By Janice Teo

Finding hope in the flames

koala rescue
This still from an NRMA insurance advert of a volunteer fireman recuing a koala, captures the idea of our helplessness in the face of disaster and our need for rescue by Someone greater.

The recent fires in Australia that have laid waste the landscape, decimated the wildlife population, destroyed homes and killed at least eight people have been heartbreaking and unimaginably destructive.

Close to 20 million hectares have been razed to the ground as the humongous blazes swallowed up everything across their paths. The grief has been palpable and heart-wrenching.

Many people have blamed God for the destruction or asked why He let this happen. Yet in the midst of all this anguish, there are indications God is indeed at work and working out His purposes through the situation. A report in The Daily Declaration (https://blog.canberradeclaration.org.au/2020/01/16/through-the-smoke-miracle-stories-from-the-australian-bushfires/) lists some of them.

The burn
lines were
almost
perfectly
straight
Donna property
This photo of Donna’s property shows the straight line of burnt grass and unsinged posts.

There have been reports of properties, towns and people being miraculously saved. Of winds inexplicably changing direction and of tinder-dry grass that stayed strangely flame-free even when embers landed on it.

One of the most incredible stories is the one being called The Mallacoota Miracle, a story that went viral when the BBC broadcast a local bed & breakfast owner's enthralling account of what happened on New Year's Eve.

Mallacoota is a small coastal town in Victoria's East Gippsland. Four thousand people found themselves trapped on its beach on December 31 as a wall of fire bore down on them.

David Jeffery is a local businessman who owns the Wave Oasis B&B. His self-filmed account, broadcast by the BBC, Sky News and ABC on January 1, described how he and a few other Christians prayed feverishly for God to change the direction of the wind – and saw exactly what they prayed for come to pass. (See his story here: https://www.bbc.com/news/av/world-australia-50953594/australia-bushfire-emergency-we-were-all-terrified-for-our-lives)

David, who became a Christian more than 25 years ago, says he understands how ridiculous it must sound to a non-believer. Yet he – and thousands of others on that beach, many of whom were not Christians – can testify to it.

The firewall was about 20 metres high, David says, and moving at 90 kilometres an hour. "We could hear the roar. It was like a monster bearing down on us..it went black as black. The smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe."

Looking at that fiery death moving towards them, David says he knew their only hope was if the wind changed direction. They needed a strong east wind to do the job.

People on the beach
People congregating on the Mallacoota beach to escape the fires

Calling on two other "prayer warriors", the group asked God for a miracle. Things happened as soon as they started praying, he says.

"The wind started blowing from the east a little bit....I felt it change," he says. "I noticed that the bolder I got, the stronger the wind got. Soon I was yelling 'in Jesus' name, thank You Lord for rescuing these souls. Push it back Lord, rescue us!' "

That wind blew for five minutes – just long enough to stop the fire from reaching the crowd. "There is no way it was all luck," David insists.

His neighbours, who are not Christians, concurred. "God saved us," they said. They too, realised there was no other explanation but that the hand of God moved.

Other similar stories have surfaced.

Vision Christian Radio received a call from a woman named Lorelle, who told about some friends on Cobargo on the South Coast of NSW.

These friends had fled for their lives. They returned two days later, expecting to find their property burned to the ground. To their amazement, they saw the fire had stopped at the foot of a wooden cross, a cross they carry down Cobargo's main street on Good Friday every year to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ.

The fire had apparently burnt around the shed and right up to the edge of the house – and there it stopped. There had been sprinklers keeping the house wet, but not for the timber shed. Relieved beyond words, the couple have no explanation as to how their property survived.

The stories don't stop there. Near the town of Wingello, in the NSW Southern Highlands a fire had been burning for weeks in national parks.

David Jeffery
B&B owner David Jeffery from Mallacoota

Michael, a volunteer firefighter in the town, received bad news on January 4 when he came back from his posting. His fellow firefighters told him they'd tried to save his house but couldn't. "It's gone," they told him.

They spoke too soon. Another patrol that passed Michael's house the next morning were "gobsmacked" to see it was still standing. One of them, a tough veteran of many a battle, said: "You guys must have some Jesus juice. I need some of that."

Says Michael: "We are people of faith. We've had our house blessed and we've always tried to live a good prayer life. We credit our Lord for this miracle."

It's not that the property escaped untouched. The front garden and workshop were roasted. But the house? "The fire raced towards the front of the house but miraculously burnt around it. There are burn lines right up to the front door and even to the back door," says Michael.

The local RFS captain was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying: "There's a miracle. It was like he had a dome over his house."

There are many other accounts of the miraculous, of how the fires burned all the way to the fence lines of properties and suddenly stopped for reasons no human eye could see. There are photographs showing blackened ground metres away from walls and doors.

Donna, of Mount Torrens in South Australia, says she and her husband prayed for angels to protect the borders of their home as they drove away to safety. She went to bed troubled, but woke up the next morning with this verse from Psalm 34:7 in her mind: "The Angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear Him and He delivers them."

When she drove back to her property, her heart in her mouth, not only was her property untouched save for some minor damage, but the burn lines were almost perfectly straight.

You can see in the photo on this page how close the fire came to Donna's house and how unnaturally straight the burn line is. Donna's posted on Facebook, prompting many comments such as: "A fire doesn't advance perfectly straight like that; the pine posts normally go up like Roman candles. The fences are still new and spotless with no smoke damage. Something has intervened...."

Eternity News reported another amazing story from South Australia.

A resident, Eric, was in Melbourne for short-term work. Exhausted, he decided to stay overnight rather than drive the eight hours back as planned.

But Eric felt strongly he should set his alarm for 4am the next morning.

He arrived home in Cudlee Creek just after the fires had broken out on the afternoon of December 20 – and his mode of transport was a water truck with a full 6000 litre tank and power hose!

He arrived as his neighbour's property caught alight. He managed to save her house and another neighbour's property, as he also protected his own home, wife and four kids.

Eric admits divine help enabled him to arrive at just the right time.

Thousands have been praying for rain and those prayers too have been answered. Rain has fallen heavily, bringing relief to the exhausted firefighters and residents but, ironically, also posing further threat to homes and lives.

The country grieves. I dare not presume to understand the mystery of why some were saved and some were not, and I do not want to minimise the anguish of those who have suffered so much.

But, as was the case in the aftermath of 9/11, many have been drawn back to prayer, to cry out to God. Proverbs 18:10 says: "The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe."

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