Written by Madeline Twooney
When l was six years old, l experienced my first bushfire. I grew up in Victoria, Australia, in a set of low rural mountain ranges called the Dandenongs, about 35 km east of Melbourne.
That summer had been a real scorcher, with little rainfall and strong winds. The threat of bushfires breaking out was very real: The majestic eucalyptus gums that surrounded our neighborhood were particularly flammable due to their abundant foliage and high oil content. Many houses backed onto steep gullies that could sweep a bushfire upwards towards us at an alarming speed. Everyone was tense with dread and anticipation.
Then, the threat became a reality. My family and l were at home when we first saw the fire alert on TV, but we could already see billowing clouds of smoke moving towards us from a distant mountain, turning day instantly into night in its wake. Instead of evacuating, we unanimously agreed to stay and defend our home.
Everyone had their houses fire-prepared as standard protocol. The air was already thick with smoke as my mum hosed down the patio areas and my dad confirmed the levels of water in the gutters on the roof one last time.
I ran around the garden, checking that the buckets placed around our property were full of water. The fire was near: My eyes were stinging, and l could taste feathery flakes of ash on my tongue. Panic rose in me as my lungs started to fill with smoke, making me cough and splutter.
Afer we had completed our final inspections, my parents and l went into our house and shut the windows and doors that had been already secured with metal mesh screens. The phone lines had jammed hours previously, and the radio waves were spitting out static. The TV was our only lifeline and we stayed glued in front of it, watching and waiting.
About an hour later, the bushfire swept through. We remained safe and our house received only surface fire damage. However, the aftermath of that natural disaster had diabolical effects on our community: Many of our neighbor’s houses were destroyed, local vegetation was razed to charcoal, and only a small percent of native fauna survived.
Afer the firefighters had left, l looked out onto the charred landscape of what had once been my backyard, with big eyes filling up with sooty tears. I may have been a small child, however, l understood that fire was a cataclysmic force of nature. It was a bitter lesson to learn.
It was only a few years later in a Geoscience lesson in school that l discovered how bushfires play an important role in the rejuvenation and continuation of Australia’s environment. Natural ecosystems are dependent on periodic fire to cleanse out undergrowth, unleash stored nutrients in the soil, and encourage the germination of seeds and pods, which can only be released through heat.
Sitting in that classroom, it dawned on me, that what fire initially destroys can be the necessary preparation to refine and give re-birth to the new.
As a Christian, the application of fire manifests itself in the same way when we enter into a deeper relationship with God. Fire is a symbol of God’s presence, where the Holy Spirit is represented as tongues of fire:
“Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. “
l experienced this baptism of the fire of the Holy Spirit, after l gave my life to Christ over 10 years ago.
I recall the encounter vividly. It was like a thermostat had been turned up, and l experienced a wave of heavenly fire wash over me. Like gold or silver, l was made to withstand the heat, and l felt myself being cleansed of my past, as well as of my guilt and regrets ( Zechariah 13:9). I knew that the fire had purified and refined me.
Since then, l have never been the same. I feel such a burning in my heart for God – a true passion that has stirred up my entire being. Though l am naturally shy, l have a boldness to talk about my faith – with friends and strangers alike – and l have a burning desire to spread the gospel.
I have spent most of my life drifting, with obscure goals and fickle dreams. However, 12 months ago, l started freelancing as a Christian writer and blogger. Furthermore, last month, l started an online ministry through this blog! I am also currently writing my first novel.
l have the Holy Spirit to thank for instilling all of these dreams in me and for being my source of inspiration. He is guiding me, just like He guided the Israelites through the desert as a pillar of cloud by day and as a pillar of fire by night.
“The Lord went in front of them in a pillar of cloud by day, to lead them along the way, and in a pillar of fire by night, to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.”
Most importantly, through the fire of the Holy Spirit, God has breathed new life into me through the blood of His son Jesus Christ. When l sat in the darkness of indecision and despair, God’s light set the wilderness inside of me on fire, and l became a new creation, His child. I could start a new existence in right standing with a loving, forgiving Father. Hallelujah!
All of this was as yet unknown to me at the age of six, as l stood in the aftermath of that bushfire that had turned my childhood memories into a burnt out, blackened wasteland.
However, in the months that followed the fire, l did witness the bush come slowly back to life. Green shoots began to tentatively burst out of the ground in clusters, pushing the scorched earth behind them as they reached out for the nurturing light above.
Additionally, I caught the occasional glimpse of a kangaroo with her joey hopping amongst the singed and blistered tree stumps. My ears pricked up at a melodic burst of almost forgotten birdsong.
Fire, which l had formerly seen as devastating, was a necessary part of the process of living. The season of re-birth had begun.
You can also read this testimony on shelovesmagazine.com.
About the author:
Madeline Twooney is a Christian writer and blogger. She has written articles for SheLoves, Converge, and Ruminate Magazine and is a contributing writer for Crosswalk.com, Christianity.com, and YMI Magazine.
In her spare time, Madeline gets creative as a freelance Special Effects Makeup artist, and she loves dancing to Sister Sledge and Stevie Wonder whilst cooking. Madeline is British but lives in Germany with her husband and their one-eared pussycat. You can contact Madeline at firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet her at @MTwooney.