Up from the Ashes
We're sitting with our small group on a Monday night discussing ideas for being "missional," but no one plan seems to fit. Unable to come to any conclusions, we pray for guidance and return to our homes.
The night's discussion echoes a larger conversation that the leaders of our congregation, First Evangelical Free Church of Colorado Springs, have been having for a while. How do we make a tangible difference in our community?
A church of about 400 on the far west side of town, many of our church's attenders drive in from Divide, Cascade, Manitou Springs, and other mountain towns along Colorado's Front Range. More live near the church in the neighborhoods nestled into the ridge bordering the western edge of the city. Our home is a few miles east. It wasn't proximity or fancy programs that drew us to the church; it was people with a gift for loving their neighbors.
Two months after that unresolved small group meeting, on the afternoon of Saturday, June 23, a relatively small fire begins in Waldo Canyon, near Manitou Springs. It is one of many that have plagued the state during this unusually hot and dry summer.
For the first few days, the atmosphere in nearby Colorado Springs is serious yet calm. Authorities evacuate 11,000 people including one woman who is staying with our small group leaders. But those not in affected areas go about their normal business. We all keep an eye on the growing plume of smoke just beyond the ridge.
On Tuesday afternoon, the wind changes. The fire that had previously been confined to the forest land beyond Colorado Springs suddenly crests the ridge on the edge of town. Driven by 65 mile per hour winds, the fire storm swoops in like a tsunami onto the inhabitants of the Mountain Shadows neighborhood and surrounding areas. Witnesses later compare it to what they imagine hell might look like. Throwing what possessions they can into vehicles, residents flee their homes, sometimes just yards ahead of the flames. Police declare a mandatory evacuation and do their best to channel panicky evacuees through gridlocked streets.
By Wednesday morning, the Waldo Canyon fire is declared the most destructive in Colorado history: 346 homes have burned to the ground; two people are dead; 32,000 people are in shelters and homes throughout the area. As I drive to work past the still smoldering neighborhoods, I weep. Though we live two miles from the evacuation line, my own bags are in the trunk, ready just in case.
At church five days later, Rob Caminiti, our pastor, puts aside his sermon and manages a tired smile. This is not an ordinary Sunday, he says. Fifty seven families from the church have been evacuated. Three homes have been destroyed; one badly damaged. He asks us to stand and share our experience of the fire.
Pastor Rob recounts his own intense fear on Tuesday night, as he evacuated with his wife and three daughters. Still shaky, he admits that even after the family was safe in a hotel far away, every time he closed his eyes, the image ...