Believers Will Seek Solace, Then Answers from Clerics

Times Staff Writer

Soul-seeking prompted by the fearsome Southern California firestorms will be on display this weekend at mosques, synagogues and churches. The faithful will turn to God for solace and divine intervention and to their clerics for answers to troubling questions like "Where was God when our homes burned?"

Muslims throughout Southern California began the weekend services Friday reciting a special Islamic prayer by the Prophet Muhammad to bring rain, hoping it will extinguish those wildfires still burning.

"The firefighters need some help from nature and maybe from God," said Abdullahi Diriye, a 39-year-old from Somalia who recited the prayer with more than 2,000 others at the Islamic Center of Orange County in Garden Grove.

Jewish congregants in Santa Clarita will say prayers of thanksgiving on the Sabbath today for deliverance from the towering blaze that roared through the hills but stopped just short of their homes.

"My congregants had firetrucks parked in their cul-de-sacs [in Stevenson Ranch], foaming down their houses," said Rabbi Steve Conn of Congregation Beth Shalom. "When the fire retreated, we all had an experience of thanksgiving. There's tremendous gratitude for the firefighters who protected us."

The pastor of a Baptist church at the base of the San Bernardino Mountains will give a sermon Sunday on why prayer is a more productive endeavor than worry, a bold message to a congregation that has at least 16 families who have lost homes to fire.

"Sunday morning we're going to deal with worry and why it won't solve our problems," said Rob Zinn, the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Highland. He plans to counsel that serenity, especially in difficult times, comes only through prayer.

The overwhelming size of fires can bring people quickly to their knees.

"Everyone in times of disaster realizes they have to rely on God to give them hope and faith in the midst of a world they have limited control over," said Pastor Andy Taylor of St. Andrew's Lutheran Church in San Diego, where three congregants lost their homes.

At the Highland church, a family of six who took refuge in the church last Saturday night became Christians at a Sunday service the next day, Zinn said.

The most difficult task for religious leaders whose flocks live in the fire zone is to explain why God let one congregant's house burn while others were saved.

At Gateway Church in El Cajon, only one house has been lost in the congregation of 600. That family was headed by a music pastor at the church.

"Obviously, it came up: Was I not good enough, faithful enough?" said Senior Pastor Mark Jappe, of the long talk he had with his young assistant.

"I told him some of God's giants weren't spared [tribulation] -- Jeremiah, Job, David."

Jappe and others said they will tell their congregations Sunday that God didn't cause the fires, but he will produce good from tragedy.

For instance, "it's reminded everyone of the brevity of life and the brevity of stuff," Jappe said.

Clerics say another spiritual blessing coming from the fires includes a renewed sense of brotherhood and sisterhood among people of faith as they volunteer to help the fallen.

In the San Bernardino area, Mormon volunteers made 1,000 sandwiches for firefighters and evacuees.

Southern California Muslims were asked by leaders to "generously" donate to the Red Cross, a poignant plea during the holy month of Ramadan, when Islam teaches that acts of charity are especially rewarded by God. And the Lutheran Disaster Response team has plans underway for "Camp Noah," a weeklong day camp for children traumatized by the disasters.

"With adversity around us and the fire raging, the outpouring of humanity has been amazing," said Dale T. Poulsen, president of the San Bernardino region of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which includes Lake Arrowhead. "The very best has come out in people."

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