Photos & Story by David Reinholz | Associate Lay Leader, PNW Conference
“We saw the fire come over the top of the ridge at 7:00 pm and knew we had to get out immediately. I grabbed some pictures, the puppies, and the puppies’ mother, and ran for my life. By 7:15 pm the town was on fire.” – Pateros Resident
[dropcap type=”1″]W[/dropcap]hat do we do when life gets out of control? What can we do when there is nothing we can do? In the case of a raging wildfire being pushed in your direction by high winds and ample fuel in the form of tinder-dry sagebrush and grass, you run for your life. If you are one of 5,000 firefighters helping battle this wildfire, you watch it burn. There is nothing you can do. There is nothing anyone can do.
This is the situation that faced the small town of Pateros, WA at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia rivers. A fast-moving wildfire moved through the town Thursday night, July 17, 2014, randomly destroying some homes and leaving others next door untouched.
The Pateros Community UMC, led by Pastor Phil Smith, was directly in the line of fire, but miraculously escaped with only minor damage. The parsonage next door, and all the houses surrounding the church, burned to their foundations. Every bit of landscaping adjacent to the church burned, telephone poles were charred stumps, and electric lines lay on the ground. Fire licked the back wall of the sanctuary and started to burn the wooden siding, but a quick-thinking neighbor doused the flames with a hose, probably saving the church.
What does a faith community do when faced with tragedy? In the case of Pateros UMC, they hold worship on Sunday at the normal time, even though there was no power or water. The people of Pateros gave thanks they could still meet in their church building and for the fact that there had been no loss of life. At the same time, several people told stories of losing their homes, or of friends who had lost everything. In addition to the parsonage, at least two other families in the church lost everything, as well as a family from Malott UMC and one from Methow Valley UMC. And the fire continues to burn uncontained, threatening other communities.
Juli Reinholz, Seven Rivers District Superintendent and her husband, David, Associate Conference Lay leader, visited Pateros on Saturday and worshipped with them on Sunday. Juli announced that conference insurance would cover replacement of the parsonage. She announced the availability of emergency funding for temporary housing. DS Reinholz mentioned the teams of volunteers preparing to assist in the cleanup and repair of the church. Finally, Juli and David worshipped and prayed with this community. Juli told them to “take care of each other and let the connection you have with the UMC take care of the church and parsonage.”
The sermon that Sunday reminded us that in the midst of tragedy, when things are completely out of control, when we don’t know where to turn, we turn to God and to each other. We were reminded of the strength and resilience of the people of God, who in the midst of their own suffering, are called to be examples of God’s light and love to those around them. We were again reminded that we are meant to travel the faith journey with others. Together, we are so much stronger then we are if we try to “go it alone”. Our faith in God, our local church community, and the larger connection to the United Methodist Church provide support and a sense of peace in times of disaster.
I give thanks to God for the people of Pateros and the people of the United Methodist Church. May we all be willing to say, “…we are with you and you are part the connection”.
If you would like to help our neighbors in Pateros, donate to the Pacific Northwest Conference Disaster Response Fund, Conference Advance #352. Make checks payable to the PNW Conference and put Advance #352 in the memo line. Mail your donations to: PNWUMC Treasurer P.O. Box 13650 Des Moines, WA 98198-1009