The dark, early-morning heavens were ablaze with sheets of lightning more brilliant than any thunderstorm the villagers had ever witnessed. But instead of cooling drops of rain, the sky and earth were filled with ash, rocks and mud so hot it melted everything in its path—including flesh.
The violence of the volcanic eruption was heard more than 500 kilometers away as a series of deep rumblings and earthquakes raged. Buildings rattled, sending villagers racing from their beds. Homes were flattened, crushing the helpless occupants with debris and the deadly weight of their own dwelling.
The small wooden church established by missionaries Seymour Spencer and his wife, Ellen, was reduced to rubble. Bridges were covered in steaming mud to their top railings. The flour mill collapsed in splinters.
The grand, two-story hotel appeared as if a giant hand had wielded a machete, ripping half the building from its foundation. Rooms collapsed under the bombardment. Centuries-old trees, yanked from the ground, catapulted like battering rams through the sludge. The schoolhouse and blacksmith’s workshop—buried.
The breathtaking Pink and White Terraces, with their azure-blue pools and delicate, opalescent beauty, were blown out of existence. New Zealand and the world had lost two of their natural wonders.
Four hours after Mount Tarawera spewed its fiery entrails across the peaceful village of Te Wairoa and two smaller villages, there came an eerie silence.
Days after the eruption, the mountain continued to expel its fury, belching steam, ash and grit onto the devastation.
When the earth cooled, survivors and rescuers began the heartbreaking task of searching for neighbors and loved ones. Miraculously, a few survivors were pulled from the mire.
More than 150 lives were lost that infamous night—June 10, 1886—when more than 5,000 square miles of scenic countryside, forests and farms were buried beneath hot ash and mud during New Zealand’s greatest natural disaster.
“Where would you like to go for our anniversary?” Landon asked, as he closed the sports section and dropped it on the floor beside his recliner. “Sammie’s Shrimp Shack? Top Dog Steakhouse? You choose, hon.”
“Landon, don’t you think, for our 25th wedding anniversary, we should go some place extra special?”
“But I thought you liked the all-you-can-eat steamed shrimp and cheese sticks at Sammie’s.”
Seeing that I wasn’t getting my point across, I just blurted out. “I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand!”
As a child, more captivating to my imagination than fairy tales, talking animals or magical brick roads, were the stories of my great-great-grandparents, Seymour and Ellen Spencer. In 1848, they took the Word of God to New Zealand and established a church in a region that had never heard the plan of Salvation. The village that grew around the church became known as Te Wairoa. Thirty-eight years later, Te Wairoa was buried by a volcanic eruption. I yearned to set foot on the land where my ancestors proclaimed the Gospel.
My husband’s eyebrows shot skyward.
“Honey, I know how much a trip like that would mean to you. But with money being tight right now . . . I promise, we’ll go one day.”
A slow grin began to crinkle his blue-green eyes and tug at the left corner of his mouth. He removed two slips of paper from his shirt pocket.
“I wasn’t going to tell you ‘til later, but I was able to get two Bruce Springsteen concert tickets. I stood in line for three hours!”
I put on my best faux smile. “That’s very sweet.”
“We’ll have the best seats in the house—15th row, midsection!”
He placed the tickets in my lap.
Halfheartedly, I picked up the tickets and then melted into tears.
“Really great seats, huh?” he grinned.
“Really great seats,” I whispered, clutching the two round-trip plane tickets to New Zealand.
Author’s note: At the time of the volcanic eruption, Seymour and Ellen Spencer had moved on to other mission fields. And the church in Te Wairoa was being led by Rev. Fairbrother, who wasn’t in the village at the time of the eruption, but returned to help with rescue and relief efforts.
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