by Caryl Moll
One of the things I feared most, as a young child growing up on a farm, was the annual “fire season”. The images of the familiar orange glow on the horizon at night-time and the acrid smell of smoke in my nostrils still strikes a deep fear in me. Fire is unpredictable. Add wind to the equation and it becomes even more terrifying. Fire creates its own conditions and can whip itself up into an unimaginable storm. It’s scary. Unpredictable and very scary!
I recall a particular incident one year on the farm. The fire had been raging for days across the vast countryside. It was edging closer and closer to our farm and our homestead. The whole community was on heightened alert to fight the various outbreaks. Some people’s homes had been burned to the ground and some had lost everything in the flames. We were all under threat and the carnage was visible for miles. Now it was approaching our home – from all directions. What were we to do?
That particular evening, my father was out in the fields, with a group of workers trying to build fire breaks and fight the approaching flames. My mother and our household staff had packed up all our belongings and piled them up on the outside lawn. We’d soaked the surrounding area using a small hosepipe, but there was no guarantee that our efforts would save our belongings. The dogs and farm animals were rounded up too as we waited for any indication that they needed to be moved. They were uncertain and scary moments. The only thing we could do was to wait and pray for a miracle.
As the night advanced, my father still hadn’t returned and my mother was becoming increasingly more worried. (We didn’t have cell phones in those days, so there was no communication). I remember her setting up a safe place for me to ‘sleep’, but sleep was the furthest thing from any of our minds. Fear gripped us all as we huddled and listened to the sounds of the wind changing direction and nearby trees going up in flames. We were totally at God’s mercy.
Sometime during the night I fell asleep, but woke up to excited voices. I recognised my father’s voice immediately and ran from my sleeping area to go and investigate. The scene that greeted me was one I’ll never forget…
My father stood in front of us all, visibly exhausted and bending over to catch his breath. His shoes were clogged in mud and he was covered in dark soot and dirt – from head to foot. He was hardly recognisable – only the white of his eyes and the glow of his teeth stood out. He still had hair on his head, but his eyelashes and eyebrows had been singed off totally. All the hair on his arms and legs was gone too. My father was a ‘hairy’ man and was now ‘hairless’. Thankfully, his skin was intact. He had no visible burns.
The strange thing in that moment was my father’s mood. Perhaps it was from the adrenalin rush, but he was smiling widely and laughing in gratitude. We all stood there, hugging each other together – alive in that moment.
My father explained that he and his workers had been forced to run for their lives – through a tunnel of encroaching fire – to escape sure death. He described the pivotal moment during their ordeal. There were two paths: one was a wider, grassy ‘field’ and the other a narrower path surrounded by fire. The wind suddenly picked up and an inner voice prompted him to choose the narrower ‘cauldron’ for him and his workers.
“Run! God, save us,” he had shouted as they sprinted through the flames. There was no time to waste. They ran for their lives. Thankfully the decision was the correct one. They’d chosen wisely because with the wind had suddenly turned and within minutes the wider, alternative field was engulfed in flames. One moment of decision had saved them all.
So, the image that remains the most prominent for me from that night was my father’s SMILE. Despite losing all his hair, he was celebrating and thankful to God for saving him and his workers. Despite losing most of his farm during the fires that year, he’d adopted a mantle of gratitude. It was a lesson for me…and a lesson for us all…
So, dear reader, as we face our own terrible ‘fire’ that is engulfing our world, let us remember this image of my smiling father. Yes, we may not escape this ordeal unscathed. We are all affected by the things happening around us, but we must remember that God is only a prayer away. He is with us – no matter what the outcome.
Be safe, dear friend….and know that God loves you! He’s got this!
With love, in Christ