Jeff Crandall leaned on his hoe. Another row and a half of string beans, and he would have the garden weeded for a couple of weeks at least. He heard the roar of a plane overhead. He looked at the billowing cloud of smoke rising, hot and glowing. It was behind Rattlesnake Ridge only three miles away.
The wind puffed up, blowing dust across the dry garden. Jeff knew such breezes fanned the fire and blew it across roads and rivers that should have stopped it. Twenty-four thousand acres of pear and apple orchards had already been burned.
The sun beat down on Jeff’s bare back. He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead and finished up the last few feet of the row. Then he dragged out the hose and gave the struggling plants a drink of cool water.
Well, that’s that, Jeff thought to himself. He went into the house for supper. He washed his hands at the kitchen sink. Then, leaning over the faucet, he splashed water on his face and neck.
The fire was on everyone’s mind at the dinner table. Jeff’s little brother, Eric, looked at Dad with wide, frightened eyes and asked if it was getting any closer.
“Hard to tell, son,” Dad answered. “But if it does, someone will warn us before it gets too dangerous.” He ruffled Eric’s brown hair. “Don’t worry, Son. God will take care of us.”
“Well, we may be able to get away from the fire,” Jeff said, “but if it comes up our hill, there won’t be much we can do to stop it from burning the house down.”
“That’s true, Jeff, but there’s no use worrying about it. Remember, `All things work together for good to them that love God.’ “
At worship that evening, just before they went to bed, the Crandall family prayed that God would protect them from the fire. Jeff lay awake in bed for longer than usual, thinking about the flames raging through the brittle undergrowth only three miles away.
It seemed to him that he had just floated off to sleep when Dad was shaking his shoulder. “The fire’s getting too close,” he said. “We have to leave.”
Jeff scrambled out of bed and slipped a pair of jeans over his pajamas. He grabbed his jacket and followed Dad down the hall to the living room, where Mother was helping Eric button his sweater. Dad opened the front door. The sleepy family went out to the car. Farther up the hill Jeff could see the first line of the fire beginning to burn bushes, little more than two city blocks away.
“Is it going to burn the house down, Dad?” he asked as his father got in beside him.
“We’ve cleared away most of the weeds around the place,” Dad said, “but if the big oak tree next to the house catches fire, we may be in trouble.”
Dad started up the motor and drove down the hill toward town. “Where will we go?” Eric asked.
“The Red Cross has arranged for people to stay in the high-school gym,” Dad said. “We’ll have to stay there the rest of the night at least.”
When they arrived at the school, other families were filing into the gym. A woman stood at the door, writing names on a clipboard. Inside, cots stood in neat rows, and at the far end of the gym, volunteers served fruit juice and doughnuts.
The Crandalls found four empty cots and got ready to spend the rest of the night. “Dad,” Jeff asked, “God will take care of the house, won’t He?”
“He will if it’s for the best, Jeff.”
“Well, how could it ever be for the best to lose your home and everything in it?”
Dad smiled. “It isn’t always easy for us to understand, son, but we have to remember that God can make good things come out of bad.”
“Why don’t we pray that God will watch over our house tonight,” Mother suggested. So the Crandall family bowed their heads together right there in the high-school gym, and each took a turn talking to God.
When Dad finished the last prayer, Jeff slipped under the blanket of his cot. Just then, he noticed another boy about his own age lying wide awake only three cots away. The boy looked frightened. He was watching Jeff as if he wanted to ask him a question but was afraid to.
Jeff threw his blanket back, got up and went over to the boy’s cot. “Hi,” he said. “I’m Jeff. What’s your name?”
“Kevin,” the boy mumbled. “I didn’t mean to stare. What were you and your family doing just now?”
“Oh, do you mean when we were praying? We were asking God to watch over our house tonight and to keep it safe from the fire.”
“Do you really think praying does any good?”
“Sure,” Jeff said. “Well, would you pray to God for me and ask Him to protect my house too?”
“Sure, but there’s no trick to it. You can do it yourself, you know.”
“I’d rather have you do it.”
The two boys bowed their heads together, and Jeff prayed for the protection of Kevin’s home.
When the prayer was over, Jeff’s new friend smiled shyly. “Thanks,” he said. “I’ve never really prayed before.”
“Well, listen,” Jeff said. “Would you like to go to church with me sometime? I think you’d like it.”
“I’ll have to ask Dad,” Kevin said, pointing to his father sleeping on the next cot. “But I don’t think he’d mind.”
Finally both boys lay back down on their cots. The clock on the gym wall showed 3:00 a.m. Jeff’s eyes got very heavy, and he was soon asleep.
When Jeff awoke in the morning, Kevin was already up and was folding his blanket. Seeing Jeff awake, he came over and said, “Dad says it’s OK for me to go to church with you sometime.”
“Great,” Jeff grinned. They gave each other their phone numbers. Just then Jeff’s dad called for them to leave.
As they were walking out to the car, Jeff was thinking about Kevin. “You know, Dad,” he said, “I think I understand now what the Bible means when it says, `All things work together for good to them that love God.’ I was worried about our house burning down, but if it hadn’t been for the fire, I’d have never met Kevin. I made a new friend and had a chance to tell him about Jesus.”
“Well,” Dad said, “we’ve been doubly blessed, then. The police officer who came to tell us we could go home said the fire missed our house.”
Adapted from Gary B. Swanson, “Forest Fire!” Primary Treasure , September 7, 1991. Used by permission.