The brilliant, red-orange rays of the setting sun sprayed like an artist’s airbrush across the cottony clouds in the western sky. Masked by the black shapes of palm trees in the foreground, it was as if our wall-less church had a living mural. “Look out there,” I said pointing. “God has given us a gift at the beginning of the Sabbath.” The handful of church members who had gathered for our Friday-night fellowship turned to gaze at the beautiful panorama. Heavy rain had fallen the past several days. But now the air had cleared, creating a scene of heavenly serenity.
It had been 30 days since high winds had blown the roof off of a church in Balimo, just seven miles from us, injuring 32 women who were gathered there. It is not uncommon this time of year for strong winds to spin off of cyclones in the Pacific and come miles inland. The church calamity was the talk of the town for days until a week and a half later on the morning of February 26 when we were awakened by a violent shaking. The windows rattled, and bedposts swayed. Books fell from shelves. An iron candle holder crashed to the floor. Cans of food stacked in our pantry toppled over. Laurie braced herself in the bedroom doorway while I went running for the front door. Loud crashing noises and the sound of straining metal arrested my attention. Was our new maintenance building or guest house or timber shed being destroyed? I staggered across the heaving floor to the office window and peered into the early-morning darkness now alive with sounds. To my relief, the quaking subsided, and I realized that the noise had been the water in our 2,000-gallon tank sloshing wildly from one side to the other.
The 7.5-magnitude quake was centered in the mountains about 130 miles north of us, but it shook our region violently for about two minutes. In the mountains, it caused massive landslides that temporarily blocked rivers, creating temporary lakes that threatened to wash away villages downriver when they breached their unstable mud dams. Aftershocks continued for weeks afterwards. Thankfully, the only report of damage in the Gogodala villages was a house that collapsed after the inhabitants had fled outside.
A day or so after the earthquake, the story of Elijah on Mt. Horeb came to my mind. I read the story again. “The Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains . . . but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake” (1 Kings 19:11 NKJV). We had just experienced devastating winds and a strong earthquake. Lord, I thought, are You trying to tell us something? Is history repeating itself? Looking at the story again, I remembered that it didn’t end with the earthquake. “And after the earthquake a fire” (verse 12). I prayed, Lord, are You going to send fire, too? Please protect people’s homes.
Now it was two and a half weeks after the earthquake, and Sabbath morning dawned bright and clear. It was as if God were saying, “You have been through a lot with the winds and earthquake. Rest in My joy.” We had a good attendance at Sabbath School and church. At the church service, it was announced that we would be having a Bible study in the afternoon during our Adventist Youth meeting.
As the time for the afternoon meeting drew near, dark clouds started to form on the horizon. The sun was still shining brightly, but it appeared that we might be in for some heavy rain soon. Hearing the faint rumble of thunder in the distance and seeing that there were a few people gathered at the church already, I told Laurie that we had better start the program so we could send people home before the storm arrived.
The program began with a short song service. As we sang, I kept an eye on the approaching clouds. They didn’t seem as dark and ominous as before, and it had been a while since I had heard any thunder.
We had just had our opening prayer, and Laurie was just about to tell the Bible story when a bright flash lit the sky followed by a loud explosion. People screamed, and children cried and grabbed their parents, eyes wide with terror. “Jesus, help us!” someone exclaimed. And then it was quiet. I looked around to see what had happened. Two young men pointed toward a bamboo patch behind me just across the path from the church and exclaimed, “There was a ball of fire!” I looked and didn’t see any flames. Lightning must have struck, I thought. The rain hadn’t started falling yet, and the air was eerily calm.
We all gathered our wits, and Laurie began her story. A couple of minutes later, a crackling sound arrested our attention. Burning debris was falling from the coconut tree. We all went outside and peered upward. In the top of the tree, flames were consuming the fronds. Thank you, Lord, for sending the fire and for protecting us, I prayed.
“But the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice” (1 Kings 19:12). It was then that God gave instructions to Elijah to get his life in order, for He would soon be taking him to heaven. Are you hearing the still, small voice of God speaking to your heart? I’m hearing it. Let’s faithfully “look up, and lift up [our] heads, for [our] redemption draweth nigh” (Luke 21:28).