This past week a massive fire, driven by gale force winds ravaged our South African hometown of Somerset West. People had to be evacuated from their homes and at least four farms dating back to the 1700’s were threatened. Indigenous plants, fynbos – unique in the world to this area – went up in flames, as did some of the wildlife that make the Helderberg Mountains their home.
The fire was finally contained about two miles from our Mission Home.
A small spark and dry grass is all it takes to start a fire. I have seen this happen in my life and in the lives of others. During a dry spell, when life feels difficult and refreshing water seems far away, from seemingly nowhere someone or something lights a spark and without warning an out of control fire starts.
Fires are an incredible force of nature. They can burn up unwanted weeds and dead foliage and be a cleansing grace. Or, driven by stormy winds, they can get out of control and consume all in its path. I bear witness to this in my own life, as I am certain you can too. One small decision or unintended outcome leads to another and another and then, driven by unseen forces, a vicious fire devastates all in its path.
The 250 firefighters of the Somerset West fire worked day and night, in harsh conditions, doing their job above and beyond duty. Firefighting is not for the faint hearted. It takes courage to walk toward the flames when everyone and everything else is fleeing. It takes strength of body and immense strength of character to fight a fire that swirls around you and soars far above you – forces both seen and unseen coming together with the intent of destroying all you hold dear. The firefighters of Somerset West fought with all their might, but not alone – never alone. For days, the community of this small Western Cape village stood beside their men and women in the heat of the battle as donations of food and drink poured in. Neighborhood groups and churches rallied together, people stood together and battled together until the wind turned, died down and the flames were finally vanquished. A community won together.
Fighting fires in our life takes immense courage. As ill winds blow doubt and fear in our face, it takes its toll on our health and on our minds and on our hearts. It is easy to believe that we are alone, that we will succumb, that all is lost. But then, right there in that place of devastation, in that place of loss, in that place of swirling hurt, out of the flames the Holy One walks and stills the wind. The community of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit turns up and they bring refreshing and strength. Despite our deep fatigue, we find grace to walk toward the flames and fight the good fight. In the midst of the battle, we find comfort and we find peace.
It takes but to look and to see that we are not alone. We never were.
As you enter into 2017, may you know that whatever fire you may face in the year to come, the community of the Holy Christ is with you. Always.
“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, Nor will the flame burn you.” – Isaiah 43:2