Stephen & Laura Holt | Sierra Leone, West Africa

Revealed by Fire

…when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. (Isaiah 43:2b)

February 3, 2017

The Trial:

And now … it’s quiet.

How I hate the sound of the bush fires. The 20 foot elephant grass stocks, all the life’s water sucked out as we head into the worst of the dry season, pop and explode as loud as fireworks.  Today we were surrounded on three sides by this evil fiend; fighting it for nearly five hours amid the unrelenting barrage of exploding racket.

As usual, it was this dread sound which initially alerted me to the fire’s presence just off our south boundary and down the hill toward the river.  Though I was hopeful it would divert from our line, I’ve watched enough of these fires to know how unpredictable they can be.  Working at my drawing table situated under the south-facing window I could easily keep an eye on it and get Stephen if necessary.  Fortunately he’s home today; there’s been several times in years past when I’ve held off a fire by myself.  Those days are long gone.

The scene as described before the flames breached our fire break. You can see some dwindling elephant grass stocks here.

Later, as the flames drew closer, Stephen was pacing, shovel in hand, monitoring the south bound and just when it seemed we’d escape the brunt of the fire, the winds fiercely shifted as they often do in the afternoons during the dry season.  Try as he would, there was no way for him to keep it from crossing onto our property.  The driving wind causing the flames to jump our maintained firebreak.  From there the fire divided and rapidly encompassed us; he taking one front, I the other.  Eventually neighbors and church members came streaming onto the property and lent us a much welcomed hand.  By the time it was over we had been completely engulfed on three sides with flames threatening our office and generator shed.

 

 

A few wispy filaments of smoke are now leisurely twisting their way into the darkening sky of evening.  The sickening acrid smell of the charred land will stay with us for weeks.  As I take account, our destruction is discouraging. The garden — green beans, carrots, cabbage, lettuce — gone.   Three mango trees over-laden with ripening sweet fruit have lost all their full bounty. Young fruit trees — devoured.  The older mangoes will come back and some of the smaller ones will rebound if watered daily, but there will be no fruit this year.  A lot of waste for someone’s carelessness.  As we found out the next day, some kids had cleared an area near the river for a “jamba (marijuana) smoking station.”  They didn’t care that the fire could harm someone else and simply walked away leaving it unattended.

Not the fire in the story. Here Stephen was wetting down the area between the flames and our storage container. The generator shed is just to the other side of this container.

When I returned to Sierra Leone in May, 2016, I had put a clause in my contract removing “Deputy Fire Fighter” from my long and varied job description.  But today that clause held no water and I had to dig in and help.  Now I’m exhausted, collapsed in a chair with tea beside me.  Looking out the same window above my drawing table I see the sad remains of my beautiful flower bed.  The bright orange lilies were just starting to send their green leaves up.  There will be no joyful blossoms this dry season.

 

Charred remains of our garden and a distant mango tree can be seen behind the lily blooms.

 

March 5, 2017

The Lesson:

I often sit on a low stool in the garden for early morning prayer time but right now the soot and charred debris of the fire makes this quite uninviting.  We’ll have to wait for the coming rains of May to clean it for us.  Of course the smell is still lingering too though it’s a month since the event.  I miss my morning garden ambling.  So today I decided to poke around a bit just to see if there’s any signs of life.  I was completely overwhelmed when I came to the long, wide strip dividing the drive and front yard area from the garden; this is my prized flower bed.  There, under the drifts of burned and shed mango leaves, all down the center were hordes of green leaves emerging along with fat, purple tinted lily buds — far more than I’ve ever seen!  How can that be?  I was hoping for just maybe a few and yet this year I’ll be treated to the greatest show they’ve ever given me!  They were completely undaunted by the heat of fire. Yea, more than conquerers, they were emboldened by it coming through stronger and more glorious on the other side.

Later the same morning …

The application:

I have been enjoying some small snatches of prayer this morning.  It’s Sunday but I wasn’t able to attend church, again, as the wooden benches are very difficult for my unsupported back to endure when I’m unwell.  But I do enjoy sitting on the veranda to “join” the song service.

“When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and SHOUT the victory!”  What a joy to listen and bask in the fruit of our labor — hymns of praise to Jesus Christ being sung by, primarily, former Muslims.  I love to hear them boisterously punch up the word “shout!”   The victory in Christ is so real to them.

“These are your lily blossoms,” the Lord quietly said.  With some tears welling up in my eyes, I replied, “Yes, they certainly are.”  We’ve come through many difficult trials some of which, at the time, seemed as though they might scorch the very life out of us and the ministry.  Yet once the heat of each fire has passed, there’s some signs of fresh life emerging around us and, as more than conquerers, we’re emboldened, stronger, and shining brighter on the other side.  Our strength in Jesus is revealed by fire and we are indeed brought out into a wealthy place.

 

Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water: but thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place (Psalm 66:12)

More Than Conquerors!

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