Everyone enjoys a great family vacation. When I was young, we often went on one vacation a year. Sometimes we would head south to the beaches of Florida. Other times we would break out our tomahawk chop and catch an Atlanta Braves games while enjoying the city of Atlanta for a few days. Most often however, we headed to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, to the Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg area. I have memories of driving through Cades Cove looking for bears, ridding go-carts with my dad and brother, and playing putt-putt golf. This place holds a very special place in my life. So much so, that I take my family there as well when we want to spend a few days in the mountains. There is just something special about those mountains and the rivers that run through them. Monday night the landscape of this great destination drastically changed as wild fires ripped though much of the drought-stricken area.
When I first heard of the events going on in East Tennessee I simply assumed that they would put the fires out, and it wouldn’t approach this much-beloved city. However, as the night moved on and reports were coming out about parts of this city going up in flames I found my stomach in knots and my prayers coming more rapidly. I knew the rain was coming, but it simply didn’t seem like it was getting there fast enough. It was a perfect storm, and if something didn’t change quickly, there would be no more family town to go to . . . at least not the one that I remembered as a child. I tossed and turned all night thinking about the people that might be stuck in their homes, and thinking of those great landmarks being consumed by the thirsty fires. Finally, in the early hours of the morning, I was able to go to sleep having nothing more that I could do but simply trust in the Sovereign King of the universe and resting in Isaiah 45:7, which says, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the LORD, who does all these things.”
When I woke up Tuesday morning the first thing I did was check the news outlets to see how things were. To my delight, God was gracious to this city that I love. Some may not see His grace among some 2400 of homes and businesses being destroyed, resorts being demolished, and hundreds of acres of land decimated. However, from an outsider’s perspective, I see the Lord’s gracious hand at work and I would like to share just a few of my thoughts.
The Lord Sent Rain:
The Southeastern part of the United States has been in a major drought. It has been more than 3 months since much of the south has seen any significant rainfall. The Lord is in control of this. Jesus said in Matthew 5, “. . . For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” If he makes the rain fall on the just and the unjust, the opposite is true as well. He withholds rain on the just and the unjust, and for His good pleasure and the renown of His name He has withheld rain from this region for months. However, at just the right time, He sent it as well. Why He sent it to help protect this city and not others, we may never know, but He did. Dave Martin, a fire and aviation management with the southern region of the U.S. Forest Service said that the rain forecast “puts the bull’s-eye of the greatest amounts right at the bull’s-eye of where we’ve been having our greatest activity . . .” This was just a few hours before the rains would come bringing relief, and come they did. Imagine if this great fire had started even 2 days prior. There would have been no rain to help stop the blazing inferno. At just the right time, the Lord sent rain. He was indeed gracious to orchestrate this at just the right time.
There Were Few Casualties:
All reports are saying that the loss of life is very minimal. While any loss of life is tragic, the fact there has only been less than 15 confirmed up to this point is near incredible news compared to what it could have been. After seeing videos of people being stuck on fiery mountain roads, and hotels that seemed to be engulfed in flames it appeared inevitable last night that there would be many who would have lost their lives. But, here the Lord was gracious again. There could have been hundreds dead after such a great disaster, but there are only a few. And while we need to keep these families in our prayers, it is truly a blessing that there are not dozens more.
Limited Commercial Damage:
The Lord didn’t have to save these cities. He didn’t owe Sevier County salvation, yet He saved much of it. The main street of Gatlinburg, economically speaking, is Gatlinburg. The same is true of its neighbor, Pigeon Forge, as well. If these parts of the city had gone up in flames, so would the livelihood of most of those who live there and call it home, but most of it was saved. This was a gracious act of God. Why did the Lord choose to destroy some resorts, and leave others unscathed? We cannot know, but that He left any businesses there is simply a gift to these cities and to those who love visiting them.
God was gracious to Gatlinburg. The Smoky Mountains will always hold a very special place in my heart. I simply see the Lord’s creative handy work with every turn in the road, peak of a mountain, and cascading white water falling over the rocks. It is a place of peace and rest for me. My heart is broken for the people there who have lost their homes, businesses, and way of life. But even in the midst of such a tragedy we can see the Lord’s gracious hand of protection and providence in it. I hope you will join me in praying for the people of these towns, and all across the Southeast who have been affected by drought, fires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and all other sorts of natural disasters that have hit our region over the past 6 months. Pray those things will be restored, but pray even more that all who are affected will see the loving hand of the Lord who is there, full of mercy and full of grace, who desires to bring peace to His afflicted people. Pray that the church will do the work of being good neighbors and that the Lord’s name is magnified through it all. To God be the glory . . . even in the midst of fires and storms.
Soli Deo Gloria,
Adam B. Burrell