|October 29, 2007
It was a few minutes after 9 pm. I had gone to bed and Sally was preparing to join me when we were both startled by a loud thump. Sally went to the kitchen window thinking that perhaps a bear visitor was rummaging around outside. Instead she saw smoke billowing from the garage. "Jim, there's a fire in the garage!" she cried. I jumped out of bed and ran out to the garage while Sally called on the phone for help. She reached Janell and Jeanette who had just arrived at the ministry office after an evening appointment. Janell dialed 911 and alerted the volunteer firemen while Sally called our two sons, Andrew and Matthew, and the neighbors.
I opened the garage doors to assess the situation and to retrieve whatever I could. The garage contained our three generators, a large supply of ministry materials, our snowplow, snow blower, recreational equipment, bulk food storage, household items, and all my tools. In addition, my son Andrew had most of his building tools stored in my garage since he was in the process of replacing the roof on our cabin. For that project, we had insulation and trim boards stored in the garage. Because of all the extra items for that project stored in the garage, we had left our vehicle parked outside of the garage—which I almost never do.
As I entered the garage, the flames had already engulfed it. The smoke was oppressive. I managed to pull out one canoe which had fallen from its perch in the rafters, retrieve Andrew's air compressor and nail gun and then had to retreat from the flames and smoke. Sally and I pulled our garden hoses over to spray the corner of the house nearest the garage in hopes that it would not ignite. Praise God, the house was charred on one corner and several windows cracked in the intense heat, but it was spared.
Neighbors arrived and began to help us carry our most essential items out of the house. In a matter of minutes, the garage structure collapsed. The biggest threat now became apparent to us. Just behind our garage sits our 1000-gallon propane tank—recently filled for winter. The heat of the flames caused the pressure valve to begin releasing propane into the air that immediately ignited sending up a twenty-foot torch. We all retreated to the area of the guest cabin. The fire chief arrived and asked us to move back to the mailboxes for safety. He said that if the tank were to explode, it could level an area of a half-mile radius.
The fire crews started to arrive, but had to wait on the main road for the propane tank to stop venting before they could safely venture near the fire. The firemen treated me for minor smoke inhalation and we all waited for the flames to die down. I began to plan ahead. Winter is only three weeks away. We typically have snow on the ground to stay by Thanksgiving. As I saw it, I would have to cancel our trip to Brazil in order to prepare for winter.
But then, Matthew arrived on the scene. “Father, there’s no sense in you staying here to sift through ashes when there are people waiting and expecting the meetings that have been planned. Andrew and I can do the clean up and whatever is necessary to prepare for winter. You need to go as planned.”
Much of the remaining night was spent reviewing essential documents with Matthew, discussing preliminary plans for getting the essentials back in place for an operational home, and collecting the items we needed for our trip. By 6:15 am, we had boarded the plane bound for Florida and then Brazil.
Our initial reflection on this experience brings up both gratitude to God and unanswered questions. Why did God protect our property from fire before, but allow the garage to be burned now? Why did the fire happen the night we were leaving for a major international speaking tour?
We can only guess at the answers to these questions, but one thing we know for certain: God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and enter into His purpose for their lives. (Romans 8:28) Someday, when we see the big picture in the light of eternity, we will understand.
We do thank Him for limiting the destruction last night. Our lives were preserved. Our home is damaged, but intact. Our vehicle was parked away outside of the garage—something that we have done almost never when we are at home. Our neighbors and volunteer fire department were fantastic and helped us where they could. Our sons and their wives and our close friends have rallied behind us with prayer and encouragement. Our Savior has given us peace in the midst of the tumult. May He be honored and uplifted!
You may be wondering what caused the fire. We don’t know for sure, but I had taken a heat bath in the cedar sauna that Andrew built for us more than ten years ago. It was located in the garage. I followed my usual routine of building a fire in the wood stove we use to heat the sauna and then leaving it to go out on its own when I was done. As far as we can tell, that must have been the source of the fire.
Perhaps you are experiencing one of life’s difficult transitions, trials, or losses right now. Maybe you are feeling the shock and surprise, the emotional confusion, the sadness that accompanies these experiences. Let us assure you that God is there for you! Nothing surprises Him. Nothing is too big for Him or too small for Him. We can never overwhelm Him or perplex Him. Whatever you are facing, trust Him. Turn to Him. Put your hand in His. He will lead you step by step for His glory and your eternal happiness.
It’s still about walking with Him!