On Monday night, strong winds whipped up the wildfires that had been burning in the area for the past month. Within minutes, the fires raging toward Gatlinburg, leading to a quick evacuation. Hundreds of homes and businesses were destroyed, and at last count, seven people lost their lives. Two more died the following day as tornadoes touched down nearby. Rain and the tireless efforts of dozens of fire crews from all over finally quelled the fire, and the region is now starting to assess the damage and begin the task of rebuilding. It was a devastating series of disasters.
Yet after a night of watching the horror unfold, the next day brought moments of real hope. Immediately, local groups began collecting supplies for firefighters and the National Guard; by noon, truckloads of water, food, balm, gloves, and other things had made their way to those still battling the fires. They were quickly followed by drives for those in the evacuation centers and those who had lost their homes: temporary housing, clothes, food, money, even an early visit from Santa. By yesterday, the Red Cross and other organizations were asking people to stop sending supplies; there was too much to handle. The Volunteer State really lived up to its name.
And the people who had suffered the most really demonstrated the best of mountain religion. A man who lost his business said, “It wasn’t mine to begin with. Everything belongs to God.” And while devastated at the losses, there was a prevailing attitude that prayers work and that God will take care of it all in the end.
One man in particular moved me. He said of being able to help other evacuees, “The Lord prepares you before he uses you.” When asked how to prepare oneself to go back and deal with the damage, he said, “As long as we have hope, these clothes, that house—that’s material things…We’re going to dwell on the positives, we’re going to look to a brighter future. We can’t look back; the things I’ve known probably don’t exist anymore.”
What hope in the face of disaster. And how fitting for the first week of Advent. Bad things happen, but keep going, for tomorrow is coming. Keep preparing the way.