At the height of the worst wildfire season in recent United States history, Army reservist and volunteer firefighter David Graham stood shoulder to shoulder with his crewmates from Maine in the face of an approaching fire. They were operating at elevations of up to 6,000 feet in the mountains of the Bitterroot National Forest in western Montana.
Their job was to set backfires that would deny the encroaching wall of flames the fuel to keep burning, in the effort to save several homes in its path. To do this, they were required to wait until the flames got to within a hundred feet of them—and then work fast!
"It wasn't easy to breathe at that elevation, after hiking with our equipment into areas that bulldozers couldn't reach," said David. "We watched the fire come down the mountain toward us, flames soaring 120 feet into the sky, which was filled with black smoke. The sun was a red disk. The air was filled with noise, like a hundred freight trains coming straight for us. The updraft of the wind feeding the fire was trying to pull my helmet off my head. The burly welder next to me screamed that he wanted to see his children again. I thought of my own three children and knew how he felt.
"Then I found myself remembering God's allness and His love for His children. I knew He was present right there in the mountains, able to meet every need.
"Up to that point," he explained, "I had always related that spiritual fact exclusively to my own needs. But in rescue situations of many kinds, I have gradually come to appreciate the breadth of divine Love and its power to help everyone—instantly.
"As wildland firefighters, we have to be ready to go, in five minutes, at any time of the day or night. But I also know that God's love gets there quicker in any terrain—because it's always present, everywhere! As the Scriptures say, 'In him we live, and move, and have our being' [Acts 17:28].
"As I prayed, my own fear left me. We got the backfires lit. We outran the main fire, on the way extinguishing several spot fires that had been ignited by flying embers. During that sixteen-hour shift, we saved several homes.
"We stumbled back to camp, completely exhausted, our faces black, our backpacks feeling twice their normal weight. But through stinging red eyes we were just able to read signs left by grateful residents: 'Thank you, firefighters.' No more was needed. We volunteered to serve our neighbors, and we had our reward!
"But that night there wasn't a father in the camp who didn't swear he was going to hug his children and his wife a lot closer when he got home—and really appreciate them more!"
David told us that it's at times like those that he feels especially grateful for what he once learned in Sunday School.
"I've grown to appreciate more than ever what Mary Baker Eddy wrote about people like Florence Nightingale, and how Mrs. Eddy said that 'constant toil, deprivations, exposures, and all untoward conditions, if without sin, can be experienced without suffering' [Science and Health, p. 385].
"Part of our standard field equipment—along with our water bottles, hand tools, goggles, and logger boots —is an aluminum fire shelter, like a small portable tent. If we're trapped by fire, we dig to mineral soil over a four-by-six-foot area, drop to the ground, and pull the shelter over us till the fire passes.
"This past summer we didn't have occasion to use our portable shelters. But they help me to understand and value the way God shelters us from harm. The psalms call God a shelter and a strong tower, and they say, 'I will trust in the covert of thy wings' [Ps. 61:4].
"I can't honestly say that our experience was as intense as the people had in the story of the fiery furnace. But I know that we were protected by the same God, and that I felt a sense of gratitude like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did [see Dan. 3]. The bedrock on which I put my fire shelter, so to speak, is my understanding of God and my relationship to Him."
"The bedrock on which I put my fire shelter is my understanding of God."
So, why do David and his crewmates accept such hazardous assignments?
"For me," he says, this is the standard: 'Unselfish ambition, noble life-motives, and purity,—these constituents of thought, mingling, constitute individually and collectively true happiness, strength, and permanence' [Science and Health, p. 58].
"We all have unique opportunities to serve God by serving our neighbor. Experiences like the one I had in the Montana mountains this past summer give me the confidence to serve Him in even more challenging ways."
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