I had never built a raging bonfire in someone’s front yard before. But, i gotta say, it was a lot of fun. As we piled boards and tree limbs taller than ourselves, flames leaped above us engulfing it all.
But, we weren’t there because of the fire. We were there because of the water.
Six months ago in a very small community around Chehalis, Washington, one of the most devastating floods to ever hit our state destroyed the little city of Adna. An estimated 20 inches of rain fell in only 24 hours. But, it wasn’t just the rain. It was the snow it melted with it. And together they caused a flood that buried our main freeway in Washington (I-5) 12 feet under water for days and nearly washed away poor Adna.
Where we were standing today, water had invaded at the height of 8 ft, raging straight through downtown, though people’s homes and at the rate of a class three rapid. It ripped houses clear off their foundation, piled mud several feet deep inside their homes, and took cars, trees, and animals all with it. The lady whose house we stood at today, along with most of her neighbors, were rescued only by going to the upper levels of their house and eventually by rescue helicopters that were the only way out of the ocean of water around them. In fact, she had only just moved back into her house two days ago…six months later!
And so today, we gathered up what was left of her garage that had been pulled down, and carried it into a giant rotten pile, and burned it.
I guess we were used to seeing this type of stuff by now. For the last three weekends, our youth staff has taken high school students from our church down to Chehalis to help clean-up people’s property and restore their land and their homes. And during that time, we have burned plenty. We have shoveled tons of mud. We leveled ground. We built fences. We crawled in dark, dirty places and scooped and vacuumed dried mud. We cleared debris and brush.
But, i think most of all, we learned people’s stories. We met Darryl, who was gone with his wife on vacation when the storm hit. They came home to a house buried in at least four feet of mud. We met Jan, who watched her entire neighborhood disappear, only to be rescued in distress by the helicopter. We met Steve, who lost his entire house, and is now rebuilding. And many more.
My favorite, though, was Dennis. Dennis is the preacher of the little evangelical church in Adna. He showed us his completely gutted church building today and told us their story. They weren’t home either when the flood came. But the damage to their home and the church next door was near total. FEMA estimated their total loss at about $180,000, which is a lot for a church of 50 people to overcome. He told us that there were times he didn’t think it could be done.
But, that was before the Christians showed up. Immediately after the disaster, churches mobilized and came to help. They tore out flooring and wall board. They dug out houses from mud. And they helped begin the restoration of this tiny church in Adna you’ll probably never visit or hear about.
His doubt was before people in the community sold property elsewhere and gave gifts of $5,000 at a time for rebuilding. It was before a small church of 100 people in Oregon felt that God was calling them to give their entire savings nest egg of $10,000 to help them.
And it was at this point in the story that Dennis said something that moved me. “Look around. Things were really bad here. And at times we have wanted to give up. We get weary of all this. And in one way we wish this were over. But, we would never choose to take it away and not go through it. God has taught us so much about trusting Him.”
Easy for a preacher to say? Maybe. But tougher for a preacher that has lost nearly all of his own personal belongings.
But it wasn’t just this preacher. It was the whole community. Nearly everyone we helped in the last three weeks said two things: 1) the flood had brought about so much good (even Adna has cellphone service now because relief groups came down and didn’t have cell coverage and went home and complained to their cellphone companies and they built several cell towers!) and 2) it was these crazy followers of Christ that are the only reason they are there today.
My new friend, Darryl, isn’t a Christian. But, even he noticed the large outpouring of love from these Christ-followers. He told me, “When i saw the damage, I told my wife, let’s get out of here. It is time to just move on and start over somewhere else.” You know why he stayed? In his words, “well, the church showed up.”
And not just the local Adna church. The Church showed up. All of them. From all traditions, backgrounds and theologies. Working side by side, they helped dig Darryl’s house out of the mud, demo it all the way down to the studs, and rebuild it so that he and his wife can live in it today.
Mud. Piles of debris. Blisters. Sunburn. Fence-post diggers. Burn piles.
It was the most beautiful thing I have seen in a long time.
I know a lot of people have a really suspicious and even bad mindset toward Christians today. I even understand why. I think i do too, sometimes.
But, I’ll tell you who doesn’t. The beautiful people of Adna. They aren’t suspicious. They are overwhelmed with gratitude and love. No one loves the church more than them.
Wanna know something crazy? The little evangelical church in Adna has grown almost 50% since the flood. So has the little church nearby in Boistfort, WA. And so have many more.
And every one of them knows it’s grown because of the sacrificial love they have shown, impartially, to those around them in need. But that isn’t why they did it.
And really, that’s exactly why it’s worked.