Last Thursday afternoon a phone call came, “Camarillo Springs is on fire.”
Camarillo Springs is a mobile home park not far from Ventura where we live, and we have several elderly friends there. They were told to evacuate. We were texting them and their families and though it was scary for one lady in a huge traffic jam with 2 trembling little dogs with her, everyone made it out OK.
That mobile home park was spared, and they were able to return. But many homes were not. From older mobile homes in the canyons to the mansions of the rich and famous in Malibu, the fire tore through to the ocean with what we call the “Santa Ana winds,” scorching 30-50 plus mph winds that come through our area in the fall.
When I was much younger the Santa Ana winds were a pleasant diversion as the weather turned chilly this time of year. Yes, anything below 50 we consider chilly in S. California. Now they are dreaded because they fuel hellish fires in bone-dry areas and can turn an ember in minutes into an entire hillside erupting in flames—as happened in several places this morning.
Amid the pain, so many good things are going on: a psychotherapist is offering free counseling in person on through Skype, people are opening their homes to take in evacuees and animals, B&Bs are offering free lodging, one movie star couple who lost their home donated $500,000 to a community fund, another donated $100,000 to an animal rescue group. People are gathering collections of snacks for fire-fighters and teams of people volunteering to cook hot meals for them. My neighborhood group is collecting gently used clothes and gift cards for the many people who lost everything.
As always, we are in awe of the fire-fighters. Many worked for 72 hours straight when the fires started because of the horrific fire in the north of the state, there was no one to relieve them. During that exhaustion are stories of firefighters dashing into homes they know they couldn’t save but grabbing pictures from the walls, so families would have something. A fire-fighter gave one woman who lost her home the picture of the ultrasound of her unborn baby he grabbed from her refrigerator.
Last year we had the horrific Thomas fire. One night a friend called, I went outside and saw huge flames and a wall of fire to the east and then as I slowly turned the entire horizon was on fire. My entire town was on fire. The following days were a blur. Ultimately, we were OK, but friends and family had to evacuate; large parts of the city and coastline, gone. The Thomas fire lasted for weeks, thousands of acres were burned, many homes destroyed. Our city and many people are still recovering from it yet another fire rages just south of us.
I was at once scared and numb when these fires started. We were far enough away from the active fire to be safe for now, though who knows where and when another one will start or how far or fast they will spread? All I
wanted to do is sit in front of the TV and watch for updates, watch as places along the coast I’ve loved are destroyed. But the internet and cable were down for the first two days of the fire because of damaged lines and any updates came through the phones and watching that little screen and trying to find out information was exhausting.
But even if cable was working I knew I couldn’t just vegetate glued to the TV consumed by fears and sadness. I asked the Lord what to do and he brought to mind a frequent scene from many of the sci-fi movies and TV series I love. In this scenario, something dreadful is about to happen—an exploding star, a massive ship malfunction, an immediate take-over by the enemy. The person dealing with the emergency doesn’t panic. He or she simply, calmly continue to do the work they’ve been trained to do, and the emergency is resolved.
I’ve always admired that calmness under pressure even if it is only part of a sci-fi world. But that image reminded me that I have work to do and important reasons to stay focused on the tasks at hand. I remembered the passage:
“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Matthew 24:45-46
For me to “give food to those serving” means that I work to create materials that I trust will be useful to church communicators.
I sat down to the computer and put together the podcast for you on “Don’t be a secret saint.” I didn’t know when I’d be able to load it up to the internet, because there were no connections for a few days but it’s back up and after I create some links that go along with the content and will be useful in applying the challenge to be open and honest who we are in Christ when we do good things I’ll be sharing this. I hope it’s a tasty and nourishing snack for you as you work on your church communications.
I think my experience has been and is (we’re still amid a continuing firestorm) a reminder of the reality of our Christian life that is so easy to forget. That reality is that we are involved in spiritual warfare for the souls of humanity and we can’t ever go AWOL (absent without leave). We all have a job to do while this war is on.
Jesus said that “in the world we would have troubles” John 16:33, but he also said that he had overcome the world and that in Him we have peace.
Not only can we have peace in troubles, but troubles are the exercises that can strengthen our souls as the first chapter of James says in the Message translation:
Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So, don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work, so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way. James 1:2-4
It’s hard to see the fires as a gift.
But they are. The gift for me this time (because I know there will be more fires and more to learn) was a good lesson for me, to know that though fires were raging around me, I had a job to do, a calling and responsibility to do it, and that pleasing my Lord no matter what was going on around me, is truly all that matters.