Stories & Commentaries

A Journey to Love

One person's story on how ministry and recovery go hand in hand in Paradise, California.

Joelle Chinnock

Joelle Chinnock outside the Paradise Adventist Academy gym, near where the church has been holding their Sabbath school classes after the Camp Fire in 2018 destroyed the church. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

Joelle Chinnock, whose father served as a dean on campus, was born and raised at Pacific Union College for the first 22 years of her life. “Growing up Adventist, I didn’t really know another option, and I didn’t understand the principles and beliefs for myself until later in life,” shared Chinnock, who moved to Paradise, California, about 20 years ago with her husband.

“In my early 20s I was challenged, wondering, Is this really the faith that I want to continue in?” said Chinnock, feeling that religion was just a series of rules and regulations. She and her husband, after experiencing a couple of devastating miscarriages, didn’t feel supported by their church at that time. They stepped away for about four years to a church down in Chico that “just took us in, loved us in that brokenness, in that trauma, and we flourished there. My relationship with [God] grew. There was healing that happened.”

Something else grew in Chinnock. She saw how dedicated the church in Chico was to the community. They ran a men’s house and a women’s house, solely dedicated to helping people get their lives back on track from alcohol or drug abuse. “It was palpable when we would meet together in worship—you could see the brokenness in people. You didn’t have to come to church looking perfect, like you had it all together. The church was so dedicated to sharing the good news that they actually started a program where they took church to the community—they would have church out on the street. I saw what it was like to be bathed in love, to be accepted in brokenness, accepted in pain. To see how that turned into service impacted me.”

Chinnock also started to better understand the beauty of Sabbath, not as a day to have rules kept but as a day for communion and relationship with the Creator. “We transitioned back into our local Adventist church slowly, coming back and bringing our kids back into it. And we’ve been part of the Adventist community since then.”

Once their children began going to the local Adventist school after being homeschooled for years, Chinnock started to become involved in the Paradise Seventh-day Adventist Church’s community services. Then came the Camp Fire, and Chinnock moved into full-time work for the church’s ACS.

“Our community service started as Love Paradise,” explained Chinnock. “We have Love Delivers, which is our food pantry and delivery. We have Love Gives at the new warehouse with our furniture giveaways. We have Love Builds [a housing project]. We don’t just call it ministry. We call it Tuesday. Everyday. This is life. This is how we do life. We just choose to try to love as best we can.”

Since the Camp Fire of 2018, which completely destroyed more than 18,000 structures, including the Paradise Adventist Church and the Community Services building, Chinnock has served as the director of disaster recovery and development for the church at the “Love Gives” Adventist Community Services center, located in a warehouse purchased with the church’s fire insurance funds. They’ve been privileged to partake in community outreach projects in ways that specifically help fill community need in the recovery process from the fire.

Forklift loads sofa in paradise

At the Adventist Community Services warehouse in Paradise, California, warehouse manager Chuck Wiesner loads a new, free sofa on the back of a resident's vehicle. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt

In the Face of Adversity

Steve Hamilton, the lead pastor for the Paradise Seventh-day Adventist Church, arrived shortly before the fire. While ACS was active in the community before the fire through their Love Paradise program, the recovery and restoration of the community and church after the fire have taken the front seat.

“Joelle had been involved some in community service before the fire through the youth department ministry of the church,” said Hamilton. “They branded their initiative Love Paradise, where they had done some yard work and town community service projects and such. Joelle was part of that as a volunteer and a mom. Then, after the fire, when we came back up onto the ridge, you could just see that Joelle’s heart was totally consumed by the plight of the people. Early on, Joelle was the one we sent out to go look for ways to help people on the ridge.”

The first thing Chinnock discovered what the need for clean drinking water. The church had a deep well, and from the first couple of days after the fire until the need dissipated, residents often stopped by the church to fill up their containers. In fact, water is still available at this source.

The church group also provided home goods kits, which helped many who were living in RVs. During that time Chinnock met a woman on dialysis living in an RV. All of her medical equipment was out in the rain, just outside of the RV.

“That’s where the idea for the sheds came into being. At that point, we needed someone to lead and consolidate it, and put together sort of mechanisms for grants and money to be able to assist. Joelle was clearly the person for that,” said Hamilton. “We started out saying we’ll build a dozen sheds, maybe, and then, with help from Maranatha and lots of volunteers, that turned into hundreds.” The sheds still dot the community.

COVID-19 caused the group to pivot. “While we were figuring out the continuation of the shed project piece, Joelle started a new initiative in food service that we tagged Love Delivers. She networked with local organizations and with the grocery stores here, and we began delivering food to people during that time, and then started up a drive-thru food service, so people would pull up to our parking lot and receive food once a week.”

“Joelle is one of those people who, in the face of adversity, actually accelerates—which has been inspiring to watch. She is also a person who will try something and if it doesn’t work, try something else, but keep the idea tucked in her back pocket because maybe there will be another time for it.”

On Tuesdays, families work together filling and delivering boxes of food. Grateful to get out of the house at a safe outreach, they serve others each week during the COVID-19 shelter in place.

On Tuesdays, families work together filling and delivering boxes of food. Grateful to get out of the house at a safe outreach, they serve others each week during the COVID-19 shelter in place.  

Team Effort

“We have been blessed to be able to bring on some staff and volunteers who we would not be able to do this without,” Chinnock explained. “We have a warehouse manager, Chuck Wiesner, who lost his home in the fire, and he had been working with Adventist Health in their hospice thrift store program before the fire so he has a lot of experience when it comes to this type of venture.”

Chinnock shares that the center’s front office manager was the registrar at the high school Chinnock attended growing up. She said that God crossed their paths again almost two years ago. “We’ve been able to bring her on as well,” said Chinnock. “But we have to rely heavily on volunteers. We have two volunteers who give us at least two full days a week to come and help the program, as well as several other volunteers who will pop in on occasion. We’re always needing more help, and we’re always grateful for when we do get it.”

With the anticipation of a large number of volunteers coming up to Paradise, the group was poised to build more sheds with partner Maranatha in April 2020. Then the pandemic hit in March.

“I was pretty devastated by the COVID shutdown because there were so many unknowns. I felt like I could see what the next six months looked like and then COVID hit,” said Chinnock. She wondered, Will we ever be able to pull the project off? Will it ever happen? What about all the funding that we’ve raised? Do we have to give it back? We have such a need still in the community.

Chinnock and the team didn’t know what to do. But God shifted their direction and they were able to start the Love Delivers program.

“I would love to say that from this point on I will never have my faith waver again, I will never be disappointed, that there will always be a sure, solid foundation. I’d like to promise that, but I can’t.

“What I can say is that seeing His faith in us again and again is what reminds me—I know that when I get to that spot again where I am feeling on the edge of brokenness, I remember how He has led in the past.”

— Kimberly Luste Maran is editor of Adventist Journey.

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