A Volunteer's Perspective

Chris Hanson’s story

As we were driving through across Washington State from Pullman to Carlton, my new friend Jon and I made a few remarks about the beauty of the rugged, brown-and-yellow landscape. However, when we were about fifteen miles south of Pateros on Highway 97, one single, haunting detail of the scenery changed: the land that had once been full of yellow grasses and stalks was now covered by their brown and black remains. I had never seen anything like this before. Trees that were lush, colorful, tall and proud a few miles back were here only charred stumps, and bushes that we had passed were replaced by thin and frail masses of burnt twigs.

                  Then we drove through Pateros and our surroundings were even bleaker. Along with hillsides covered in burnt vegetation, we now passed houses—at least, that’s what they were not long ago. Now, all that was left in each house’s place were a mass of concrete from the foundation; two, three, or infrequently four walls, none of which reached their original height; withered brown lawns, if there was anything but dirt left; and heaps of destroyed belongings both inside and outside the now-open-air buildings.

                  What had once been far-off news now became visible, unavoidable, awful truth. Raging fires had devastated innumerable square miles of the state’s northern portion, having no partiality regarding where they went and what they destroyed. And what had once been a simple mission for Jon and I now became a desperately-needed call on our lives. We had traveled to Twisp to help clean up and clear out victims’ property, but the true task was now extremely evident: we had come to bring faith, hope and love to the people who had lost most of the work of their lives. We had come to show Jesus to a visibly and tangibly broken community.

                  Jon and I spent three days collaborating with teams from many churches around the U.S. helping people in whatever ways they requested. Each day we labored in the devastation and came back to the base church (our headquarters) filthy, fatigued and famished. But because we worked as part of a team we never faltered from our mission. At some sites we sifted through properties blanketed in ash for any belongings that might still be intact and useable. At others we cut down charred trees that were threatening more havoc if they toppled in a strong wind. And at one site we simply spread gravel in a lady’s driveway. But at all of the sites we spoke words of encouragement and love, saying that we came to show their community that God still loves them and has given His family a call to help them survive. We came to serve and sacrifice what we have in order to give the victims of the fire practical help in the aftermath and peace in their decimated way of living.

                  After we finished working at our final site and began driving back to the Palouse, I sat in the passenger seat pondering all that I had seen and done. I quickly realized that the mission of restoring the livelihoods of the people affected by the fire is an enormous endeavor. Even with teams of people working day after day for weeks at numerous sites, the work was only beginning. Yet the end is in sight, provided the volunteer teams and the members of the community all collaborate in their unified goal of bringing restoration to the region. We, as the family of God, serve a King who is much bigger and much more powerful than the fires that ravaged northern Washington, and our God loves all the people whom He created. He knows what it means to endure loss: He surrendered His own true Son to the wickedness rampant in the world and in mankind. His Son died on a tree much like the trees Jon and I helped clear out. And our God willingly made this sacrifice so that everyone who breathes can intimately know who He is. He is the source of life, love and hope, and is bringing each of these back to this world through the service and sacrifices of His church, His family. The work that Jon and I and the church teams had done was just a small display of what God is doing in the hearts of the people whom we served. After all, no thing is more important than any person, because God made people and God loves people.

“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His only Son into the world, so that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and His love is perfected in us.”