Monday, July 15, 2013

A different kind of unprecedented loss

I just returned from an event that I know will change my life in some ways, forever. I was honored to be part of the team feeding those firefighters and police who were dealing with the tragic loss of 19 firefighters at the Yarnell Hill wildfire just outside of Prescott, Arizona on June 30, 2013. It was a sad and difficult duty, yet one at which I am not only honored but proud to have served. I have often worked with firefighters as well as police and the communities of these men and women are so very different than that of any other collection of people. Many other communities are closed, meaning they separate themselves from outsiders simply because they talk "shop" with one another at length and therefore separate themselves from the laymen who may wander into conversations. A good example of this is the medical community.

But those whose lives, by the very nature of their work, are risked on a daily basis is another group altogether. Those who run into burning buildings, towards 100 foot long flames, or find it necessary to dress themselves in body armor each day are certainly a different breed. This event, a fire near the small town of Yarnell, Arizona, has caused one of the great tragedies of recent history. So many, no... most of the young men who lost their lives were in their twenties, just starting out in life, two had babies on the way, and several had small children. The sadness has reverberated across our nation but most of all through the State of Arizona and even more throughout the family of first responders.

Our part was small, just feeding those who had come to help the families of the fallen in their need. (Although to hear the fire guys tell it, we were one the most important pieces to the event) It was helpful that 4 out of 5 of our team preparing food were also trained in Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) as well as Emotional and Spiritual Care (ESC) Because of this we could spot people who were having difficulty processing the events of that day and help them to deal with it. Personally, I know I was able to "defuse" several folks who were struggling. I will be forever grateful to The Salvation Army for providing the training needed to assist people in need.

The morning of the memorial service we fed more than 900 people breakfast, most of them honor guard from all over the US and even beyond. If you were able to watch on television that memorial service, you saw and heard the largest contingent of honor guard and pipe and drum corps ever assembled play Amazing Grace. I was inside the auditorium and it was one of the most remarkable events I've ever witnessed. These folks came, many at their own expense, to be a part of honoring their fallen brothers. I get it. I attempted to do what Jesus told us to do, to mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep. No problem with either of those two elements. Rivers of tears were shed in front of me this past week by big men who aren't supposed to weep and by normally detached personnel who can usually handle any difficult situation. They may not have known the victims of this tragedy, yet they called them brothers. They may have suffered great loss in their lives prior to this, yet the loss of these 19 men has brought them to their knees.

Five of the victims all attended one church, simply called the "Heights" by local Prescott folks. The Heights worked with us to provide lunch to the ICP (Incident Command Post) on a daily basis. They wanted their people to heal and being involved in this issue was certainly healing. My hats off to their team of volunteers who gave of themselves daily to feed those present.  These things take their toll in many ways, sometimes not until much later. I will pray for those who were there as well as for the families of the fallen for a very long time to come. I will also pray for the lone survivor, Brendon, who will undoubtedly carry around the guilt (even though he bears absolutely no responsibility)  for not having perished with his comrades.

I am only writing this because it will help me heal. You see I too felt pain at this loss. I too have wept for those who have perished and for their families, their friends and their children. I could never pretend to know why these horrible events happen, but they do. Knowing that, we should rush to the sides of those who do not have a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. Our responsibility is merely to share the truth with them, They must make the choice to believe or not. These 19 men died in a blazing fire that was probably upwards of 2500 degrees. But most of them knew Jesus as their Lord and Savior, so that fire was momentary. Imagine suffering through that forever. My desire is that no one should ever endure that, and the only thing that will make that happen to them is the pride someone may possess in denying the saving power of Jesus.

This was a loss that not happened for quite a while and its impact was felt around the globe. But we should feel this same loss and same grief at every single soul that perishes without the knowledge of the Lord. We should weep just as much for each baby that is killed by abortion. These are the losses that we could stop, yet we do nothing. I weep for our nation that has condoned murder and denies the ability of God to heal us, to heal our hearts. I hope we will all grieve for the Yarnell 19. But even more than that, I hope that we will all move to stop the unwitting loss that happens every day throughout our once great nation, yet has turned its back on its God, Who will, according to His word, heal our land if we will just come back to Him. Without Him we will most certainly experience an absolutely unprecedented loss.