The malarial fever seized the old and mentally failing woman Sunday afternoon, May 15, sending shock waves of a freezing sensation over her frail body. Every joint ached. Her eye sockets felt as if they were going to burst. Her teeth were chattering uncontrollably and her only thought was to warm herself to stop the chills.
It took every ounce of energy to lift a few pieces of firewood onto the blaze in the fire-pit of her son’s hut. She sat trembling on the floor, as close to the fire as possible, her clouded mind not alert enough to notice as the flames burst upward to the underside of the firewood rack.
It was less than a minute before sparks floated up into the leaf roofing, and a blaze instantly swept through the entire roof as if the leaves were soaked in gasoline. Fiery debris began raining down to the blankets and other possessions scattered over the split-bark floor, but Kolumpi was overcome with the waves of chills sweeping over her body and didn’t notice the surging inferno.
Kolumpi’s son, Samuel, had left the hut to gather firewood, and her grandsons and the other man who lived in the house were also gone for the day. Samuel’s wife and her mother, Foswan, were in the garden gathering sweet potatoes and greens for the evening meal. It was Foswan who was first to notice the column of flames reaching for the sky and she screamed as she ran for the hut, her grand baby jarred from her sleep in the string bag draped over her back.
Foswan kept screaming until she reached the doorway, and leaned forward trying to look through the billows of hot smoke assaulting her face. The baby hanging on her back was now crying and Foswan did not dare enter the flaming structure. She noticed a few blankets and clothing inside the doorway so she threw them into the yard but in the panic of the moment she did not realize that old Kolumpi was still in the hut.
That’s when Jelemaiya came sprinting up the trail. He was returning to the village from a long hike and had not noticed the flames or smoke through the dense jungle, but was alerted by Foswan’s screams. His hut had accidentally burned down about ten years earlier and the thought that a child may be trapped inside drove him through the doorway into the intense heat.
He dropped to his hands and knees frantically crawling forward, searching through the smoke when he noticed Kolumpi still sitting with her head down at the edge of the fire-pit. He scrambled to her side and called for her to get up but she didn’t budge. He grabbed her arm and jerked her in the direction of the doorway, knowing he could not pick her up and risk getting nearer the scorching furnace above them.
She was dazed but she followed his lead and half stumbled, half crawled toward the door. Both were gasping for breath and coughing hard as they made it through the dirt yard to the edge of the garden. They turned in time to see the incinerated roof collapse, sending a huge ball of fire surging into the sky.
John and Jessi George and Susan and I gathered with the rest of the village to stand alongside Samuel and his family as they arrived and watched their possessions reduced to ashes and smoke. They lost everything; everything except a few small bundles of clothing and blankets. Cooking pots, tools for gardening, bow and arrows, and even their Bibles and Bible study notes were gone.
As we watched the walls collapse and the fire burn itself out, I heard Foswan lament over the loss of her pet cassowary, and Samuel speak of his bow and supply of arrows that had taken a lifetime to craft. Samuel and most of his family are believers, and his oldest son is even part of the Bible teaching team in our village, but I listened to them talking, concerned their faith might be shaken.
Then the conversations took a shift toward gratefulness. Everyone started talking about how happy they were that old Kolumpi and the young children were safe, and that their possessions were not all that important after all. I was encouraged as I heard them speak of their confidence in the Lord and His purposes for their lives.
Please continue to pray for the Hewa. Their lives are filled with hardships and discouragements, but the believers are continuing to grow in their faith. They are soaking up the teaching from Titus and are eager to help John and I as we continue with Bible translation and lesson preparation. Pray nothing will dampen their faith, but that they will continue to be passionate about growing in a friendship relationship with their Creator.