This post, written by guest-blogger Rev. Shaun Lee, originally was published on March 3, 2016, on our previous website.
It was two days after Thanksgiving and a regular Saturday morning until I received a call from one of the deacons asking me if I heard about the fire. He then began to tell me about a fire one of the families of our church experienced that morning. He first saw it on the news and recognized the house. Once he confirmed it he quickly called me. One of our ushers, Olivia*, and her husband died in the fire. Her grandson, Jeremy, a member of our technology team and a sophomore in college, was rushed to the hospital severely burned. His mother Cynthia, who had just joined the church thee weeks prior, was taken to the hospital also, but she had no physical injuries. The next 48 hours were probably the most difficult of my pastorate thus far. There were multiple issues of trauma that needed to be dealt with and I had to prioritize how to deal with them. I cannot sit here and honestly say that I mapped out how I was going to deal with the different facets of this pastorally. I will say that God providentially lead the way as we grappled with such a traumatic blow. I will very briefly discuss how I responded to the church and family during the trauma and the recovery effort post trauma.
I first went to the church. We had our soup kitchen that day and the ushers were already meeting upstairs. The news surprisingly did not get out since it just happened and it was still relatively early in the day. I was able to sit with them and tell them the horrible news. We prayed together with tears and disbelief. It was the death of their friend that hurt, but what hurt even more was that Jeremy’s life now stood in the balance and no one knew what the future would hold. What we knew was hard enough, but what we did not know frightened us even more. We prayed for comfort and we prayed for his healing.
After dealing with the church family I found out what hospital they were taken to and immediately made my way there. They were not allowing anyone to see them because apparently the media had been trying to get to their room for an interview and to get pictures of them. Fortunately Cynthia was coherent enough that when she heard I was trying to see them she gave her permission. When I first saw her I could see in her face all she had gone through within the last 8 hours. Losing both of her parents in the fire and now having her son 3 rooms down from her severely burned took a toll on her spirit, and it showed on her face. We talked for a while and then I prayed with her. I then prepared myself to go see her Jeremy. He’s a young man that so many people admire and love. He’s a joy and pleasure to be around. I walked in and he was bandaged up but coherent. We talked, cried, and even laughed. He was fully aware of what happened and was still able to find a semblance of peace. His strength during this moment astounded me. Yes, he was sad and even with the medicine was in severe pain, but he looked beyond the moment and talked about hope for the future. I was trying to see how I was going to encourage him and he encouraged me. He later would have several painful skin grafts and would be in the hospital for over a month. I am glad to report that he is recovering well. After he was discharged from the hospital we were finally able to have a memorial for Olivia and Charles. Cynthia did not want to have any ceremony with Jeremy in the hospital so we respected her wishes and the congregation waited. The memorial gave some since of closure to the family and the church for at least one chapter in this tragic story.
Safe to say that dealing with the trauma of the moment was only half of the battle. We are now dealing with their displacement, financial issues, and mental therapy. To neglect post trauma recovery is really another trauma all in itself. While we continue to pray with and for them we also took special donations of money and clothing. We were also able to connect them with a therapist that would be able to help them deal with the after affects of the fire. Jeremy stated that it’s hard for him to sleep now, because the fire happened while he was sleep. Given the circumstances they went through Jeremy and Cynthia are in a good place. It has been almost 3 months since the fire and both are attending worship services regularly and getting involved in various aspects of ministry again. We continue to pull together as a church family to aid them through the rest of this recovery. It was encouraging to see as a pastor how God moved and continues to help us minister to one of our families in the the midst of such a tragic circumstance.
*The names in this story have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.
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