More about Fire


Maybe you heard. Southern California experienced another fire last night. This one, I suspect, may get quite a bit of attention because it threatened some very expensive estates in a ritzy part of Santa Barbara called Montecito. Oprah, among other celebrities, has a second (or third?) home there.

But it’s also a fairly normal community. I know because I grew up there. No, my family was not rich. My dad was a professor at a Christian college there, and consequently we lived, as many current professors did, near the school.

When I was a sophomore in high school, we had a fire in the community, too, so as I was watching the news reports, I couldn’t help but relive a bit of my own experience.

But then the news drew my attention to something unexpected. Westmont College, where my dad had worked, where I had gone to school, was now threatened by the fire. Eventually the report came through that some of the buildings had burned to the ground and others were damaged.

More importantly, all the students were safe. As it so happens, the college’s disaster plan, in case of a fire, was to have the students evacuate to the gym, a concrete facility with significant clearing on all sides. I suspect it has a generator too, because the reports said repeatedly that power was out all over the area, that power lines were down, but in that gym, they were showing a movie.

That’s right. Somewhere around a thousand students, faculty, and neighbors rode out the fire storm in the gym. At one point, one student needed to don a surgical mask because the smoke was causing him some breathing problems. One student.

In an interview, another student said it got pretty smoky in there as the fire grew closer. But they had put duc tape around the doors, so I guess that kept out the most of it.

The thing was, the reports asked in many ways, how the kids were holding up, were they devastated by what was happening. I saw numerous interviews, heard a couple via phone, and eventually the reporters got film out showing the activity and interviews in the gym. No one sounded fearful, devastated, panicked. You could tell this mystified the reporters.

Did I mention that Westmont is a Christian college? One student was asked in her interview to tell her experience. She was in the dining commons having dinner when the word came that they needed to evacuate to the gym. She said she was fortunate because she was able to go back to her dorm and retrieve a few things. What did she get, the reporter asked. Some clothes, something else I forget, and her Bible.

Others were asked how they were passing the time. Oh, the answer came, we’re watching the movie, and some of us are meeting in groups to pray.

Eventually, the word reached the students that some of the buildings on campus had burned. Did this cause them to lose it? No, the student simply noted that at least one of those structures was slated for demolition in the building project that broke ground last week.

And speaking of last week, it turns out that just last week, the college held a fire drill, so the students knew exactly what they were supposed to do when the real thing came.

My point? There are times God does not stop the fire, but He has promised to walk through it with us. The evidence of His presence was most clear in the peace He provided for those students.

Were there losses? Yes. I’ve heard that twenty-four professors lost their homes. At least one dorm was destroyed (with all the students’ belongings undoubtedly), and numerous students’ cars burned where they were parked. And there is yet to be determined thousands of dollars of damage to those structures that caught fire but were rescued by the firemen.

But even if it had all burned, it would not change who God is. Before three young Jewish exiles faced execution by fire because they refused to bow down to an idol, this is what they said:

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
– Daniel 3:17, 18

Why would they say something so … irrational, as I suppose an atheist would view it? Because they knew something the king didn’t. This world was not their home; they were just passing through. The stuff can burn, even this body, because it’s only temporary. What matters is our submission to the King of king and Lord off lords.

How very cool that those Westmont students stood as modern examples of what the peace that passes understanding looks like when God walks with us through the fire.

Published in: on November 14, 2008 at 10:46 am  Comments (9)  
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