We were in a deep sleep and the sound of the phone ringing woke us with a jolt. There’s nothing like the shock of a 2:00 AM phone call, with a voice on the other end saying, “There is a fire rapidly approaching your house!”.
There are many precautions we take on the Project Canaan Farm to keep fires from reaching our many buildings and crops. During the winter season, in Eswatini, it is so, very dry and winds rage out of control. Coming from the Texas Panhandle, we know wind! But the wind here is unlike anything we have experienced before. As a result, fires throughout the country are not unusual. It’s something that almost becomes “common”. Even the children get excited when it rains ash! In an attempt to guard against uncontrollable fires, our PC staff burn firebreaks throughout the fall in hopes of preventing fires from approaching our buildings during fire season.
Until this point I hadn’t a clue what fire breaks were or how the breaks work, other than they were very important. Without adequate firefighting equipment or local fire departments to call, this is one of the few tools we have to prevent advancing fires from destroying our property. However, because the winds were so strong our firebreaks failed to prevent the advancing fires from encroaching our property that early morning (see attached video 1).
Thanks to the brave efforts of Barry, Sam and Nate and MANY other friends, they were able to beat the fire out with tree branches (yes, tree branches!) and a water hose ran from our house. Thankfully, the fire was contained with minor damage. Little did we know that this was just the beginning of a long, arduous battle that would last for the next 36 hours on all of Project Canaan. Later that morning as I’m headed with a team of volunteers to one of our church partners, I received a call from Barry asking us to pray. Another huge fire had started with some hay bales and the heavy winds had once again carried the fires up behind Moringa guest house and quickly spread to the area surrounding our home (see attached video 2).
Sam was inside and Nate was frantically calling Barry who was in a meeting. Nate had stepped outside and could see the 30 ft flames fueled by the severe winds. As the flames shot up, the fire jumped over our house and across the road next to our house and headed straight towards the Children’s Campus. (See attached video 3). God’s hand of protection was definitely on us.
As the fires raged uncontrollably throughout the property, our team began deliberately starting small controlled fires, which they called 'back-fires', to remove any flammable material in advance of a larger fire and so deprive it of fuel. This literal 'fighting fire with fire' proved to be our saving grace. I’ve heard the cliché many times but usually in reference to “Fighting back with the same aggression and the same weapons or tactics used against you.”. In this instance, it had a double meaning for me. You literally fight fire, with fire.
The videos are hard to watch. Some of the videos are literally breathtaking. Thanks to the tireless efforts of our volunteers, staff, friends, neighbors and even the wait staff from nearby restaurant we frequent, came and fought alongside our troops. Our activities director, social worker and children’s campus aunties, actioned an evacuation plan to keep our children safe from harm’s way. Workers from Khutsala Artisans to the PC construction team to Children Campus uncles and others stood side by side fighting these horrific fires. Many fought into the wee hours of the morning, tirelessly, in spite of the conditions and lack of proper equipment. I stood on our back-porch Friday evening fervently praying until after midnight as I, helplessly, watched the wind carry the fires across the farm at an unbelievably rapid pace heading straight towards our animals and buildings (see attached video 4).
I watched as our dairy manager, another long-term volunteer (Thank you Arlyn Koopman and Jacob Banta!) and others from the farm, selflessly work throughout the night to save the farm. It IS a miracle no one was injured or even consumed by the fire. Time and time again, God’s hand was evident. So many unsung Heroes!! It takes a TEAM and we have a great one!
Now the backstory…Over the course of the week leading up to the fires, more than one hundred visitors came from all over the world to celebrate Project Canaan’s 10 Year Anniversary Celebration. This was the culmination of many months of planning and preparations by EVERYONE on the farm. We had orientations, tours, Camp Canaan for the PC kids, homestead visits, and well child checks in our rural churches on the itinerary. It was also exciting for us, as long-term volunteers, to see familiar faces and enjoy great friends who visit regularly. One of the largest celebrations, “Rooted in Love” was on Thursday and guests included the Deputy Prime Minister (the equivalent of the Vice President of the USA) and other dignitaries, Social Welfare, all PC staff and families. As we were enjoying the children perform (Thank you to the amazing Bryan Throgmorton and Emseni Staff! YOU ROCK!!!), we could see the smoke billowing in the distance, as if signaling the beginning of what was ahead.
Now, I for one, am not a believer in “coincidence”. I do not believe that it was happenstance the fires were started the day of our big celebration! Was it a coincidence the teams and I were NOT on the property? As a side note, I would have been “FREAKING OUT!” as Nate says. And did I mention OUR SIXTEEN-YEAR OLD WAS FIGHTING FIRES?!?! I, personally think it was “Divine intervention”! Barry and I are confident this really is a spiritual battle that we were fighting and continue to fight.
Can I tell you something?? We (you and I) have a very REAL battle raging around us. When we look outside of ourselves we can see that we have a very REAL enemy, attempting to wear us down (and succeeding at times). Our enemy is Satan himself, fervently trying to take us out and make us completely ineffective in advancing God’s kingdom. We are constantly aware of this dynamic here. It’s in our face. Daily. I do not say all this so you will feel sorry for us. I say it because we need YOU fighting with us. Praying, serving, giving and loving WITH us.
Could it have been a coincidence we have been praying and seeing revival for the last few months throughout the farm? We have had children and adults alike choosing to follow Jesus and be baptized. God is evident all around us! Did our enemy think on Sunday after the fires, we would not wake up, shake off the debris and ash from his futile attempts, celebrate with “Music on the Mountain”, and lift our voices with a shout and praise God? Did he think he could stop the move of God in this place, a land which has been consecrated, and set apart for an appointed generation and purpose?
Anyone who knows Barry and I, (and along with any of us on PC), knows it only fuels us to burn a Flame much brighter and FIGHT BACK! We CHOOSE to fix our eyes on the Author and Perfecter of our faith, pick up our sword, which is the WORD of GOD, and sing from the top of our lungs, “THIS IS THE LORD’S HOLY GROUND! WE WILL NOT BE SHAKEN!”
We love you all and THANK YOU for your love and prayers. Please don’t stop. As we have waged a battle in the physical during the last few weeks, the battle is still raging in the spiritual. Your prayers matter!
“The effective prayer of a righteous man or woman can accomplish much.” James 5:16
WE FIGHT FIRE, WITH FIRE!
FIGHT WITH US.
Barry, Shelly, Nate, Sam and Eli Harp