What could a crisis, an evacuation and ice cream have to do with love? This article is by Graham Coyle, an educator from the UK who happened to be with my family during the craziness of the last two weeks:
The Carr Fire started on Monday 23rd , the same day that I arrived in Redding, though I’m assured that the two events are unconnected. Apparently a vehicle had a mechanical problem, I was told that it had lost a tyre and the resulting sparks started a brush fire. The whole area was tinder-dry and so the rest, as they say, is history. The Carr Fire, so named because of the location of its origin on Carr Powerhouse Road, Whiskeytown, California, has raged across around 160,000 acres (250 sq miles), destroyed over 1000 homes and taken the lives of three firefighters, a great-grandmother, two of her great-grandchildren and one linesman.
Although the losses are undeniably tragic, they are mercifully few in comparison to the 7,000 or so engaged in fighting the fire or protecting the public in other ways and the approximately 40,000 people forced from their homes. Redding has a population of around 90,000, consider that for a moment.
Something is not quite right
I became aware of something not being as it should be on Wednesday morning when I found ash falling from the sky all over my shiny, new, hire car.
I was in Redding for an incredible education conference but news of that can wait because it is somewhat overshadowed by subsequent events. On Thursday morning I awoke at the house of my friends Janine and Andy Mason. They had offered me accommodation during my stay which was not only generous of them but also generous of their children, Hannah, Emily, Ben and Holly, as they were all involved in hosting the conference and who needs a guest around when all of that is happening, right?
The news that greeted me was that we had been put on evacuation alert and that I should pack and be ready to move as soon as required. Such alerts come automatically via mobile phone which seems incredibly sensible to me but this news was not what I was expecting. I did as I was asked (as I always do of course!) and then we just waited. We prayed of course and then … played cards, went for a swim, had lunch, read, checked the on-line fire reports, prayed again and surmised that we might not have to move after all. Dinner was prepared and then Janine checked the sky again.
To say that there was a dramatic change would be a vast understatement. It was time to go; quickly. Bags were grabbed, dogs gathered and importantly, the special ice cream for dessert was packed in a cool box. Well, it would have melted wouldn’t it? We drove out in convoy just as the police were coming up the road checking that each property was empty; we were the next one on their list.
I have never experienced anything like that evening. It was as close to living through a scene from a Hollywood disaster blockbuster as I have been, or wish to be again. It wasn’t scary but there was an acute awareness that it was very, very serious. We headed for Andy’s office as there was a possibility that the family could bed down there.
The office offered a good view of what was happening and it was clear that the fire was spreading in at least three directions around north-west Redding. Flames were visible in the distance, smoke filled the sky, the air was acrid. The roads were packed as the exodus from the path of the flames drove people into and through the city. It might seem frivolous to have eaten ice cream at such a time but it did a great job of establishing some normality in a very stressful situation.
Let me say at this point that I was and still am incredibly impressed by the way that the whole Mason family handled this time, as well as the days since. They have a deep faith in Jesus and that is undoubtedly the bedrock of their response but the way that they showed patience, care for each other and sought God’s wisdom whilst still having time and space for a visitor in the middle of it all was powerful. They had no idea if their home would survive, they had few belongings with them and they didn’t know where it would be safe to spend the night. Despite all of this I felt welcomed, loved and included in their family at a time when they were at their most vulnerable.
See How They Love One Another
Jesus told us that people would know we were His disciples by the love that we showed each other. Sometimes we might question why more people don’t want to be a part of our churches. I think there is something to learn from families such as my friends the Masons? I was certainly being shown something special in the middle of extreme circumstances.
When I first visited Bethel Church a few years back someone back home asked me what I had seen. The question was really based on Bethel’s reputation as a place where many people encounter God in dramatic ways, often finding healing from things that we do not regularly see touched through prayer. My response surprised them as what I had experienced was a church filled with people who loved outrageously, cared for the weak and vulnerable, wanted the best for their city and were prepared to share what they had with the rest of the world if asked to.
I have found the same to be true this time. I went to one of the Sunday morning meetings and found no glib answers to what was happening. What I did find was compassion and heartbreak for those who had lost homes and there were several of them around. I found rejoicing with those whose homes had been spared. I found immense generosity of spirit and resources being given to their city and the emergency services seeking to protect it. And I found God’s love infused through it all. It seems to me that these are some of the hallmarks of those that follow of Jesus and where we find them we should expect to find His presence in real ways.
So, halfway through my stay I’m expecting to discover more about God through these unexpected circumstances and, oh yes, I’m also hoping to eat more ice cream. Jealous?
Graham Coyle is the founder of Hope In Education, an organization working together to make a life-shaping difference to pupils across Europe.
Graham began teaching at The River School, Worcester, a small private Christian school in 1987. He has served in a variety of leadership roles there including Headmaster. He is currently the National Director of Christian Schools’ Trust (CST) in the UK as well as being Chairman of the European Educators’ Christian Association (EurECA).
Graham has a strong interest in the culture of schools and education systems, and in how Christian teachers can access all the resources God has for them in order to bring His influence to our nations.
He has two married daughters, one grandchild and is widowed.