God’s plan through the fire

Published 5:12 pm Tuesday, October 1, 2019

The text came into my phone at 11:40 p.m., and the phone call came a few minutes later. A member of the Woodland UMC, who is also a volunteer fireman, called to tell me the Woodland UMC was on fire. The fellowship hall was a total loss, and there is a lot of damage in the back of the sanctuary building extending into the attic over the sanctuary. We missed our homecoming last year after Hurricane Michael visited our area because we didn’t have any power. We’ll miss our homecoming this year because of the fire.

The state fire marshal came down the next day and found the source of the fire behind the kitchen stove, where two wires shorted out and started a fire that got into a nearby gas line. The National Fire Protection Association says 475,000 structures burn down every year.

According to the Pew Research Center, during the 20 years from 1996 to 2015, 2,378 churches burned down; 51 percent of those were ruled intentional or arson. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, only 10 percent of non-residential fires and 5 percent of residential fires were intentionally set.

Responding to those statistics, President Bill Clinton signed the Church Arson Prevention Act and established the National Church Arson Task Force. Now, the ATF is responsible for investigating the origin of all church fires and putting them into one of several categories — accidental, bombing, incendiary (i.e. arson), undetermined or other (attempted arson, hoaxes and threats). The fire at Woodland UMC was accidental and tragic. The pews in the sanctuary were hand-built from a previous building (we were able to save every one of them), and the chairs in the fellowship hall came from the now-closed Union School (we lost every one of them).

Isaiah wrote in chapter 35, “Blind eyes will be opened, deaf ears unstopped, lame men and women will leap like deer, the voiceless break into song. Springs of water will burst out in the wilderness, streams flow in the desert. Hot sands will become a cool oasis, thirsty ground a splashing fountain. Even lowly jackals will have water to drink, and barren grasslands flourish richly.”

More than a half-dozen people walked up to me during and after the fire to say the same thing, “God has a plan!”

We’ve lost our building, but our church (the people) are doing just fine. And by faith, we’ll come out of this better and stronger than we came into it.

Now, after reading Isaiah’s promise, we’re asking, “Where can we see blind eyes opened, deaf ears unstopped, lame people leaping, and the voiceless singing? What does it mean for springs of water to appear in the wilderness or streams to flow in the desert?”