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October 1, 2020

Evacuated!

Memo from Rev. Mathews-Johnson

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“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation.  He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.” (Psalm 62: 1-2, NRSV.) 

The question is whether we really believe it. 

A priest and a rabbi from local parishes were standing by the side of the road holding up signs.  The rabbi’s sign read, “The End is Near!” The priest, on the other side of the road, held up a sign which read, “Turn before it’s too late!” They planned to hold up their signs to each passing car.

“Get a job,” The first driver yelled at them when he saw the sign. The second driver, immediately behind the first, yelled, “Leave us alone you religious freaks!”

Shortly, from around the curve, the two clergy heard screeching tires and a splash followed by more screeching tires and another splash. The rabbi looked over at the priest and said, “Do you think we should try a different sign?”

The priest responded thoughtfully, “Perhaps our signs ought to say simply ‘Bridge Out.’”

This past week it’s felt like the bridge is out here in California. On top of the coronavirus and the economic woes associated with it around the world, our state right now is battling a series of horrific wildfires. One out of four Santa Cruz County residents is impacted by these fires.   

I was evacuated from my home, too. 

Like so many of you, I was woken up in the middle of the night last weekend by a thunder and lightning storm, not something we’re used to around here. The electricity went out again, at least at my house, after a day of rolling blackouts from the excessive heat. 

Honestly, I didn’t think much about it. Sunday morning, I enjoyed attending the premiere of our Online Gathering, and that afternoon I was back at my computer at home working. My husband was in Colorado to be with our grandkids and family. So, it was just me, our two big dogs, along with an old ornery cat and an ancient cockatiel. We missed my husband, but we could handle it. 

About 3pm that day, I got a call from my neighbors. “Look outside!” they told me, and I did. There was a plume of smoke coming up from behind the hill. It was troubling, but I wasn’t really worried. The firefighters would be able to put it out I figured. So, I went back to the computer. Two hours later it was increasing in size. I watched the 5 o’clock news, and they reported the start of the River fire from a lightning strike. We could hear the fire bomber planes dropping fire retardant and water, and heard reports that firefighters were coming to fight the blaze.

I didn’t want my family to hear about it from the news, so I got word out to my husband, kids and sisters, letting them know there was a fire, but that I was OK, and not to worry. Of course, then they were really worried!

Sunday night, as the fire was growing, my oldest daughter called me around 8pm and urged me to seek shelter. She had been in Sonoma County in 2017, when the horrible firestorms devastated the area. She said, “Mom, you have to leave now.” Well, I wasn’t going to leave when I had all these animals. Plus, I had stuff to do. However, she begged me to be packed and ready. “They could notify you anytime.” I took her advice, and I stayed up late, packing two small suitcases which would fit into the trunk of my car, along with four pets, four pet beds and carriers, and all their food.

I realized that I couldn’t possibly take all or even very many of our possessions. And I weighed the lives of our little animals against the house and what we owned. I had to conclude—it’s just stuff! Our family—pets included, is way more important to me than any of that. Decision made. But we weren’t out of danger.

I’m not usually afraid of too much, but it seems the fear of not knowing what’s going to happen, or what will happen if these fires don’t get under control, is very real. One person said it this way: “My prayer, every day, is ‘God, send help.’” This of course is where our Scripture comes in. Whether it’s fire, or Covid-19, or some other scary disaster, we know we always need God, always. As the 62nd Psalm emphasizes: “[God] alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall never be shaken.”

In other words, “Teach your fear to say its prayers!” (Charles Leary)

But that’s really hard in circumstances like these! As reporter Johanna Miller explained last week in this paper, “Evacuees should first seek shelter with friends and family.” And there were also a number of shelters opened. “The Santa Cruz County Emergency Operations Center on Thursday also asked all tourists occupying local overnight accommodations such as hotels, motels and vacation rentals to leave immediately to free up shelter capacity.” Thank God for community support!

However, this disaster isn’t over yet. 

Many, many times in the Bible Jesus says, have no fear. Trust in God. That’s where our faith comes in. None of us is exempt from the challenges and hard parts of life, but we can strive to control how we respond. Will you live a life submerged in fear and trepidation, or can you—at least some of the time—rest assured, knowing God is with you always? Even in a pandemic?  Even with all these fires? Even if you’re evacuated? 

Because the fire when we left on Wednesday wasn’t bearing down on us, I wasn’t afraid as much as I was in shock that we had to leave. I felt sad that we could lose our home like so many others, from the fire. I was worried that I wouldn’t get all our necessities. I know that while I was running back and forth to the car, our two dogs were frantic that they might be left behind. And I was concerned that I might not be able to catch the cat, who was quite skittish. 

But we got out! So many others are still waiting and watching the fires and their outcomes. And many in our community have already lost everything. It’s heartbreaking.   

Most of all, I feel grateful; grateful for the firefighters and first responders who are putting their lives on the line to save us from the fires. Grateful for the unending support of our families, friends, and church folks. Grateful that we’ve got the support of each other in this disaster, grateful to God for being with us in it all.    

If we will fill our heart with God’s love, then fear can’t get in. God is always with us. Let us pray that God fills our hearts with love, and takes our fear away. Even if we’re evacuated. In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson has been the pastor of Watsonville First United Methodist Church since the last century. Weekly Online Gatherings are linked to their website: watsonville1stumc.org. Contact her at (831) 724-4434, or [email protected]

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