On Sunday, February 10, one month before the School of Prayer with Project Pray was to begin, a series of wildfires broke out across the upstate of South Carolina. Six were within Pickens County. They were rapidly spreading with wind gust of almost tornado proportions.
About 4:00 p.m. members began to gather at the church for evening activities. As they approached the church site, they noticed smoke covering the horizon. When Pastor Chad Albertson arrived, all roads to the church had been blocked off. The fire was now spreading so rapidly that it had jumped three roads on its march into the valley below the church facility.
The church parking lot was completely filled with smoke. He recalls, “We began to evacuate people from the church. By 4:30 p.m., the fire department had sent a truck anticipating the involvement of our structure in the encroaching fire. With the wind driving the fire up the hillside behind our church, the conclusion was that the fire was unstoppable.” Because the fire was in an inaccessible wooded area, there was virtually no way to contain it or head it off. It was being driven by fierce winds right towards the sanctuary. The college and career class of the church was on their way back from a retreat. As they crossed from North Carolina into South Carolina on US Hwy 25, they could see the smoke from the fire 35 miles away.
About 4:45 p.m., one of the deacons made his way to the church. Pastor Chad met him and told him that services were canceled and that authorities were asking people to leave the site. The deacon informed the pastor that he had not come to attend the service that evening, he had come precisely because of the fire threat. He was there to pray for the church. Pastor Albertson said, “He immediately raised his hands and started walking down by the side of the sanctuary between the structure and the approaching fire. He paced back and forth, praying fervently.” He was drawing an invisible line between the fire and the facility. Relentlessly, he prayed and paced.
Sometimes, in the middle of a storm – the natural is so overwhelming that it is difficult to stay focused on anything but the potential for disaster. In such moments, Jesus is always calling us to see another dimension. Few of us do so. How could an invisible prayer line, a mark made by the spirit of intercession and seen only by the eyes of God stop a fire? Such things can’t be perceived by reason alone.
Suddenly, certainly within a 30 minute period, the winds that had steadily driven the fire across three roads and 12 acres – changed directions. It would have been the most natural thing for the fire to have marched up the side of the hill, driven by the winds, and claimed the church. Instead, the raging fire was contained within the next 45 minutes. And the church building was saved.
Three fire stations were standing with equipment watching helplessly. Volunteers had brought tractors to cut trenches in an attempt to save surrounding homes.
At the end of the day about 12 acres of pasture and forest had been destroyed. No lives were lost and no buildings were claimed. As people stood in the parking lot that evening and reflected, one of my elders commented that six people had been saved in the morning service. And now, the elder said, “the devil wants to burn down the church.” If the fire was driven by some unseen evil hand, its power met came to an end in the simple prayer of a believing deacon.
Prayer draws a line of protection. It invites God’s watchful care.
Maybe there is something to this thing called prayer!