MCKENZIE BIBLE FELLOWSHIP Holiday Farm report
“so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ;” (1 Peter 1.7)
On September 8th, what began as a small brush fire, near the 47-mile marker of the McKenzie River highway, fanned by strong westerly winds and fueled by dry underbrush and forest, got out of control and roared down the McKenzie River valley, covering over 20 miles in a few short hours. The Holiday Farm fire continued to move west over the next few days. At the end, after the fire was rerouted by hundreds of firefighters and pieces of heavy equipment, 431 residences were destroyed and hundreds of other structures. Among those residences were 17 members of McKenzie Bible Fellowship, including one who trapped in his home, perished in the flames after failing to evacuate. Entire rural communities were destroyed. Living Waters Family Fellowship, our local Assembly of God church in Blue River, lost their church building, the pastor’s residence, and newly constructed ministry retreat center for pastors. Most of their congregation lost homes. By God’s grace and mercy McKenzie Bible Fellowship’s building, parsonage, and all other structures were spared as the fire skirted to the north of the church properties, taking out the homes of 6 of our church families who lived near the church.
By order of the Sheriff’s office and the local volunteer fire departments, residents of the valley were given level three evacuation orders, meaning Go Now! The entire valley was evacuated into areas around Eugene, Springfield and beyond. The Red Cross came in and provided free shelter and food, vouchers for motel stays, and calls for donations. The donation centers were inundated with supplies. Our church families found shelter in various motels, homes, and shelters. The level three evacuation was extended to the entirety of the McKenzie Valley and then into east Springfield and the Mohawk valley to the north of us. While evacuated, many of our church families waited to hear the fate of their homes. A great deal of information and misinformation poured through social networks. When Christie and I were evacuated, we went to our son’s house in Marcola, only to see their valley evacuated the next day. On our way to find a motel, Christie received a text saying someone had seen the church and parsonage burning. About an hour later we received a second text, from a church member working the fire, that our church building and home were not destroyed but still standing. Over the next days and week, one by one we learned the fate of our church family’s homes. The wait was excruciating for people. At final count seventeen homes were lost, over one third of our congregation. But the saddest news occurred when we were notified that one of our members had perished in the flames – this the only confirmed fatality at this point.
As reports of each one’s home were received, there was an intermingling of tremendous joy and the deepest sorrow. Those who discovered their homes remained, gave praise to the Lord, while those whose homes were lost, mourned and grieved, albeit with rejoicing for those whose homes were spared. The strength of our faith in the Lord was truly ‘tested by fire.’ The
next stage, once everyone learned the condition of their homes, was an anxiety to get back and see the damage, even if the damage was total.
As evacuation levels were reduced, people to the west of the fire began returning to their homes, blackened by soot, but nevertheless still standing. Many of our church members were able to return to their homes and once electricity was restored, begin the process of cleanup, thankful to the Lord that they had homes to return to. Little by little evacuation levels were reduced from west to east. All of the homes lost in the fire were to east of the Leaburg dam, at milepost 24. On September 20th the evacuation level for the entire McKenzie Valley were reduced from level three (no one allowed) to level two, allowing homeowners to return to their homes, but to be prepared to leave quickly if conditions changed. Level two would have allowed all of those in our church family to return to their homes upriver, but on September 20th rockslides occurred at the Leaburg dam and Goodpasture Bridge, closing the highway to any traffic and preventing us from going back to homes. Seventeen families had no houses, but nevertheless wanted to go back and see what they could salvage from the remains. As I write this, the road (Highway 126) is still closed between milepost 23.75 and milepost 47. It is in this area that the majority of homes were destroyed.
After being in motels and away from home for nearly two weeks, we moved from finding temporary shelter to beginning the process of seeking longer term housing for those whose homes were lost. Huge life decisions were being considered: Do I want to rebuild? Where can I live during the rebuilding process? Do I want to relocate? Will my insurance cover my losses? Little by little the Lord began revealing His answers. Some chose to purchase RVs, trailers, or campers, and move them onto their ashen property, while others will live with friends or families, some are renting until they determine long range plans, and a few don't yet know which way the Lord will lead.
In the midst of grief and sorrow among our church families were hundreds more in our community that lost homes – facing the same questions, experiencing the same emotions, and
seeking help and hope for their futures. This is where our Lord has given us the greatest opportunity for the gospel we have ever seen. We now have the opportunity to be the hands of Christ to a needy community. More than anything else our community needs hope – the hope that can only be found in Christ. We wish to be like the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. Please pray that we avail ourselves of this great opportunity. One of those who lost his house commented that if one soul is saved through the loss of their house, the price is worth it.
““For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world, and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
McKenzie Bible Fellowship has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support, in prayer, in gifts, and in offers to help. Churches and individuals from far and wide have sent donations of food, clothing, monies, and most importantly, devoted prayer. I will not mention names of individuals or churches so that Christ alone receives all glory.
“And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:19)
Upon first hearing of the loss of some of our homes, a church in Eugene graciously opened their building so that a small group of our members could meet together for the first time as evacuees. Among these members were some who knew their houses were gone, some who knew theirs were safe, and some who did not yet know. In the midst of all our needs at that moment, what we most needed was to be together, to cry together, to comfort one another, and to encourage one another. It was a life-saving moment for some of our families at that moment as we shared together in our suffering, our sorrow, and our hope. This is the beauty of the body of Christ.
Another church in Springfield opened their gymnasium to our church family to gather together as they provided a meal for us and an opportunity to just be together – laughing, crying, and sharing together in both sorrows and joys. On that same evening churches from Redmond sent down a truckload of food and clothing for our church families. Other churches and individuals offered places to stay, boarding for animals, rentals, RVs, parking, finances, and an abundance of resources to help meet the immediate needs of our displaced members. Individuals on social media carried the message of our church and community on their media posts, linking them to our church website fire fund. The Lord’s response to our need has been both humbling and overwhelming. Please know that your prayers, support, gifts, and encouragement are resulting in many thanksgivings to the Lord “For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:12)
The question most often asked: What can we do to help?
We say this not to be spiritual, but we really mean it and believe it. Pray! The response of God to our prayers draws the glory to Him and not to others. We want our response to this hardship result in glory to Christ, especially through the salvation of souls in our community.
The very fact you have offered help is an encouragement in itself – knowing your heart for our church family and community is a blessing to us.
The number one thing for which to pray – that our church families will learn to receive without shame, embarrassment or guilt. It is a hard lesson to learn. Those who have never in their life asked help of others are now needing that help. It is hard and humbling for those who are used to giving, to be on the receiving end.
Pray that our elders, of whom two lost homes in this fire, will know God’s wisdom, power, and will as we navigate our Church family through this trial.
Pray that our Deacons will know God’s will and wisdom as they disburse resources to those who most need them.
Pray that the highway will reopen – we have access to a truckload of emergency supplies for our community but cannot get to our property to distribute it -- and our community cannot return to their home until the highway is open.
Pray that we will not miss this God-given opportunity to tangibly demonstrate the loving mercy of Christ to our suffering community.
Pray for Pastor Doug Fairington of Living Waters Family Fellowship in Blue River, Oregon. They lost their church building, pastor’s residence, newly built retreat house, and the homes of most of their members.
The needs of people and community are fluid – the immediate needs at the beginning are not what is needed at this time – we have moved from temporary shelter to more permanent housing needs. The Lord is miraculously providing for our church families the housing needs for those wishing to rebuild and remain in our community. A big need may be teams to come at various times in the future to clean up the ash and debris from burned homes. We need financial funds to give to people who know what they need more than we do. Our initial disbursements were for temporary housing and personal items. Now we are helping with insurance deductibles, furnishings, clothing, and household supplies. Gift cards to clothing stores and grocery stores, visa cards, and such are very useful.
We also are partnering individual families with churches so that they can minister on a more personal basis, communicating together on the needs they have. For some the needs are more encouragement and prayer rather than resources – for others they need financial or other material resources. A personal relationship between a church and a needy family is an added benefit.
Pray that we will be outward rather than inward focused – that the resources the Lord supplies us will be used not only to help our church families but that they could also be used for the benefit of our neighbors and community. We want to be among those who are blessed by the Father in Matthew 25. Seventeen of our church families lost homes – over 20 times that number lost homes in our valley.
Thanks be to the Lord Jesus for the salvation He has provided us. He is close to the broken- hearted and the nearness of His presence is abundantly felt among the McKenzie Bible Fellowship families. We join you in praying for other churches who have suffered losses through the fires ravaging our Oregon communities. We give thanks to the Lord for so many of you who have come to the aid of our Church families and community. We hope to thank each one individually but if you do not receive a personal note of thanksgiving, know for certain that your prayers and gifts, prompted by the Spirit of Christ, will result in praise to the Lord Jesus and souls for His kingdom in the McKenzie River valley.
Thank you for your love, your prayers, your service, and your support. Jesus Christ, who supplied our greatest need, is more than able to supply our lesser needs. To Him be glory forever and ever.
Pastor Dick Roberts
McKenzie Bible Fellowship
45061 McKenzie Hwy
Leaburg, OR 97489
“He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NAS95)