This is an article from the January-February 1994 issue: Perspectives on the World Christian Movement

Wildfire Threatens US Center Campus

Wildfire Threatens US Center Campus

Many of you have seen the flames burning in Southern California on your TV sets at home. But for us here at the US Center, it became a very personal story.

On October 27, 1993, those living near the campus of the US Center awoke to the strong smell of smoke in the air and strong 50 mph "Santa Ana" winds. The palm trees were swaying and bending violently under the onslaught of these powerful winds. Leaves and tree branches, torn from the trees, littered the ground.

We soon learned that a raging wildfire was burning out of control in Eaton Canyon just about a mile north of the US Center campus. Before we could mentally absorb all this, we learned that two of our staff members, Herb and Elsie Purnell, lost their home to the flames. It was the first home they had ever owned after many years of missionary service and they had just moved in 12 days earlier. They had not even had time to unpack their boxes. Herb had been working on a dictionary for the Mien language and it was lost to the fire also.

This fire came to be known as the Altadena fire, named after the community just north of the US Center in North East Pasadena. The fire was not limited to just Altadena, however, but touched Pasadena and Sierra Madre as well.

Dr. Winter advised the staff to pack up all essential documents and computer files in our offices and prepare to evacuate. As a community we all began to pray fervently for the strong winds to stop. The flames were advancing rapidly toward us and we knew that we were in danger of losing the campus should the winds continue to blow so violently.

But the Lord heard our prayers. Within an hour of our beginning to pray, the winds slowed to almost nothing and they did not come back again. These strong winds were predicted to continue for the next two days. Without the strong winds to push them forward, the flames ceased their rapid advance. The fire fighters were able to hold the line on the blaze just seven blocks from the US Center campus. The staff at the US Center breathed a sigh of relief.

For the next few days we could see the flames still burning in the mountains just north of the campus. But without the strong winds blowing flames and embers in our direction, there was little danger to the campus.

Before the flames ceased their ravenous march, 118 homes in the Altadena area alone had been consumed.

This experience gave us all the opportunity to consider the prospect of losing everything we own. For Herb and Elsie Purnell, it was much more than mental musing. It was reality. I think most on staff would echo the statement of Elsie Purnell after losing their home and all their possessions. "We just want to be able to continue our ministry." We are all thanking and praising God for His mercy and grace in sparing the campus and enabling us to continue the ministry that He has given us here on behalf of the unreached peoples.

Herb and Elsie are doing well. They were covered by insurance, but that cannot replace the lost photos, and Herb's lost work with the Mien language. Pray for God's comfort, provision and guidance in their lives.


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