What an Australian Bushfire Taught Me About Faith

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By Madeline Twooney

When l was six years old, l experienced my first bushfire. I grew up in Victoria, Australia, in a set of low rural mountain ranges called the Dandenongs about 35km east of Melbourne.

That summer had been a real scorcher, with little rainfall and strong winds. The majestic eucalyptus gums that surrounded our neighborhood were particularly flammable, due to their abundant foliage and high oil content.  Many houses backed onto steep gullies that could sweep a bushfire upwards towards us at an alarming speed. Everyone was tense with dread and anticipation.

My family and l were at home when we first saw the fire alert on TV, but we could already see billowing clouds of smoke moving towards us from a distant mountain, turning day instantly into night in its wake. Instead of evacuating, we unanimously agreed to stay and defend our home.

Everyone had their houses fire-prepared as standard protocol. The air was already thick with smoke, as Mum hosed down the patio areas and Dad confirmed the levels of water in the gutters on the roof one last time.

l ran around the garden, checking that the buckets placed around our property were full of water. My eyes were stinging and l could taste flakes of ash on my tongue. Panic rose in me, as my lungs started to fill up with smoke, making me cough and splutter.

After we had completed our final inspections, we went into our house and shut the windows and doors that had been secured with metal mesh screens. The phone lines had jammed hours previously and the radio waves were spitting out static. The TV was our only lifeline and we stayed glued in front of it, watching and waiting.

A few hours later, the bushfire swept through. We remained safe and our house received only surface fire damage. However, the aftermath of that natural disaster was diabolical for our community: many of our neighbors’ homes were destroyed, local vegetation was razed to charcoaled stubble and only a small percent of native fauna survived.

After the firefighters had left, l looked out onto the charred landscape of what had once been my backyard, with big eyes filling up with sooty tears. l was convinced beyond doubt, that l would always see fire as a cataclysmic force of nature. It was a bitter lesson to learn.

It was only a few years later in a Geoscience lesson in school, that l discovered how bushfires play an important role in the rejuvenation and continuation of Australia’s environment. Natural ecosystems are dependent on periodic fire to cleanse out undergrowth, unleash stored nutrients in the soil and encourage germination of seeds and pods, which can only be released through heat.

It dawned on me that what fire initially destroys, can be the necessary preparation to refine and give re-birth to the new.

As a Christian, the application of fire manifests itself in the same way when we enter into a deeper relationship with God. Fire is a symbol of God’s presence, where the Holy Spirit is represented as tongues of fire.

l experienced this baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit, after l gave my life to Christ nine years ago.

It was like a thermostat had been turned up, and l experienced a wave of heavenly fire wash over me. Like gold or silver, l was made to withstand the heat; l felt myself being cleansed of my past, as well as of my guilt and my regrets. I knew the fire had purified and refined me.

l have not been the same since. I feel such a burning in my heart for God—a true passion that has stirred up my entire being. Though l am naturally shy, l have a boldness to talk about my faith with complete strangers, which amazes me.

l had spent most of my life drifting, with obscure goals and fickle dreams; now l am in the process of starting an online ministry. I am also writing my first novel. God is guiding me, just like He guided the Israelites through the desert at night as  a pillar of fire.

Through the fire of the Holy Spirit, God has breathed new life into me. When l sat in the darkness, His light set the wilderness inside me on fire and I became a new creation, a child of God. I could start a new existence in right standing with a loving, forgiving Father. Hallelujah.

The bushfire l experienced as a child is now a distant memory. However, about a year afterwards, l looked out of my back window and saw the most amazing miracle.

Amidst the blackened wasteland, l witnessed the bush slowly coming back to life. Green shoots were bursting out in clusters, pushing the scorched earth behind them as they reached out for the nurturing light above. l caught a fleeting glimpse of a kangaroo with her joey, hopping amongst the singed and blistered tree stumps. My ears pricked up at a melodic burst of almost forgotten birdsong.

Fire, which l had formerly believed to be devastating, was a necessary part of the process of living. The season of re-birth had begun.

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About Madeline:

My name is Madeline Twooney and l am an author and blogger. After successfully recovering from a long illness, l am currently setting up my own Christian blog. I have worked freelance doing glamour and sfx make-up for theater, film and print.  I live in Bochum, Germany, with my husband and our one-eared pussycat.

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