Hope in the Fire: Crown Convenes Grief and Trauma Conference

A charred tree stump sits in front of a busy intersection in Paradise, California.

Blackened by a wildfire and in stark contrast to the green grass, it’s a reminder of the past — of losing 85 residents to a raging fire that swept through the area on November 8, 2018.

Yet, it’s also a reminder about finding hope in the darkness.

Located near Paradise Alliance Church — part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance — churchgoers sculpted the remaining stump into the shape of a cross (shown above).

Camp Fire (as the disaster is known) scorched over 153,000 acres in Butte County, California, the deadliest and largest wildfire in state history. It impacted thousands of lives and still lingers on in the hearts and minds of those who were in the area that fateful day in November.

Recently, a group of Crown College graduate students — Neil Michael, Sarah Mol, and Jason Polzin — joined Crown professor Dr. Cathy Sigmund to hold the Grief, Loss, and Trauma Conference at Paradise Alliance. With sponsorship from the relief arm of the Alliance known as Compassion and Mercy Associates (or CAMA), the conference took place on June 26.

“We presented on the effects of crises, trauma, and disaster, and provided useful information on lay coping strategies,” says Dr. Sigmund. “Crown students led a kids care camp where they taught affected children anxiety and stress reduction techniques.”

Dr. Sigmund says the entire community noted their appreciation for the event.

“The scope of the disaster that Camp Fire caused is seen in everyone trying to repair their lives physically and emotionally,” says Pastor Steve Bolin from Paradise Alliance. “Everyone was affected in such a profound way. Being trained on how to recognize trauma in others and knowing how we can effectively help our community members is extremely important. In our call to love others as Christians, this training helps us love people well.”

As with all grief intervention, the experience was particularly impactful on the Crown students who participated. Neil Michael is pursuing a Master of Arts in Counseling through Crown and will graduate in May of 2021. He says he will always remember the experience.

“It was very humbling as I got to see from close proximity how a fire can destroy lives, homes, businesses, and properties,” says Michael. “The fire not only ripped through the town, but also gutted thousands of homes and establishments. I saw how people’s lives turned to ashes — their homes, cars, businesses, churches, their livelihoods, and everything was taken away.”

“I thank God for this wonderful opportunity,” he added.

Michael says his most profound experience was during the kids camp where he demonstrated the “Butterfly Hug,” a breathing and grounding technique. He recalls one of the kids at the camp told him she would use the Butterfly Hug whenever she feels stressed.

It was also a rewarding conference because of how closely Crown students and faculty worked with both Paradise Alliance church and CAMA. It was CAMA that helped pay the expenses for the Crown students to visit and participate.

“The Paradise trip allowed for students in a class to use the very skills they read about, in real time with real people and providing real help,” says Dr. Jim Zapf, the Director of Online Psychology and Counseling-Related Programs at Crown College. “Other Crown classes encourage the use of volunteers for students to get practical skill training rather than only theoretical. We will endeavor to continue to provide these opportunities whenever possible so students will have a sense of genuine professional experience.”

For the Crown students and those impacted, it was life-changing.

“I know that God has a purpose for me to go and serve the least of our brothers and sisters,” says Michael. ”I also know that with the guided assistance of the Holy Spirit, I’m I’m confident I’ll be able to give hope for the hopeless.”

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