Air Force Academy.

No casualties have been reported and no churches have been destroyed.

Ministries Both Help and Seek Assistance

While more than 1,000 firefighters are working to contain the 15,517-acre blaze, the Christian community has elevated its relief efforts in response to Colorado wildfires that had consumed 181,426 acres by Wednesday afternoon.

Colorado Springs is home to a number of international Christian ministries who have headquarters near the heart of the blaze. Staff at Navigatorsand its adjacent property, Glen Eyrie conference center, have safely evacuated their facilities and are working out of the nearby Focus on the Family offices, currently out of harms way.

Record heat and 65 mph winds pushed flames onto the Eagle Lake Camp grounds Monday, another Navigator’s property, which damaged one small structure. Navigator officials said firefighters are at the camp, using it as a staging area and working to protect camp buildings.

Reports also found fire on the Glen Eyrie property, known by many for its castle and spiritual retreat center. Firefighters are also on site battling blazes attempting to protect the facilities historic buildings.

EPA president Dean Ridings and online publishing editorial director of Focus on the Family, represents another family among thousands of evacuees who had limited time to pack up essentials and make their way east away from the flames.

“Our four children were home, including two who were serving up at the Navigators' Eagle Lake Camp,” said Ridings. “We also had three additional Eagle Lake campers with us. It was slow going but we finally got out of our community on the northwest side of the city (just south of the Air Force Academy) with our family and guests as well as two cars neighbors asked us to drive out for them.”

Ridings notes that Focus on the Family president Jim Daly led the ministry’s staff in a time of prayer lifting up the Colorado Springs community.

“In fact, we had offered to be a place where the community can come,” said Riding, “but they're actually looking for shelters more up the road in the Monument area to get people out of town and make more room for the firefighters to remain on the defensive.”

Tom Sullivan, general manager of KTLF and KTPO, a pair of Christian radio stations in Colorado Springs, said collection centers have been established across the city to help works and victims.

“The biggest need right now for the firefighters are eye drops and baby powder,” said Sullivan who just relocated to Colorado Springs. “But, we’ve got churches, schools and businesses opening their doors in various ways. Either as shelters, prayer centers or just a place to re-group with your family and friends.”

Care and Share Food Bank serves as the primary collection hub for non-perishable food donations for those affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire. Care and Share is partnering with all the participating local agencies to disperse food, as it is needed for both evacuees and firefighters.

Humanitarian International Services Group (HISG), who received a pre-evacuation notice Wednesday, is in Colorado Springs helping to connect people with available services.

“We are developing relationships with ministries who are doing their own thing,” said Michael Mastrodonato, chief operating officer of HISG. “Basically, there is a communication breakdown right now. There are lots of people willing to open up their homes and buildings, but those possibilities aren’t publically known.”

Scam Alert

While legitimate humanitarian aid organizations work to assist fire victims and workers, authorities are warning the public that some individuals are canvassing local neighborhoods, posing as representatives of Pikes Peak United Way.

These scammers seek donations to help those affected by the wildfires. Such individuals are not affiliated with Pikes Peak United Way in any manner and officials warn donations should not be given to them.

Call for Prayer

Most ministries are calling the nation to heartfelt prayer for firefighters and evacuees. Gordon James Klingenschmitt, the chaplain who was ousted from the U.S. Navy for praying in Jesus name, is asking people to pray for rain over the area west of Colorado Springs, but not so much to cause flash flooding.

Some believe it is important seek God’s discernment in regards to the wildfires.

“I just really think we need to humble ourselves before a holy God with repentant hearts and seek His face and wisdom during this difficult and confusing time,” said Mastrodonato.

And for Peg Mamalakis, she admits it is difficult to imagine her days in her grey house with white trim may be gone. But she also says she hangs on to hope and faith in God, which can’t be taken away.

“I feel numb. It is hard to concentrate, but I have to,” said Mamalakis. “It is good to be distracted from the other part of my life that is going on. But I am so thankful to be working in a place where I have support and where I can feel God’s presence during this… umm…  strange time.”

 

Russ Jones is a 25-year award-winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites, such as ChristianPress.com, and a media consultant to a number of political and cause-oriented campaigns. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at russ@russjones.me.

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