California's devastating wildfires may have destroyed roughly 95 percent of Paradise, but one symbol was left standing among the ashes that gives its residents hope.
Our Savior Lutheran Church Pastor Brandon Merrick posted the hopeful photo on Facebook two days after flames engulfed the town along with the 54-year-old church building and the parsonage where his wife and two kids lived.
Still standing was the simple wooden cross in the middle of the parking lot.
“I told our church I really hope that that picture can be used as the picture for the fire, because, as the church, everything that man builds with our hands is perishable, but what God does for us through the cross is imperishable and cannot be taken away or burned up,” Merrick told Fox News. “And that’s what I love about the picture.”
He said his family had to quickly evacuate along with the pre-school kids present the day the fire advanced toward the church grounds. Even though it was only nine in the morning, Thursday, Nov. 8, it was as dark as midnight when the pastor left.
“I hate this picture. However, I also love this picture,” Merrick wrote to his congregation online, adding it “is not just a heartbreaking reminder of what can happen to the things and people of this world, this is our one true hope in the midst of tragedy that cannot be destroyed by anything. God is with us."
The church is meanwhile meeting at a sister church, Redeemer Lutheran Church, about 20 miles away in Chico.
The photo, taken by Tyler Frank and Elizabeth Osborn as they escaped the flames, went viral on social media as many resonated with the powerful image. For Frank and Osborn, the church and the cross was a glimmer of hope.
"After being trapped on Pentz in gridlock traffic while completely surrounded by fire, we eventually found refuge in the parking lot of the Lutheran church. It was the first moment we felt safe and believed we would survive this horrific event," Frank told Fox News. "We were grateful to be there.”
Frank and Osborn lost everything in the fire and a friend set up a GoFundMe page to help with their loss, something many in the devastated community are dealing with.
While their location is still under quarantine, Merrick said Our Savior Lutheran Church plans to rebuild and has set up a site with their sister church where people can help support them. The church says the funds will go towards Our Savior Lutheran Church to help members of the community-at-large, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
“This is a great chance for the gospel to get out,” the pastor added. “That’s why I like that picture. It speaks to more than just those affected in Paradise. It speaks to the country and to the world.”