Only God knows how many prayers have been uttered in the communities of Prescott and Yarnell, Ariz., in the 10 days since a wildfire took the lives of 19 firefighters and destroyed more than 100 homes.
Still, it would be almost impossible to set foot in either of the mountain towns without noticing they are both covered–saturated–with prayer.
A Prayer of Thanks
For one 88-year-old Yarnell resident, his prayer is one of thankfulness.
Billy Graham Rapid Response Team chaplains Keith and Vera Benavides met the man Wednesday afternoon as they walked the winding streets of his burned-up neighborhood. He told them his heart-pounding story of a narrow escape from the flames that overtook his home.
“He took nothing and he got in the car,” said Vera. “And ash was in his car. Ash came in as he was driving away, and flames were up to the car. He just barely got out.”
When the chaplains approached him, he was standing next to a pile of rubble where his house once stood. All of his possessions are gone.
Still, he’s thankful.
“He was grateful that he was alive,” Vera said. “He saw the blessing.”
When Keith and Vera asked if they could pray for him, he immediately agreed. Together, they thanked God for his life.
A Cry for Help
A couple of neighborhoods over, a woman who found herself in the path of the fire was praying for help.
Displaced from her home and full of anxiety, she called the local emergency command center one night out of desperation. Keith and Vera were there, offering emotional and spiritual care to anyone who needed it.
“So they put me on the phone with her,” said Vera. “She was overwhelmed. She thought she was going to go crazy. She was scared.”
Vera did her best to reassure her. After talking for a while, Vera asked permission to pray for her, and she accepted.
“The Lord blessed it,” Vera said. “I knew He was going to take care of every detail, and I knew I just needed to come and be obedient.”
By the time they hung up, the woman had calmed down, and Vera promised to visit her once her neighborhood was open again.
A few days later, she kept her promise. The house was still standing, and the woman was inside.
“She said that the prayer really had helped her because she thought she was going to go crazy,” Vera said. “She won’t forget that the prayer gave her comfort that night, and I don’t think she’s a praying woman.
“It’s the Lord. It’s all Him. He’s there, and He cares about her.”
Praying for Peace
The entire region is filled with reminders of the fire. In Yarnell, one glance at the mountains tells the story.
“The top part of the mountain is black,” said Vera. “Everything’s burned. Then you see the slurry line, the red line of slurry. And below it it’s green. And that smell. You can smell the ash.”
Outside Yarnell, the story of the fire is told through the photos of 19 faces. A massive memorial site in Prescott is still growing. Flags, flowers, pictures, notes, candles, fire gear–it’s all carefully placed around a chain link fence across from the fire station.
Throughout the past week, Vera and Keith have had opportunities to talk and pray with grieving people at the memorial site, including firefighters.
“For so many of the firefighters, I was just praying for God’s peace and comfort, because I didn’t know what to pray for,” Vera said. “I know they’re hurting.”
Keith, who served as a firefighter in Albuquerque, N.M., for 20 years, knew it was also important to pray for healing.
“We prayed specifically that they would not be damaged by this,” Keith said. “That they be protected from being damaged spiritually, physically and emotionally from this. That they see a blessing.”
As the people of Arizona take small steps towards closure and recovery, the Rapid Response Team will be there as long as they’re needed.
They’re sharing the truth that God hasn’t forgotten about Yarnell or Prescott. He is close to the brokenhearted, and He hears every prayer.
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