“Pastor! Pastor Eduardo! There be fire!”
I struggled with my boots and shirt buttons as I followed my dark skinned friend, Manolo, into the night. How can anything burn when it’s been raining for a week? …and why can’t it rain when we need it?
Lightning flashed through the sky, splintering a tree nearby. The deafening crash of thunder echoed down the valley. An eerie red glow showed through the leafy silhouettes as we pushed and splashed through the soaked undergrowth. Screeches of birds punctuated a growing roar. Bursting from the trees, we faced the sight of orange flames leaping from timber to timber of the new church building.
“Pastor, what we do?”
“Call the others! Bring buckets, pots, …anything to carry water!”
I crashed through the thorny brush to the river bank and tugged off my rubber boots, hopping barefoot to the water’s edge. I hoped there were no crocodiles or pythons lurking nearby as I scooped up the inky water, which occasionally mirrored the sizzling electric flashes. I stumbled back to the burning building and tossed the water at the roof. The flames sputtered for second, seeming to laugh at my measly attempt.
“Pastor, they come!”
I turned to see the eyes of the villagers reflecting the ravaging inferno. They quickly formed a line to the river, chanting as buckets, pots, and skin bags passed from hand to hand. Manolo and I flung swash after swash into the devouring flames. The heat scorched my cheeks, and sweat ran down my forehead, stinging my eyes.
With a thunderous crash, the roof suddenly collapsed. The gold plated cross, a gift from my home church, was the last thing seen falling into the fire with a spray of cinders. I held Manolo’s arm, to stop his fervent efforts to save this symbol of his newfound faith…freedom from ancient traditions of fear.
“Manolo, it’s over.”
With aching arms and muddy feet, we stood and watched the flames until there was nothing left, nothing but embers. One by one, the villagers quietly slipped back into the dark forest, back to their huts, back to their sleeping families. Big drops of rain hit my cheeks, its relief coming too late.
The torrential rains pounded on my tin roof. I tossed on my cot in the sweltering humidity. Persistent doubts and broken dreams tormented me like the mosquitoes buzzing about my head.
All gone…All of it …ten years of learning the Quichua language, preaching to people who still pray to spirits…Why do I even bother?... traveling miles on deputation, asking for supplies to build a church…It’s all gone!..., transporting lumber and concrete and nails over the mountains and down the river.
I smiled at the memory of three dugouts tied together to get the piano down the lazy, muddy Zamora River. The villagers were fearful of the ‘heavy box of monkey teeth that sang’, but before long, the white ivories grew dingy with their constant touching. No matter how many times I tuned that piano, middle C always went flat.
Flat… just like my life. Why not go home? …home to a big pipe organ and full harmony choirs.
In the early morning mist, I sifted through the blackened rubble and ashes. I found an ivory rectangle and wondered if it was my elusive middle C. Squatting on a fallen log nearby, I rubbed my hands over my tired, burning eyes. Thoughts of home drifted through my mind again. It would be autumn now, with cool breezes and pumpkin pies…and no mosquitoes! I slapped my cheek.
A tiny movement caught my attention. The mixture of rotting leaves, dark humus, and now, white ashes showed trampled scars of last night’s activities. A tiny ant emerged from his damaged home, and I watched him push grain after grain into a growing pile. I wondered how long it took him to build his home. Soon another ant joined him.
“Pastor Eduardo, what you do now? You not go away?”
I looked up to see Manolo standing before me, a red welt across his shoulder. A huddle of a few other men waited behind him. Their faces showed mingled expressions of fear and hunger…hunger for God’s truth. A beam of sunlight sparkled and danced as it filtered through the glistening leaves. It caught the gilded edge of the cross.
“No, Manolo, ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.’… Come, help me clear these boards away.”
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