On early Tuesday morning, September 8th, we received over our phones an urgent evacuation notice from the Sheriff’s office – a level three evacuation – Go Now! – this is typically preceded by a level one and level two notices – but this went straight to level three. About 20 miles to the east of us a wildfire was getting out of control. Knowing how far away the fire was gave a certain sense of security that we need not be in a big hurry to leave. So, we threw in a couple of changes of clothes, some personal papers, our electronics, and bottles of water, thinking we would certainly be back home the next day. Then the Fire and Sheriff’s department sent people to each residence telling them to get out quickly. We never imagined, the fire driven by strong westerly winds, would cover the distance between Rainbow and Vida in a matter of a few short hours.
At 2:00 am, Christie and I woke up our son Richard, who lives in Marcola. We evacuated to their house until the next day. Then Marcola received an evacuation notice, forcing us to re-evacuate. Little did we know that by that time there would be hundreds of homes in our pristine and scenic valley scorched and leveled to ash by the Holiday Farm fire.
Christie and I headed for a motel in Springfield. We heard that the fire had essentially leveled the community of Blue River to the east of our church, and was threatening Vida, one mile from our house and church. We heard that the Fire Department was going to take a stand against the fire at Vida. As we were driving, Christie received a message that someone saw our church and parsonage on fire – our hearts sank – it was like getting punched in the gut. After a few tears were shed and we had regained our perspective that our Lord was in control, we had each other, our families were safe, and we decided to leave Springfield and head to Albany to stay in a motel there. We were going to regroup and grieve the loss of our church home and our family’s home.
On the freeway going up to Albany, a text from an angel appeared on Christie’s phone. One of our wonderful firefighters who was a part of our church family texted that our church and home had not been burned but were safe. From the deepest depths of grief in our hearts to the highest of joys – what an emotional ride! The next day it was confirmed when one of our church Elders and his son drove up to look at their home and discovered their home a total loss. What a humble blessing that in the midst of their shock, grief, and sorrow, they were gracious enough to drive a little further up the road and confirm that yes, our church and home were saved from the flames. The next day, as various photos of the carnage began to appear on social media, a video recording of the area around our home showed the church building standing unscathed.
As we thanked the Lord for the protection of our home, our joy was tempered with great grief as we began to learn one by one, sixteen of our church families had their homes destroyed by fire. It took days for people to finally learn the fate of their homes. The wait was excruciating. Even though this is over a third of our congregation, the number pales in comparison to the loss suffered by our community. On one side road alone, Goodpasture Road, twenty-four homes were destroyed. The community of Blue River, fifteen miles to the east, was completely decimated – homes burned down, RV and trailer parks completely destroyed, lodges and vacation homes reduced to ashes. Fellow believers at Living Waters Family Fellowship in Blue River lost their church building to the fire, the pastor’s residence, and a newly built pastoral retreat center were burned to the ground. Almost all of their church members suffered the loss of homes. All up and down the McKenzie River valley was blackened with soot and smoke – places where families and children once lived, worked, and played, now left as a pile of ash.
It took from Tuesday to Saturday of the following week, before we were able to account for all our church families and the status of their homes. What began as four homes grew to six, then to eight, to twelve, and ultimately to sixteen. Sixteen families not only displaced for a few days, but sixteen families who have no homes to return to – and that number can be multiplied perhaps even 20 times in our community. Lane county sheriff estimates 715 structures destroyed in the Holiday Farm fire. That is likely to mean hundreds of families who have lost homes.
But the greatest sorrow was learned on Saturday evening, just last night, when it was confirmed that one of our dear brothers and members of our church family did not survive the fire, being trapped in his home and unable to escape. But the cross of Christ is the ultimate escape, and my dear brother and friend, who while absent from the body, is at home with the Lord, will never need fear fire again.
Our evacuated church family continued to pray as we learned one by one of our fellow brothers’ and sisters’ homes. Friends and churches from all over our state and beyond were praying. Offers of help and assistance began pouring in. So massive was the outpouring for our community that relief centers and Red Cross distribution centers were overwhelmed with donations. Fellow churches and believers offered both prayer and material support. The generosity has been overwhelming.
Immediate needs for shelter, food, and clothing were amply provided, but what our church family, spread throughout the Eugene-Springfield area and beyond, needed more than anything else was each another. I will not mention names that the Lord Jesus might receive all glory and praise. A church in Eugene opened their church building so that a small group of us could meet for the first time. Twenty-two people were able to come together. Those who had lost homes, those whose homes were standing, and those who did not yet know, came together with profuse tears and tight embraces as we were able to weep together as a family. The next week a church in Springfield invited our church family to gather in their gymnasium as they cooked and served a warm meal, allowing us ample time to just be together sharing our joys and sorrows. Donations were brought to the church from churches in the Redmond area. Some churches determined to ‘adopt’ church families who lost homes and begin the rebuilding process with personal relationships as well as spiritual, emotional, and material support. Thank you to all who have been led of the Lord to provide for the Lord’s family and our community.
Now that the initial shock has worn off, reality has set in, and the enormity of the loss to these families seen, our prayer continues to be for provision, but not just the provision of our ‘stuff’ but for the provision of the Lord’s hope, strength, and endurance in the days, months, and even years ahead. Many in our church, inconvenienced by evacuation, will return to the homes, air them out, and continue their lives somewhat as normal. But there are sixteen families in our church whose lives are not merely inconvenienced, but rather totally reset and turned upside down. These are the ones for whom we especially pray – grandparents adopting their four grandchildren, couples whose retirement dream homes now lie on the banks of the McKenzie River in a heap of ash, couples whose families have lived on their properties for generations, others who moved up here to start a new life, whose businesses are here, and who came to our valley because of its natural beauty and now see it blackened and burned. There is no return to normal for these families.
BUT God is so faithful – The body of Christ is a beautiful thing — it is during times like these that it shines through – offering temporary living places, replacing lost clothing items, providing vehicles, rentals, food, space for horses, parking, donations for future living expenses.
“Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2 NASB)
Remember, it is fire that tests our faith - “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)
We want our fire-tested faith to result in the praise, glory, and honor to Jesus Christ.
I am so encouraged to see the strength of faith in our church family. Through this trial we are seeing faith in Christ at work: I would say with Paul:
“Great is my confidence in you; great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort; I am overflowing with joy in all our affliction.” (2 Corinthians 7:4 NASB)
In our hardship the power and character of our God is being seen.
It is the humbling feeling of guilt you get when one who has lost their home, rejoices with you when you discover your home is safe.
“And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.” (1 Corinthians 12:26 NASB)
It is the realization of husbands, wives, children and family that being together is a far greater treasure than the things we possess.
It is a brother, who probably lost the most stuff, able to honestly say “it was only stuff”.
“This expression, “Yet once more,” denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:27-29)
It is a brother, on seeing the remains of his house’s metal roof lying on the ground, quip “well it will be a lot easier to clean the gutters now”.
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal;” (Matthew 6:20 NASB)
It is thoughtful believers delivering home-cooked meals to people away from their homes and in motels and hotels.
It is fellow churches offering some of their ‘stuff’ to those who have lost their ‘stuff’.
“For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints,” (2 Corinthians 8:3–4 NASB)
It is the recognition that what the Lord has given us is far greater than what He has taken from us.
“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NASB)
It is believers sacrificially reaching out into our community with the loving hands of Christ.
“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’” (Matthew 25:40 NAS95)
It is the Spirit of Christ giving strength to face another day.
“Blessed be the Lord, who daily bears our burden, The God who is our salvation. Selah.” (Psalm 68:19 NASB)
It is finding our rest and relief – in Christ --- Matt 11.28
“He gives strength to the weary, And to him who lacks might He increases power.” (Isaiah 40:29 NASB)
“Though youths grow weary and tired, And vigorous young men stumble badly,” (Isaiah 40:30 NASB)
“Yet those who wait for the LORD Will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary.” (Isaiah 40:31 NASB)
It is our togetherness in the Holy Spirit, praying together – weeping together – rejoicing together -- manifesting the unity of the Body of Christ for which Jesus prayed.
“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;” (John 17:20-22 NASB)
It is the Church meeting the material needs of homeless families in our community that Christ’s love might be manifest in their hearts.
It is a sense of identifying with the suffering of Jesus, who emptied Himself of greatest treasures to bring sinful mankind to Himself through the Cross.
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NASB)
It is the children of God coming to know the power of God who enables us to press on in life to the glory of Christ.
“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body.” (2 Corinthians 4:7–10 NASB)
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 NASB)