Sorrow and Joy

By Joyce Haslebacher

He’s gone now, this son we love,
Called to his home up above.

The pain, the grief, the woe
Through which he had to go,

It’s over now and he’s at peace,
But we who love him have great grief.

He was kind and gentle, sweet and dear,
Oh, how we’ll miss him being here.

But You know best and do things wise
And though we hurt, praise does arise,

That all his suffering now is past;
He’s in heaven at long last.

The mantle cell that took such toll,
Young he was but grew so old;

At 65 and young at heart,
Yet You called and he must depart.

Thank You, Lord, his pain is gone,
And with You he’s living on.

Due to Christ and His Calvary,
One day soon his face we’ll see,

And all rejoice on heaven’s shore
With love and peace forevermore.

No more cancer called mantle cell
No more misery from devil’s hell.

Just together in Your heavenly place
Due to Your mercy, love, and grace.

Christ shed His blood to end all pain,
Hell to shun and heaven to gain.

Amen and Amen

Joyce Haslebacher wrote the above touching poem in honor of the memory of her son, Charles Haslebacher, who died February 4, 2021 of mantle cell lymphoma. Joyce and her husband Herbert met Bill and Karen Rudge many years ago when Bill spoke at the church they attended in Clarksburg, West Virginia. They have been dear friends and faithful supporters of BRM ever since.

Tragedy to Triumph

The tragic death of a child leads to an unexpected journey that results in a multi-generational blessing.

To view more of Bill’s videos on YouTube, visit https://www.youtube.com/billrudgeministries/videos.

To check out more videos, please click on the following links:

For BJ Rudge YouTube, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCd9cewtBcErKSw6M6Fc_T0Q.

For Bill Rudge Vimeo videos, https://vimeo.com/user11953761.

For more videos on the Bill Rudge Ministries website, https://billrudgeministries.wordpress.com/multimedia/videos-and-slide-shows/.

Peace in a Time of Uncertainty

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

Sea of Galilee by Bill Rudge

We all experience times of uncertainty; moments that raise many questions and concerns about what we should do and how things will work out. Currently, like many of you, my wife and I and our six children are working through our own time of uncertainty.

Our nation is also facing uncertainties. Many are overwhelmed with questions and concerns: When will this pandemic end? Will there be another spike in the virus? Will there be a food shortage? Do masks really help? Should I go out in public settings? Will I lose my job? How will the election results impact my life, my family, America, the world?

So too, Jesus’ disciples experienced their times of uncertainty. For about 3 years, the disciples had served at the side of Jesus where they were direct recipients of His daily teachings and eyewitnesses to His miraculous power. Now, they were confronted with the uncertainty that Jesus was going to leave them and with the uncertainty of the implications to follow. Just as it would be today, we find in John chapters 14-17 many what, how, why, where and when questions (John 14:5, 22; 16:17, 18). In response to their questions, Jesus asserted that even though we will have tribulation in this world, we can have peace because He has overcome the world (John 16:32, 33).

In light of these words by Jesus, we are addressing here three specific questions about the peace that Jesus offered His disciples and is available to us right now.

Question #1: What is this peace?

The peace that Jesus gives (see John 14:27) does not come from this world. Instead of trying to find it by looking to others (celebrities, politicians, etc.) or looking within, the peace Jesus provides can only be found by looking to Him. The idea of peace that the world promotes is a life without conflict and difficulty, but there are problems with this approach to peace: It is circumstantial. In other words, it is a peace that solely depends upon your circumstances/conditions. Because it is circumstantial, a worldly approach to peace is temporary. Certainly, we all have moments when life goes well and we don’t face any direct conflicts or challenges. But we also know that this peace is short-lived because we are all going to face tribulation, conflicts, and difficulties. In fact, the Greek word Jesus used for tribulation in John 16:33 means to be pressured or squeezed to the point you feel confined with no way to escape!

This is exactly how many feel right now with the current pandemic and state of our Union; squeezed with no way to escape as these uncertain times have robbed us of peace, individually, and collectively as a country (and the world). But while the peace of this world depends upon life’s circumstances, the peace that Jesus provides transcends our circumstances. We do not have to wait for circumstances to change.

Jesus’ peace impacts our lives by producing courage. Amidst their questions and fear, Jesus told the disciples to “take heart” (John 16:33). In the Greek this means to take courage and be of good cheer. This is the courage of confidence that rests not in ourselves, nor in our circumstances, but in the God we serve. Consider Joshua who faced uncertainty as he led the children of Israel into the Promised Land. As he took on this momentous task, God instructed him to “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). The key for Joshua’s courage did not rest in his own ability but in the fact that He served a faithful God who would be with Him. This is why Joshua was told to meditate upon God’s law (Joshua 1:8), so that he would not only have a proper understanding of what to do but a proper understanding of the One (God) who called him to do it.

Jesus’ peace impacts our lives by the removal of anxiety and fear. As Paul sat in a prison for preaching the Gospel, he wrote these powerful words:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Despite his circumstances and the uncertain outcome, Paul still had the peace of God, a peace that Paul reminds all believers will guard us from being controlled by anxiety, doubt and fear.

Question #2: How is peace provided?

When we examine John chapters 14-17, we discover two ways Jesus provides this peace: first through the presence of the Holy Spirit (John 14:25-26; 15:26-27). “Helper” refers to someone who has been called to come alongside to help and plead the cause of someone else. This is exactly what the Holy Spirit did in the lives of the apostles as He provided them with wisdom, guidance and strength. In fact, Jesus goes on to say that it was for their advantage that He leaves them and sends the Holy Spirit (see John 16:7). How could it be an advantage for the disciples that Jesus would leave them? What could be more spiritually advantageous than literally walking and talking with Jesus? By forcing the disciples to step out of their comfort zone, they could learn to trust God in a deeper way and experience the Holy Spirit’s presence and power.

My sister and brother-in-law recently watched their only son leave for the Navy. But knowing they had raised him to love the Lord, the sadness of seeing him go also brought with it the joy and confidence that God would continue to work in his life in a deeper and more powerful way. Sometimes the only way to grow is to step out of our comfort zones and encounter the uncertainties of life with faith and trust. Thankfully, we do not have to do this in our own strength, because we have the active presence of the Holy Spirit who right now can strengthen and empower us in our inner being (Ephesians 3:16).

The second way Jesus provides His peace is through the fellowship (unity) of believers. As Christians, we are not designed to live as islands unto ourselves. Instead, we are called to live out our faith within the community of other brothers and sisters in Christ. Before Jesus faced His arrest, trial, and crucifixion He specifically prayed for the unity of all believers (John 17:20, 21). Unity within the body of Christ occurs both on a doctrinal level (what we believe) and on a practical level (how we live out our faith). It is on this practical level where – when we go through uncertain and difficult times – it is our function as a body to encourage and bear each other’s burdens (Galatians 6:2).

I have several friends with whom I meet on a monthly basis to pray. They have been a source of peace in my life as I have been for them when they faced times of uncertainty. As the Body of Christ, Jesus wants us to face our problems unified, so we may have the peace that comes through the support and love of each other. As believers in Jesus Christ, may we be unified during this time of uncertainty so we can be instruments of hope and peace to a world desperately needing it.

Question #3: How can I experience this peace?

If you want to experience the peace of Jesus right now, the very first thing you must do is repent of your sin and accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. The Holy Spirit will dwell within you and begin to produce the fruit of His Spirit in your life – one of which is peace (Galatians 5:22-23). Secondly, you must place your trust in God and not your circumstances. This act of trust will require you to yield your will to God’s will. Jesus provides the best example of this as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:42).

Knowing the agony of what He was about to experience, Jesus surrendered His will so that He could fulfill the will of His Father. This same attitude is what we need to display when we face times of uncertainty. We need to trust God and yield to His will, even when it does not seem to line up with what we want. Happily, we have the confidence that we are surrendering ourselves over to a sovereign God who is not only in control of every detail of our lives, but truly has our best interests at heart.

Closing Challenge

In this time of uncertainty, we should do more than strive for personal peace, but also seek to be used by God to bring hope to others. I recently read an article that discussed how previous pandemics in history caused major shifts in the world. Two of these impacted the Roman Empire in the 2nd century and 3rd century A.D. causing a major shift in the Empire’s worldview. According to the author, these pandemics had a mortality rate of about 25-30% of the empire’s population. At this time the empire was pagan; the majority of people worshipped multiple gods. Christianity was less than 1% of the population. The response of the Pagans and Christians to these pandemics was starkly different. The Pagans opted to live in self-isolation with the goal of self-preservation, while the Christians sought opportunities to minister to the sick and hopeless. This response by the Christians, along with several other factors, affected the Roman empire so dramatically that the author concludes by saying, “in roughly a span of a century, an essentially pagan empire found itself well on its way to becoming a majority Christian one.”

While we need to use wisdom during this pandemic – especially those of us who have underlying health risks – let us not waste the opportunity God has provided for us at this time in history! In a world overcome with uncertainty and fear, may we be living testimonies of the PEACE that comes from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Broken Vessels: Come As You Are

A Devotional by Caeleana Dawn Smith

Bible Verse:

“But I, through the abundance of Your steadfast love, will enter Your house. I will bow down toward Your holy temple in the fear of You. Lead me, O Lord, in Your righteousness because of my enemies; make Your way straight before me”. – Psalm 5:7-8

Devotional:

Growing up, I thought that in order for God to accept my worship I needed to come to Him with a pure, intact heart. And, every Sunday, I fell short and felt unworthy. Abraham was one of the people in the Bible that would be least likely to be used by God; however, despite his brokenness and imperfections, God chose Abraham to be the Father of Nations (Genesis 12). God chooses broken people because He can shape their brokenness into a vessel He can use to bring glory to His name. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). God wants us to come to Him with our brokenness and problems because it is during that time He shapes us into who He created us to be. During our times of brokenness, we are vulnerable and humbled before the Lord.

Application:

Remember that no one is more perfect than Jesus. Do not compare yourselves to the standards of the world because God’s standards are different; His are all that matter. During worship, bring your brokenness to Him and lay it at His feet, so He can shape you into the person He created you to be and use you to bring glory to His name.

Prayer:

Dear God, I come to You with a humble and broken heart in need of healing, Lord. Help me not to forget that I am Your child and created in Your image. Lord, I bring my brokenness to You and lay it at Your feet; I surrender it to You, Lord. Heal and shape me into the person You created me to be, Jesus. You are a merciful and loving God. I love You and thank You for loving me. Amen

Hope Even In Sorrow

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

On September 14, 2015 our family awoke to the sad reality that our grandmother was nearing the end of her life – the last living member of a whole generation. In a few days my mother would lose her mother; my sister and I would not have a grandmother; my children, nieces and nephew would be without a great grandmother.

My wife and I took our five oldest children to see her in the nursing home. We knew this would be our last time to say, “I love you,” to the woman we affectionately called Grandma B. Although in extreme pain, she made every effort to open her eyes for each of my children and even tried to kiss one of my daughter’s hands. As each of us said our final goodbye, tears rolled down our faces. I wished I could take away the pain and hurt my children were experiencing.

As much as I want to shelter my children, the realities of living confront us with pain, suffering and death. While my grandmother’s circumstance reminded me of this, it was a reminder that I could help my children face this with HOPE, explaining that although physical death is a consequence of sin, it is not the final destiny for those who have placed their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Indeed, beyond the pain and suffering and coming death of Grandma B, God has prepared a place; not just for her, but for all who have asked Jesus to forgive their sins. So, while it was natural for us to feel sad and cry, we were not without HOPE.

Paul told the believers in Thessalonica:

Dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14).

While we mourned as Grandma B approached her final breath, we rejoiced that our children were blessed to know their great grandma and that we had many wonderful memories with her, knowing that one day we will be with her again – without the pain and suffering.

I held her hand and reminded my grandmother of this promise. I told her of what awaited those who have placed their faith in Jesus (Revelation 21-22) and reminded her this was not the final goodbye but that one day she would be reunited with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. Despite the pain she was in, I can still see the smile on her face as I spoke those words. That is the facial expression I look forward to one day seeing when I also enter into the presence of my Lord and Savior.

My prayer is that when death closes in, you, too, can have a smile on your face because you know that this life is not your final goodbye. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Q & A “How can we have hope in the midst of pain and suffering?”

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

Question

Life is often full of pain, suffering and disappointment. So how can we have hope in this miserable existence?

Answer

To some extent I understand your disillusionment with life. We all experience two contrasting realities: the ideal and the real. The Ideal are those moments of glory that touch our deepest longings (the birth of a baby, falling in love, watching a beautiful sunset, etc.). However, these moments do not fully satisfy because they do not last and are overshadowed by the other reality in life – the real.

The Real are those moments in life (pain, suffering, death of a loved one, loss of a job, health crisis, etc.) that make us desire something better than this world.

The Bible tells us that we all will experience both moments of joy and pain in life (Ideal and Real):

To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die … A time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1-4).

Obviously, this raises the question, if God is all-powerful and all-loving then why do we have to experience these contrasting realities? The short answer is we are not always given full clarity on the WHY, but we can know the WHO.

The Who for me is the person of Jesus Christ. Through my own questions and experiences of brokenness in this life, I have found in Him a HOPE and JOY that transcends this world.

The power of the Christian faith is seen in God’s response to our pain where HE gave up his very life to redeem us. Through His death comes life and a hope of living in a world where the Ideal will no longer be overshadowed by the Real.

So, my simple answer to the Whys of your life is the Who… Because you will find in Him not only your value and purpose, but your ultimate destiny!

Like you, I yearn for a world without pain and suffering. While this will become a future actuality, there is still an ongoing need of finding rest in Jesus (Matthew 11:28-30).

Pressing On in the Storm

by Darlinda McDonald

Photo by Max LaRochelle

On a Sunday evening a few years ago, Bill and Karen were returning to Pennsylvania from Michigan. As they reached Toledo, a fast-moving thunderstorm overtook their vehicle and did not subside for the remaining four hours of the trip. Torrential rain, high winds, thunder and lightning made driving very difficult. In addition, their visibility was impaired by the darkness and fog. Commercial trucks on either side of their small rental car splashed huge amounts of water on their windshield. In several cities they traveled through, the radio warned of tornadoes and flash flooding. Karen wanted to stop, but Bill felt it safer and best to drive on and chose to look at it as another adventure God was taking them through.

The decision to keep pressing on despite the weather and treacherous driving conditions can be compared to our Christian walk. Sometimes life throws us unexpected situations that can either stop us in our tracks or make us determined to press on towards the goal. Our choice to walk by faith and not by sight will strengthen our trust in the One Who watches over us and takes care of us.

Just as the Lord brought Karen and Bill home safely through the storm, He will bring you safely to your Heavenly home despite the difficulties and challenges this life holds for you. Jesus promises:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation [trouble, pressure, affliction, difficulty], but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Why?

by Bill Rudge

Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims of mass shootings. Our ministry prayer team prays for the families of those whose lives are cut short, as well as for the recovery of the injured and traumatized. The impact these senseless tragedies have on so many lives and families is incomprehensible. We are grateful for those who “miraculously” survive and for those who prove to be heroes – wounded or killed – while protecting others.

But WHY these insane, cowardly acts of carnage? The answers can be elusive and complex – but are most revealing as to where our society is today. The triggers for acts of violence and mass killings can be anything: seeking revenge for being bullied or fired from a job, experiencing the breakup of a relationship or some other emotional trauma, merely being pulled over for a traffic violation, plotting suicide while killing others, obtaining notoriety…. Some get a twisted pleasure from seeing others suffer or just enjoy killing with little or no remorse.

Many shooters fill their minds with graphic visuals of violent crimes, explosions, shootings, blood splattered victims and walls, people hunted down and murdered by crazed killers. Violence is portrayed in countless movies as every imaginable weapon and technique are used to kill, torture and mutilate. Scenes of terror such as vehicles and buildings being blown apart, pools of blood and other scenes of horror are proliferating. These vivid sights and sounds implanted in one’s mind can (and will) have adverse mental, emotional, physical and spiritual consequences.

Violence in the media and the breakup of families, definitely contribute to these horrific acts of violence. However, another crucial consideration – often overlooked – is that when God is no longer revered or feared, disastrous consequences result from confusion and hopelessness. We have dealt in previous newsletters (and will do so in future ones) about the ramifications of a society losing its faith and respect for God. This abandonment of God and the rejection of biblical moral values, has resulted in segments of society embracing amoralism, atheism, mysticism and occultism – opening the door to a dangerous dilemma: the demonic dimension.

The Demonic Dimension

While my previous research into bizarre behaviors gives some insight into the twisted psyche, there is a realm not frequently considered.

In some cases the only reasonable explanation is found in the demonic connection – and all the more as our society drifts further and further from faith in, and commitment to, Jesus Christ.

Mental health workers (some of whom had previously thought that belief in angels or demons was delusional) have called me about cases they were dealing with which, they said, defied psychological explanation or latent human physical or mental potential and phenomena. They felt they were dealing with something sinister and supernatural.

I am certain that some mass shooters and others who commit heinous acts are influenced or controlled by demonic entities. After the deed is done, if not dead already, the evil spirit motivates them to take their own life or departs from them, leaving them frightened and confused; wondering how they could have performed such an atrocity! Many who were apprehended after committing violent murders have confessed that they heard a voice telling them to do it; some said they felt controlled by an evil force.

While it is inaccurate and unwise to attribute all problems and phenomena to the demonic dimension, the other extreme of unbelief in the existence of Satan and demons, makes it virtually impossible to recognize their activities. Undetected satanic activity negates the possibility of effectively dealing with it.

The Bible records several accounts of Jesus, the apostle Paul and others, encountering demon-possessed individuals. Without sensationalizing the demonic realm, Jesus and the Bible clearly acknowledge its reality.

The Connection

There is always a “connection” – a “trigger” – that makes a person vulnerable to demonic forces which desire to kill and destroy those created in God’s image. Human beings are like defended castles having a wall of protection that shelter them from the demonic realm; however, many let down the drawbridge and open the door to the spirit world through various means (to be addressed in a future newsletter). Those who step outside God’s protection and willingly violate, disregard or defy His mandates put themselves in a perilous position.

The Bible identifies two people possessed by Satan himself: Judas and the future Antichrist. In hindsight we see, concerning Judas, that he had some “issues” which made him vulnerable to be Satan’s tool in betraying Christ to those who wanted to put Him to death. But nothing – even his greed – alerted the disciples to the dastardly deed conceived in his heart. The disciples thought Judas was a “nice guy” (as has been said about some of the shooters) until he actually betrayed Jesus.

Satan, taking advantage of this “connection,” entered Judas who then carried out the religious leaders’ scheme to betray Jesus. Once Satan was done using Judas to put Christ to death, he departed from him – leaving Judas so distraught that he hung himself.

From foresight provided by prophetic Scripture, we discover that the Antichrist (coming to power through false promises of peace and prosperity) will unleash the greatest bloodbath in human history! Scripture foretells a dramatic increase of violence, demonic activity and phenomena in the end times. Just as the book of Revelation foretells, there will be a level of violence never seen before in the history of the world. We definitely appear to be moving in that direction.

Transformed through Christ

The only way to prevent senseless tragedies such as those happening across this nation is either by prevention (often a near impossibility) or for the potential perpetrator of the crime to be truly transformed by the love and forgiveness that comes through a restored relationship with our Creator. Having a life of meaning, purpose and hope (in spite of one’s circumstances) is the best deterrent to prevent someone from wasting their own life and ruining the lives of so many others – including their own family.

Coming to know Jesus Christ by receiving His offer of salvation (conveyed through the pages of the New Testament) is the only hope for a darkened soul in need of the Light. No one who has truly received Jesus and His message of love will participate in acts of cruelty and senseless violence. Those transformed by the power of God’s Spirit will be the solution to society’s problems and not the perpetrator of them.

Be Strong in the Lord

by Jim Weikal

All believers know the stress of suffering as Jesus foretold (John 16:33; Luke 9:23). Jesus was well acquainted with our griefs: Isaiah described the pain of the coming Savior centuries before in chapter 53 verses 3 and 4.

Times of stress and grief are not easy on anybody, but believers have a Savior who understands their predicament. Do not be afraid to cry out to Him, because He does hear us. Run to Jesus Christ when suffering comes. He understands and He cares.

The apostle Paul suffers in a Roman prison due to the persecution set in motion by the infamous emperor Nero – he knows that his death is imminent. So what does a dying man say to a “child in the faith” such as Timothy? Paul points Timothy to the source where he will find the strength to face the challenges of ministry and Roman persecution:

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:1).

This verse is a straightforward charge to “be strong.” It is a command and not a suggestion. To “be strong” is a continuous action not a one time reaction. Likewise, the Christian today who faces difficulties, challenges, persecutions, oppression and the like, Paul’s command resonates with us centuries later – “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” Remember our Master’s words:

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

Why Do Bad Things Happen?

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

My 11 year old daughter asked me a question that I am sure all of us have asked at some point in our lives, “Why does God allow bad things to happen to us?” In thinking of how best to answer this question and make sense to an 11 year old, I recalled the story of the “Wolfpack” kids.

Photo by Tabitha Smith

These kids were members of the Angulo family. They lived in a small apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The six sons and one daughter were home-schooled by their mother Susanne, and except for rare occasions they were not allowed to the leave their apartment. Their father, Oscar, was a Peruvian immigrant and he felt New York would “contaminate” his children. In order to protect them from the dangers outside their apartment, he not only kept the door locked, but he possessed the only key to unlock it. In this environment, the father had complete control over their lives, and as the mother stated in an interview, “I felt like I didn’t have control over my choices.” Their father may have created an environment to protect them from danger, but in the process he deprived them of their freedom.

While God is sovereign, He permits human freedom. Thus, He did not create us like puppets, controlling our every move and decision. Nor did he place us in an environment where, like a tyrannical dictator, we were compelled to honor Him. Instead, as we see in the Garden of Eden, He created mankind with the freedom to choose whether to obey or disobey Him (Genesis 3). With the potential of choice came the consequences of choice. As we find in Genesis, Adam and Eve chose to disobey, and with their choice (sin) came the consequences: pain, suffering and death (Romans 5:12; 6:23).

Adam and Eve

At this point, you may be asking the same question my daughter did, “How is it fair for us to be punished for the sins of Adam and Eve?” While it is true that we are all subject to the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin through birth, we are all still as guilty as they are, for each of us has also used our freedom to disobey God’s commands. In other words, each of us is accountable for our own sin (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8). Yet, despite our consistent abuse of the freedom God has given us, He still chooses to be a Father that extends mercy and grace to those who ask for it (John 3:16-17; Romans 6:23).

Why Does God Allow Bad Things To Happen?

The first time I asked this question there was a family which was very close to mine. Their daughter at the age of 13 was diagnosed with cancer. Within a year of her diagnosis she passed away. I found myself asking that very question, “Why?”

If it is true that God is all knowing, then certainly He knows how to prevent this girl from getting cancer. If it is also true that God is all powerful then He should be able to prevent her from getting cancer. And if it is true that God is all loving then He would want to prevent her from getting cancer and dying. Yet, this young girl in the prime of her life, died. Why?

A neighbor wanted to know why her husband of 45 years had to die of cancer and a friend wanted to know why his wife no longer loved him and was leaving him for another man. This very question probably pervades the thinking of every person who has been affected by a natural disaster such as hurricane Sandy.

With a heavy heart I watched the news and witnessed the devastation left by hurricane Sandy several years ago. I was grateful the damage in our area was not as bad as anticipated, but it was hard to see the many people who lost their homes and businesses. A friend of mine called to ask for prayer as their house suffered significant water damage from the storm.

Seeing the images of flooded neighborhoods, burning houses and people without electricity, a particular story stuck in my mind: During the storm, two young boys were killed when a large tree fell into their living room. I instantly thought of my own son and wondered how these families would cope with the loss of their sons.

I wondered why these boys had to die this way. My feelings at that moment were the same way as when I woke up on the morning of July 20, 2012. After going through my morning routine and following breakfast, I turned on the television to check the weather for the day; only then did I learn of the tragic shooting in a Colorado movie theatre. I am sure many of you had the same initial reaction I did, “How could someone do this?” This question (repeatedly asked through every tragedy) leads to other questions, which ultimately leads us to ask: “Why does God allow bad things to happen?”

It is not always possible to give a satisfactory answer for the Why question. But I can point them to the Who! By pointing them to Jesus Christ, I know from personal experience that even in the uncertainty of pain and suffering, we have hope. Several years ago my family faced the painful ordeal of a miscarriage. As I walked with my wife and children through this, the only thing we could hold onto was the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

I shared this hope with a friend of mine who was dying with cancer. When he was healthy, he and his wife did a lot of traveling. I asked him where was his favorite place, and he began to tell me all about Aruba and how beautiful it was; how nice the people were. As he described the beauty of Aruba, it was like he was back there sitting on the beach watching the waves.

A few days later in the hospital I reminded him of our conversation about Aruba, which instantly brought a smile to his face. I began to share with him of a place God had prepared for him that was so much greater than Aruba. I told him about how much God loved Him and how He demonstrated this love by sacrificing His life so that he can go to this place for eternity.

The Heart of Christianity

Like my 11 year old daughter and myself, we may not fully understand in this life why bad things and tragedies happen or why God did not prevent that tree from falling on the house that killed those two young boys. Yet, we can be assured of the depth of His love for us. We can be certain that in the midst of life’s difficulties He is with us – a God who responded to evil, pain and suffering by sending His only Son to die on a cross, offering us the opportunity to live in eternity with Him. We can know the love of a Father Who desires to provide His children not only true freedom, but also eternal blessings. This is the heart of Christianity, and it’s the best explanation of hope to a world full of pain and suffering.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4).

Don’t Quit

When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,

When the funds are low and the debts are high,

And you want to smile but you have to sigh,

When care is pressing you down a bit…

By all means pray, and don’t you quit.

Success is failure turned inside out,

God’s hidden gift in the clouds of doubt,

You never can tell how close you are,

It may be near when it seems afar.

So trust in the Lord when you’re hardest hit…

It’s when things go wrong that

You Must Not Quit!

Author Unknown

Finding Hope in Tragedy

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

No one is immune from the tragedies of life.

This year, our community mourned the death of two high school students and came together in support for two more that were in critical condition after a severe traffic accident while on their way to a Young Life meeting. These four girls were well known, much loved and touched many lives. My family knew these girls and, being the high school girls’ soccer coach, I used to coach one of the girls who died.

As I spent time at the school talking with faculty and students, I was encouraged and comforted to see everyone come together. It is in moments like these where we learn the most valuable life lessons and are reminded of the importance of community. Not only do we need the support and love of others, but we also need to return that love and support. We need to bear each other’s burdens.

Along with the idea of community, I am reminded of the importance of being intentional with loved ones: to never walk away angry, or let the sun go down without letting them know how much they are loved; to live each moment with appreciation for the time that we have with our family and friends. Life can truly change in a moment, so we all need to let others know with our words and actions, how much they mean to us.

Through this tragedy I am also reminded of how important it is to live with purpose. Watching the students flow into the room set aside for them to come and grieve, I was overwhelmed to hear stories of how their lives have been enriched in knowing the girls who had died. These remarkable young ladies were taken from us too early, but they are remembered through those impacted with their kind words and their positive actions.

From the love and support displayed by the faculty, students and the surrounding schools and communities, I saw God working in and through each one of us. As in any tragedy, the WHY tends to knock us off our feet, but the WHO enables us to stand back up. Though our understanding may be shaken, our faith in Jesus Christ will not be destroyed. His loving arms embrace us and bring comfort and hope in our times of pain and sorrow.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Looking for Light in the Darkness

In the weeks following the accident, many questions arose as the community tried to make sense of, and find purpose in, their pain and sorrow. In fact, life-tragedies often cause us to feel the impossibility of walking through the brokenness of a situation while overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair.

When I was in college my soccer coach took our team into a cold, wet cave. We had an easy time navigating it until Coach told us to turn off our flashlights and find our way out. What had seemed easy before, became difficult as we repeatedly hit our heads on the cave walls while desperately seeking the exit. Finally, our coach told one of us to turn on a flashlight. The darkness vanished instantly. While the light did not show us the exit, it did reveal the direction in which to go as we made our way slowly forward towards the brightness of sunshine just outside the cave.

To those facing tragedy, the challenge is in trying to find our way out of the dark cave of loss. There is a light that can guide us through the darkness of confusion and pain. The girls who died both knew the Source of this light, for each had given her life to Jesus Christ. Because they looked to Him, their lives continue to shine brightly as a reminder of the ONE that we all can look to: the One who can heal our broken hearts and strengthen our weary souls.

This same Jesus is ready to give light for us all. He hears our cries. He is ready to embrace us in His loving arms and help us move forward through brokenness and pain. While this process may never be fully completed in this life, we have the sure hope that He will one day guide us to that exit to be fully embraced by the true Source of light that awaits us at the end. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know the certainty of a future where He will wipe away all tears; where there will be no more death, sorrow or pain (Revelation 21:4).

Until that day, may the legacy of these girls continue on in how we choose to live. Like them, may we embrace the light that Jesus gives so we, too, may be a light for others.

Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12).

No matter where you are in your life, remember: The WHY may knock you to the ground, but the WHO is always there to help you stand back up. God has throughout the past, and will continue to, prove faithful as He turns tragedy into triumph.

Note: The preceding is taken from BJ’s previous blogs and already has reached thousands of people across the U.S. and in 28 countries.

We have received permission from the parents of the girls involved in this tragic accident to share the following:

from Lexi’s dad at her funeral:

“We have been overwhelmed with the outpouring of love and support in our community and even distant communities have offered much encouragement, support and prayers.

“I’ve had time to reflect on what has happened and like everyone else, I asked WHY? It does not seem fair that my baby girl can be here one minute and then taken from us the next. WHY?

“Lexi loved her family, friends, teammates, teachers and neighbors. Lexi spoke to you because she genuinely wanted to share this love with you. Remember the pain you feel now and realize this happened for a reason. God wants us to display the best version of ourselves to one another. Please Wear Your Love on Your Sleeve. Lexi wants us to.”

from Danielle’s Cross Country coach Barry McLaughlin:

“Danielle had an unbridled enthusiasm and love for life and for the Lord which was evident to everyone on the team. She was a spark who ignited a desire for those around her to serve Christ and a spark on the cross country team that encouraged others to give their very best. We all still feel the hurt and loss.”

from Leah’s best friend Kylie:

“Leah is a light who shines with a love for God. She loves telling people about Jesus and showing them His love through her actions. Leah is a great friend with a great passion for God and a smile that is contagious to everyone who is near.”

from Leah’s mother from hospital:

When asked in a text from Bill Rudge, “Are you willing to face this tragedy for God to be glorified?” Betsy texted right back, “Yes we are.”

from Emily’s mom from hospital:

“It’s truly the power of prayer. It’s been extremely difficult, but the good Lord is getting us through. You know I really questioned my faith when this all happened. I don’t anymore. If our story can change just one person then I’ve done my job. I told Emily she is going to do something so good and I can’t wait to see what it is. What God has in store for her… I don’t know when but I hope I’m around to see it.”

Looking for Light in the Darkness Following a Tragedy

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

When I was in college, my soccer coach took our team into a cave. Despite being cold and wet, we had an easy time navigating it, guided by our flashlights. However, after being in there for a while, my coach told us to turn our flashlights off and find our own way out. What seemed easy before became difficult as we repeatedly hit our heads on the cave walls while desperately seeking the exit.

I feel this is the place our community has come to, as over the past few days we have been dealing with the tragic death of two of our high school students and the injury of two others; for whose recovery we now pray.  We, too, are in a dark cave, trying to desperately make sense of and find purpose in, our pain and sorrow. In fact, life-tragedies often cause us to feel that we are trying to walk through the brokenness of our situation, while overwhelmed with hopelessness and despair! Personally, I have experienced the pain of my wife suffering a miscarriage; the near-loss of our child at one week of age; a daughter coping with chronic pain that eventually required three surgeries to correct; my mother’s battle with cancer; and currently, having to witness my father-in-law’s daily struggle with liver disease. Experiencing moments like these, we can all find ourselves in a desperate search for any guiding light through the darkness of our situation.

As my teammates and I continued to struggle through the cave, our coach told one of us to turn on a flashlight. The darkness vanished instantly in the brightness of that light. While in itself the flashlight did not show us the exit, it gave enough light to show us the direction in which to go, and we made our way slowly forward to the brightness of sunshine just outside the cave.

To those in my community and to others facing their own tragedies, there is a light that can guide us through the darkness of confusion and pain. Lexi and Danielle both knew the Source of this light, for each had given her life to Jesus Christ. Because they looked to Him, their lives continue to shine brightly in our community as a reminder of the ONE that we all can look to, who can heal our broken hearts and strengthen our weary souls.

For we who remain after a tragedy, the challenge is in trying to find our way out of the dark cave of loss. But we no longer have to navigate the darkness alone. This same Jesus, who gave light to Danielle and Lexi, is ready today to give light for us all. He hears our cries! He is ready to embrace us in His loving arms and help us move forward through brokenness and pain. While this process may never be fully completed in this life, we have the sure hope that He will one day guide us to that exit, to be fully embraced by the true Source of light that awaits us at the end. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus, we can know the certainty of a future where He will wipe away all tears; where there will be no more death, sorrow or pain (Revelation 21:4). Until that day, may the legacy of these girls continue on in how we choose to live; like them, may we embrace the light that Jesus gives so we, too, may be a light for others.

“Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, ‘I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.’ ” (John 8:12).

No matter where you are in your life, remember: The WHY may knock you to the ground, but the WHO is always there to help you stand back up.

Finding Hope in the Midst of Tragedy

By BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

This has been a very sad and difficult week for the community that I live in. This past Sunday (February 10th), four high school students from our school district were in a severe accident. The accident led to the tragic death of two of the students. As I write this blog, the other two students are in the hospital dealing with a range of injuries. This tragic event has impacted me personally as my family knew these girls and, being the high school girls’ soccer coach, I use to coach one of the girls who died. In simplistic terms, this has been an emotionally difficult situation to deal with as it has brought me face to face with the reality that no one is immune from the tragedies of life. But despite this reality, it is in these moments where we learn the most valuable life lessons. For instance, I was reminded of the importance of community. As I spent time at the school on Monday talking with faculty and students, I was encouraged and comforted to see everyone come together as one. Despite our differences, there was singularity in purpose. A powerful reminder that not only do we need the support and love of others, but we also need to return that same love and support. We need to bear each other’s burdens. I hope and pray that you have others in your life that are helping you bear your burdens, and in return you are coming alongside them to bear theirs.

Along with the idea of community, this situation has reminded me of the importance of being intentional with my loved ones: to never walk away angry, or let the sun go down without letting them know how much I love them. I need to live each moment with appreciation for the time that I have with my family and friends. Life can truly change in a moment, so we all need to let others know, through both our words and actions, how much they mean to us.

A final impression that I have gained from this tragedy is how important it is to live our lives with purpose. As I stood watching the students flow into the room that was set up at the school for them to come and grieve, I was overwhelmed to hear their stories about how their lives were enriched by knowing the girls who had died. One particular staff member told me that when they first moved here, her daughters had a hard time adjusting to their new surroundings, but that the transition was made easier because one of the girls who had died introduced herself to her daughters and made them feel valued and accepted. This is a great reminder how just a simple word and action can make the difference in the lives of others. While our school has lost two remarkable young ladies, their memories will live on through those they impacted. Their lives were taken from us way too early but they leave a legacy that will continue for years to come.

In the uncertainty of this tragedy, I do see God actively involved. From the love and support of surrounding communities to the unity displayed by our faculty and students, I see God working in and through each one of us. As in any tragedy, the WHY will continue to knock us off our feet, but it is the WHO that will enable us to stand back up. Though our faith in Jesus Christ is shaken, it will not be destroyed.  His loving arms are embracing our community and bringing comfort and hope in our time of pain and sorrow.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

Being a Light in Difficult and Disappointing Times

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

We often see athletes being interviewed and put in the spotlight for their success and victories, while those who fail and lose and are often maligned and ridiculed. This past weekend, Cody Parkey, who is the kicker for the Chicago Bears, personally knows this reality. In the closing seconds of the game, with his team down by one point to the Philadelphia Eagles, Cody was given the opportunity to kick the winning field goal. This kick would not only allow his team to advance, but it would give the Bears their first playoff-win in eight years. Despite a good snap and hold, Cody’s kick “double-boinked” by hitting both the left upright and crossbar, as it ultimately bounced back onto the field. Although the kick would eventually be deemed a block by one of the Eagles players, the missed kick still left the Bears players and fans dejected and brokenhearted.

Despite the miss, and his own heartbreak, Cody’s response to this situation has proven to be a powerful light during a difficult and disappointing time. In fact, his response to this situation is a reminder to us all about how we as Christians should respond to difficulties and disappointments in our own lives.

While many people who fail either find ways to blame others or avoid the comments by critics, Cody stood firm and took responsibility for the outcome of the kick. He approached this difficult moment with inner strength and integrity. This is a great example that the true essence of who we are as a person is most displayed in how we respond to the challenges and disappointments we face.

While many only praise and thank God in the good times, the first thing Cody did when he missed the field goal was to point his finger to heaven to acknowledge and praise Him even in his moment of disappointment and failure, a great reminder that we are called to serve God in all circumstances in our lives. As Cody mentioned in his interview on The Today Show, “Something that I have always tried to do through good or bad is to give praise to the higher power our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

While many only live for the things of this world (success, popularity, fame, etc.), Cody acknowledged that his life transcends all of this. Even though still saddened by how he felt that he let the whole Bears’ organization down, he made this powerful statement, “I’ll continue to keep my head held high because football is what I do, it’s not who I am.” This is a great reminder for all followers of Jesus that we do not live for the things of this world and that our race is for a crown that will never perish (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

For the Love of Yesua

by B.J. Rudge, Ph.D.

Are you willing to endure ridicule, rejection or loss of a job for your faith in Jesus Christ?
A few years ago, four Iraqi youth under the age of 15, were beheaded by ISIS for not renouncing their faith in Jesus (Yesua).

Their response, “We have always loved Yesua; we have always followed Yesua; Yesua has always been with us” is reminiscent of what one of the first Christian martyr said before he was tied to a stake and burned alive. With the opportunity to be released if he only renounced Jesus, Polycarp stated the following words:

Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never once wronged me. How then shall I blaspheme my King who has saved me?

While we may never experience what these young Christians did, are we willing to acknowledge Jesus Christ and demonstrate this same type of commitment in the face of opposition? Remember Jesus’ words:

Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven (Matthew 10:32, 33).

Deliverance in Devastation – God in the Wildfires, part 2

“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

Out of the Ashes

In the days following Bill and Karen’s escape from the devastating Southern California Fires (see the September 25 blog for the incredible account) Bill served as a Red Cross chaplain at several evacuation centers and the sites of burned homes. Many of his books and audio messages were given to fire victims who requested and received them gladly. Bill heard many amazing stories and had hundreds of exciting ministry opportunities. The following are a few excerpts from his journal.

Friday I was sent as a chaplain to Scripps Ranch – one of the most devastated areas from the fires. As well as ministering to fire victims, I also ministered to workers from various agencies at the center who were helping the fire victims. Secretary of Homeland Security, Tom Ridge, showed up for a major media event. I had opportunity to share with the liaison for the mayor of San Diego and a security agent for Tom Ridge, who approached me.

But for the Fire

Todd and Lynn, from Santee, had been displaced by the fires along with the rest of us who were at Rich and Sunday’s. On Saturday at 5 a.m., we received a call from Lynn that her husband had not come home from work the previous night. Todd last called her on Route 52 (about 10 miles from their home) about 6:30 p.m. on Friday. Clayton and Rich went looking for Todd in Clay’s cruiser while Sunday (Todd’s sister) and Louise (their mother) were looking for him on their own. Several hours into the search I picked up Lynn and, following prayer, we met up with Clay and Rich. Clay pulled me aside and mentioned that a car fitting Todd’s description was hit on Route 52 last night, and totally destroyed by fire, with no report of the driver. burned car IMG_0021

Clay told me Todd could be dead, and not to tell Lynn, but to keep her occupied. Clay and Rich went to the site of the burned car and found Todd lying face up on the ground about 20 feet down the hillside. Had the heavy brush (chaparral) not burned off in the fires, they would have never seen him. He had been badly injured and was within moments of death. An article and radio broadcast, Miracle On a California Highway, on our website (billrudge.org) shares his miraculous story. I visited Todd at the Surgical Intensive Care Unit at the hospital before and after assignments with the Red Cross.

Short Stories from Harbison Canyon

On Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., the Red Cross has me go with a crisis intervention team to Harbison Canyon, a community where over 300 of the 496 homes were completely destroyed. I listen to their stories, provide food, water and clothes, pray with, counsel and encourage over 100 people today. All of them are deeply appreciative and I too, am greatly encouraged by their attitudes.

Mark, a pastor I meet there, lost both his home and his church, but enthusiastically proclaims the Lord’s faithfulness.

Another person – a woman – has been living on the street for the past year, since she and her husband divorced. All four of her children have been living with her ex-husband. Her clothes and belongings which were being stored at a friend’s house, burned in the fire. I convince her to get some financial assistance, then volunteer her time helping at the evacuation center for the rest of the day. The other Red Cross workers say that was the most helpful suggestion I could have made. She became a different person.

A 3-year-old sits crying with red, swollen eyes from the smoke. She shivers in the cold evening air. Her mother has brought her and three other children to wade through the assistance application process. I am able to find warm jackets for each of them.

Then a nurse, Sherry, staffing the Red Cross station, takes a liking to me because I bring her people who need medical help. She asks me to eat with her during break at which time I ask her if she has a religious background. She tells me that she has a Catholic background but is no longer interested in Christianity. After sandwiching our conversation with non-religious talk, I interject how I also was raised in a mainline church, but that coming to know Jesus was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. It is the right opportunity to share with this Red Cross nurse and several others. They are very open because I am sharing in a non-confrontational way. Just by asking questions and sharing general things about my own background leads to their asking questions, which create ministry opportunities.

The nurse I met there, has written several times to let me know how she was encouraged and her life touched during our conversation and to thank me for the additional books and audio messages I have sent to her since then. She has kept in touch with my wife and me throughout the years.

Lakeside Center

The following day I am stationed at the Red Cross Center in Lakeside. Wildcat Canyon in Lakeside was another canyon area where the fire and wind combined to form a wind tunnel effect. Tragically, most of the people who died were from Wildcat Canyon. Several of the survivors gave me the following report:

About 2 a.m. on Sunday, they awoke to horns sounding from fleeing vehicles. Most said they had no warning as the fire quickly came upon them. With no electricity and 70 mph winds, they had to flee through darkness and smoke-filled air, making it virtually impossible to see as they drove out. Some did not make it and were consumed by the flames.

Many people describe fire tornados – fire spinning just like a tornado. They describe tumbleweeds catching on fire; the wind throwing them ablaze into the air a couple of hundred feet. Wherever one landed it would ignite and spread the fire.

I am the only Red Cross worker at Lakeside Center dealing with the hundreds of people who are coming in response to a Buddhist group distributing money to the victims. About 20 Buddhist workers are there giving out $500 checks to anyone who has lost a home. Over 200 families are represented, resulting in hundreds of people standing in line under the hot sun. I give out water and food, listening to their stories and encouraging them.

When the Buddhists are done with their work, I hand several of them my book, Faith Through the Fire, as well as pamphlets with my testimony. They ask if they may keep them and when I say, “Sure,” they are deeply appreciative and bow as they thank me. I am asked if I might be interviewed on camera for a program that will be aired on nationwide television in Taiwan – which I am happy to do. The interviewer asks what I am doing there, where I am from and about my organization. During the ten-minute interview I share about traveling the world, then give an overview of the ministry.

Ping Yao and Jennie, two Buddhist workers (see below photo) follow me to my car where I give them books and copies of my testimony. Upon receiving these materials, they are so excited that they take footage of the covers to air on their program! We are confident that God touched many lives through the books and testimony on Taiwanese television.

yellow car 0342Nicole is another who has lost her home. As I offer her counsel and try to arrange for food, clothes and financial aid, she tells me her story with tears flowing down her face. She works at Albertson’s grocery store and has a 15-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son. She lost everything when her apartment burned to the ground along with all the contents. There was no insurance; she was staying with friends. Her 17-year-old son was so distraught he ran away four days after the fire and she has not heard from him since. Her biggest fear is the uncertainty – not knowing what to do or where to go.

A firefighter comes up and thanks me for giving my time to help the people in his city. “No, ”I respond, “you are the one to be thanked for risking your life to put out these fires.”

I Know You

I approach a woman and offer her water and snacks while she waits in the hot sun to get financial aid. She looks intently at me and says, “Aren’t you Tabitha’s father? I heard you speak at my church.” Then she offers her own story – how she and her husband had lost everything in the fire. She is overjoyed to have, so unexpectedly, run into me, knowing I have come so far.

Shortly after, a young woman looking my way says, “I know you! I heard you speak and I have all of your books and love them!” Her name is Susie and her husband, Dave. Susie relates that hearing me speak was the best thing that ever happened in their Christian walk. She tells me that all my books were lost in the fire, but is ecstatic when I say I have replacement books in my car – for her.

Wayne looks like a skinny, old-hippy, mountain man and Susan looks like a flower child from the 60s. They invite me to go to the bar where all the bikers hang out – at least where it used to be. They still meet at the remains of the bar to drink beer and whiskey. She tells me to be sure to bring some beer and whiskey.

God Moments

I spot a man who looks rough and approach him to offer water and food. As he tells his story, I find he was an Army staff sergeant stationed in South Korea before retirement. He is most interested to learn that I had ministered to our military in South Korea several years ago. I asked if he is going to church. He says he is not, but that all of his family members are encouraging him to get back with the Lord and start attending church again. I say, “Tell your family that God sent a person all the way from Pennsylvania to meet you and tell you that it’s time for you to give your life back to the Lord and get back in church!” He smiles and assures me that he will do so.

Donna and Larry are staying with his brother Keith. Larry and Keith have not talked with each other in almost 10 years – primarily because they are both busy with their own lives. Now that Donna and Larry have lost their home, they are staying with Keith and his wife. Larry and Keith are having a wonderful time staying up until midnight, every night, talking and reminiscing about the past. Donna says to me, “Out of the bad, comes the good.”

Richard lives with his daughter and her husband and their four daughters. Joe, Richard’s daughter’s father-in-law, also lives with them. They have lost everything. They give an amazing account of how they escaped with no evacuation warning whatsoever. Hearing the horns of fleeing vehicles, they saw a wall of fire 200 feet high nearly on top of them! Richard says that since the fire, he hasn’t told anyone the things he is telling me. With tears in his eyes, but with deep thankfulness that he and his family are alive, he relives some of the horrible events.

Joe adds that they had only a few minutes to get out of the house and into their vehicles. He was trying to hose off the house when Richard screamed at him, “Joe, you are going to die!” Joe says those words stuck in his head; the heat so intense that his shirt nearly caught on fire and was steaming hot when he got into the vehicle. While speeding down the mountain from Wildcat Canyon through smoke, he passed three vehicles which had people inside who were incinerated.

Joe continued on, traveling 60 mph in their motor home. He swung around a corner to see, in the smoke, flashing lights and two fire trucks. When he slammed on the brakes, they locked up. He began sliding, certain he would hit the fire trucks and go up in flames. Instead, one fire truck happened to be pulling forward while the other was backing up! He slid right between them. Richard has no insurance and all he has are the clothes on his back. No clothes at the center fit him so I give him two of my shirts from my car. He is deeply appreciative.

At the End of the Day

… I went back to the Red Cross headquarters to report in. The Mental Health desk was right next to the Spiritual Care desk. In spite of the noisy room, one of the national directors of Mental Health overheard my report. He told me several accounts of first-hand (incredible) experiences over the years in dealing with people in other national disasters. He said, “There is no other explanation than that a Divine Being intervened.” I replied, “Maybe we need to switch you over from Mental Health to Spiritual Care.” He listened intently for several more minutes as I spoke of my faith in God.

Back at Lakeside on Friday (November 14) I dropped by to see how that center was doing. On Wednesday, with hundreds of people there, I had been the only Red Cross worker and the only chaplain. This day, there were five Red Cross workers and only about seven people needing help. I spent Saturday (November 15) at the Crest Emergency Relief Center. A woman said that out of the nine family homes in Crest, five were totally destroyed with only two left undamaged. Her own home and those of her two daughters were destroyed.burned house 0343

Eric (see above photo) was a 47-year-old man whose house had burned many years before, when he was in junior high school. His wife had divorced him in 1995 and now he had lost everything again in the fire that destroyed the house he was renting. He also lost his vehicle restoration business and four of his rare model cars were completely destroyed. Like so many others, he had no insurance. I told him that if I was in his place, I would begin the quest to discover if there was a God, if He was trying to get my attention and what He wanted me to learn through all of this. I gave him my audio message Knowing God.

My next encounter was with two women who seemed devastated. After talking to and praying with them, I asked what insight or lesson had they gained. One of the women said, “I am getting my life right with God and spending more time with my family.” I replied, “You have gained far more from your loss than you ever would have gained if the fire never occurred.” They both agreed.

I talked to dozens of others, including a well-known pastor of a very large church who was working at the same Red Cross Station. And Ed, a friend of the ministry, drove down from Oceanside to assist me in any way needed.

On Sunday (November 16) I attended church services in a tent in Harbison Canyon conducted by Mark, the pastor who lost his church and home in the fire.
John was a 72-year-old man from Portugal, living alone since his wife died five years previously. He thanked me 10 times for the help I provided. Because I had a badge that said, “Chaplain”, he thought I was Mr. Chaplain.

Scott, a retired Marine, suffered partial loss of his house but had a great attitude. His parents had been killed in a car accident when he was 11. He was put in an orphanage, but his younger brother and sister were adopted. His youthful anger led a judge to give him the option of going to prison or enlisting in the Marines. He said the Marines provided the discipline he needed and he is doing great. It was hard for him to say goodbye to me – and even harder when I told him I would be returning to Pennsylvania in a few days.

I also had the opportunity to share and minister to several Red Cross workers who were exhausted and emotionally burned out.

On Tuesday (November 18), before leaving for Pennsylvania, I went to Harbison Canyon to the burned down bar where people still met to drink. No one was there so I left some Courage to Stand Alone and God In The Storm audio messages.

Serving

It was a privilege to have served with the Red Cross and have such awesome opportunities to help, encourage and minister as a chaplain for two weeks to hundreds of people at several evacuation centers and also at the sites of their burned homes. So many more stories to tell.red cross 0347

There were also Christian organizations and churches such as Samaritan’s Purse, Billy Graham Association and Horizon Christian Fellowship who provided hundreds of local volunteers and equipment as well as others from out of state who assisted the fire victims in every way possible. As Christians we were able to offer both humanitarian aid and hope through Jesus Christ.

I was greatly encouraged by the victims’ courage, determination and attitude in the midst of such tragic loss. In spite of the heart-wrenching stories of devastation, there were many amazing accounts of divine protection and personal victories. Many testified of renewed faith, restored relationships, changed lifestyles, lessons learned, and new and rearranged priorities. For many, their gains were far greater than their losses. Out of the ashes came many people refined through the fire.

In the Aftermath

Following 9/11, a window opened temporarily in New York where you could talk to anybody about Jesus. So too, in California, this same door opened and virtually everyone I met was receptive to hearing about faith in Jesus Christ.

Everyday for weeks I had flashbacks in the daytime and dreams at night of the sights I saw, faces of the people I met and the stories they told me.

Also for weeks, because of the smoke and debris I inhaled, I spit up black phlegm; my lungs did not stop hurting and I was unable to get a full breath of air in my left lung until nearly four years later. Less than six months after our experience in the California wildfires (March 2004) Karen was diagnosed with cancer. I wonder if the trauma and stress of the fires and smoke did not contribute to it? (Fourteen years ago the oncologist gave her five years to live.)

Over the years, we have heard from many people who were victimized by the fires; of how the Lord has, and is, working in their lives. One woman now pastors a church; a couple who lost their baby served as missionaries to Africa; Todd, miraculously recovered, has two sons. He and his wife faithfully support BRM; Sherry the nurse, wrote every Christmas as she was able for many years. Here is one such letter:

Hi Bill, Just want to thank you so very much for the book and newsletters from your ministry – loved seeing the pictures of you and the memories it brought. Actually came at a perfect time as I am usually pretty “up” but had been feeling “down” – lifted my spirit greatly! I “re-listened” to the CD you had given me at the California wildfires. I felt a real bond with you from the minute we first spoke – guess God was trying to tell me something. I have been going to church pretty regularly for about two years. May God keep you safe in your travels in His work. Sherry L., San Diego

The “Great” Escape

by Bill Rudge

God in the Wildfires – Part 1

The neighborhoods and mountains were devastated as if by an atomic blast! Charred mountains and canyons lay as far as the eye could see. Over 3,500 houses were destroyed – most reduced to rubble and ash – along with ranks of burned cars and trucks, their windshields blown out. Billows of smoke blackened the daytime sky. Black soot covered everything in sight, creating a lunar landscape as out-of-control wildfires, exacerbated by Santa Ana winds, devastated an area equal in size to the state of Rhode Island.

The Rudges had just returned from ministering at US Army and Air Force bases in Germany and were in Southern California for further ministry when they found themselves under a mandatory evacuation order due to California’s most devastating wildfire in history. Shifting winds caused the raging flames to cut off many escape routes. Some people had already died trying to flee when the intense heat overtook them. Others lost all their worldly possessions in homes that had no insurance and faced an uncertain future. We prayed that daughter Tabitha’s home, which was in harm’s way, would be protected.

In the midst of this chaos, our faithful God provided not only a way of escape but avenues for ministry. Over the next two weeks, Bill Rudge had opportunities to minister to hundreds of people as a Red Cross Chaplain not only at several evacuation centers but also at the sites of their burned homes. He freely gave out hundreds of his books and audio messages to the fire victims who requested and received them gladly.

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Tabitha and Clayton’s neighborhood during the wildfires.

It was a beautiful and peaceful evening on Saturday, October 25, 2003 at my daughter and son-in-law’s home in Alpine, California – about 30 miles east of San Diego. As it was the last weekend in October, we turned the clocks back one hour before retiring. About 3 a.m. Sunday morning Tabitha woke me because the Santa Ana winds were gusting up to 70 mph – blowing the outside furniture and toys away.

There had been no significant rainfall in Southern California for over six months, creating perfect weather conditions for fire.

Glimpse of Revelation

In the morning, I went outside and saw billows of smoke to the north, west and south; looking as if atomic bombs had exploded! The sky became pitch black; the sun appeared red – it seemed like Armageddon. On a smaller scale I caught a glimpse of what it will be like all over the world during the Tribulation.

My son-in-law, Clayton, a California Highway Patrolman (CHP), had been out working the fire areas from Saturday night to Sunday morning and was exhausted. (He threw up three times from smoke inhalation.)

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Tabitha and Clayton’s house during the California wildfires.

As the fires burned ever nearer to their house, I stepped out in Tabitha’s driveway several times and raised my hands to the Lord, asking Him to spare this house because it was used for ministry purposes. At about 12:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 26, Clayton decided to take his family to Rich and Sunday Miller’s house in Mission Bay (on San Diego’s coast). I’d wanted to stay on at the house but Clayton insisted we follow in his car.

My son-in-law, daughter and two young grandchildren led out heading to Interstate 8 West. Karen and I followed in a 1995 Neon with a gas gauge that was not working – their two dogs in the backseat.

Only a few miles into the trip, Tabitha informed me they’d left the gas on at the house. I said I’d go back (in spite of Clayton’s warning not to do so) but wanted Karen to go with them. She insisted, however, on staying with me. At this point the flames were burning within 100 feet from where we stopped on the freeway. And I was about to learn an important lesson: Do not turn around!

Back at the house, I turned off the gas and closed all the windows, which Tabitha had opened because of the high winds earlier. Thank the Lord I did, or they would have sustained soot and smoke damage throughout the house. Meanwhile Karen heard on the news that I-8 was now closed to the west and fires were burning all over San Diego County.

We decided to stay and I got both dogs out of the car. Twenty minutes later, I saw an orange glow and flames just over the hill from Tabitha’s house. I went out in the driveway and again raised my hands to the Lord asking Him to spare this house.

Thirty minutes later, the Sheriff came through the neighborhood announcing a mandatory and immediate evacuation. I loaded Molly in the car but was unsuccessful in corralling Niki – a huge Siberian husky. After five minutes of chasing him around we had to leave. I prayed the Lord would somehow protect him. Firefighters and neighbors at the end of Tabitha’s street told us not to expect anything of our neighborhood to be left.

The Detour

We were uncertain of where to go and even how to get there. The only place the fires were not yet burning was to the east, taking us farther from our daughter and her family.

It took us one hour to go merely a quarter mile in bumper-to-bumper traffic while leaving Alpine. Clayton told me via cell phone to leave his car and RUN because the flames could quickly overtake us from the unpredictable winds that were gusting up to 70 mph. He said people had been incinerated while trying to escape in their cars. Since we were stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, he told me to take his gun from the trunk, strap it around my shoulder and abandon the car. But where could we go without a car? So we stayed with the car.

The sky was ominous with billows of smoke. Fleeing the approaching wildfires, traffic was often at a standstill so you could get out of your car. I told people we met that we were catching a glimpse of Revelation and that the Biblical account is accurate regarding its description of destruction on earth during the Tribulation (Joel 2:30, 31; Revelation 6:12; 8:7, 11, 12).

I had recently read Fox’s Book of Martyrs and also had watched videos about Christian martyrs such as John Huss and others who were burned at the stake or tortured with fire, so I had vivid mental pictures of what fire and smoke could do to humans.

Karen was crying and calling BJ and Tabitha and other family members to say goodbye. However, I assured them I had total peace and knew the Lord would keep us safe and also protect Tabitha and Clayton’s house. Looking back though, it appeared to us that Tabitha’s house was in flames and smoke! We prayed several more times that the house would be spared.

In one moment, it seemed Karen and I were safe, secure and comfortable; yet in the next moment we were fleeing for our lives – without food, water, shelter or a bed.

Still caught in the bumper-to-bumper traffic, hot ashes were falling all around us and our eyes and lungs were burning from smoke. Once again, I assured Clay and BJ that we would be safe. Tabitha was very upset because she felt she’d sent us back to her house. Unable to go west, we headed east in hopes of reaching the home of Sue and Doug, friends of Tabitha who told her we could stay with them.

When we finally got out of Alpine and onto 8 East we saw a woman standing along the freeway near a motor home. She looked distraught and was staring back at Alpine watching the fire. Karen and I stopped and stood with her. She had fled Alpine when the canyons around her house burst into flames; she was certain her brand new house had burned to the ground. Her husband had gone back to get their truck, which was loaded with personal items. I prayed with her that her husband and house would be safe. About a minute after praying she was elated to see her husband drive up in the truck.

Sue and Doug, whose house we were hoping to reach, lived in Mt. Laguna in Cleveland National Forest, about 25 miles east of Alpine. It was dark by the time we drove the last ten miles to their house in the mountains – on unfamiliar winding roads.

We faced several other challenges. Our cell phone battery was dying but Karen tried one more time to call Sue for her address. As soon as Karen got it, the phone went dead! Although the gas gauge was not working, we knew we were almost out because Clayton kept a record of his mileage so he would know when to fill up. With electricity out (no street or house lights) it was pitch-black in the mountains. I stopped at a fire station near Sue’s house to call and ask her husband to stand at their road with a flashlight so we could find them.

Sue and Doug were using candles to light their house and were hosting another displaced couple. In the course of the evening Sue asked me how I came to faith and we all talked together for over an hour as I shared my testimony.

Early the next morning, I felt led to drive back to Alpine. I wanted to check on Tabitha’s house, then make our way the 30 miles west to Miller’s, but knew it would be difficult since so many roads were closed. The thick smoke made daylight seem like night.

At their insistence, we left Molly (who looked like a coyote) at Doug and Sue’s in case we had to walk to Alpine because of blocked roads or if we ran out of gas.

We wound our way down the 10 miles of mountain roads and then took U.S. Route 80 heading west. However, seven miles from Alpine, this highway was closed as well as 8 West. Taking the only road left open, sent us south toward the nearby Mexican border. I was concerned that should the road take us into Mexico, having a gun in the trunk could mean life imprisonment there. Not knowing the road, we were relieved to finally see a sign indicating 16 miles to Alpine, so we continued on. Ours was the only vehicle on the road.

About four miles from Alpine, airborne ash and smoke were so thick, I thought we might have to turn back, yet I knew that could be dangerous too. I expected our tires to melt at any moment as hot ashes rained down all over and around us. I apologized to Karen for getting her into this if anything should happen, but still felt the Lord would get us through. Then in the distance – out of nowhere – I saw three pickup trucks and followed them right into Alpine! A few hours later, the entire area through which we’d just driven was consumed by fire – as we would have been if we had run out of gas or broken down.

Alpine was abandoned except for a few vehicles. It looked like a ghost town. As we drove down Tabitha’s road we prayed their house would still be standing. From a distance I saw that it was! We rejoiced and thanked God. It was covered with ash, but untouched by the fire. We were elated to see Kacy Magnett, Tabitha’s good friend and one of our volunteer staff, pull up to Tabitha’s house with her daughter. They had slept in their house last night in Alpine since her husband Terry could not get home because I-8 was closed. Niki the dog was also safe, taking refuge in a storm drainage pipe.

We could not stay in Alpine because the air was still too thick with smoke and ash so we got on I-8 going west and met Clay at the CHP office in El Cajon to switch vehicles and give him his gun and belongings. Clay hugged me three times.

After leaving Tabitha’s and while on 8 West, helicopters flew 100 feet overhead dropping water on burning fires. The smoke was very thick all the way for 30 miles from Alpine west to San Diego. (The hazardous air quality lasted for days.)

Rich and Sunday hosted thirteen people (including two pregnant women and three toddlers), two cats and two dogs in their home which at that time only had three bedrooms and one bath.

Full Circle

The one road in and out of the mountains which we had traveled to stay the night was shut down the very next day due to fire. It would have taken us two or more days to get to the Miller’s if we’d had to go another way.

I was scheduled to fly to Pennsylvania on Monday but my flight was cancelled. On Tuesday I went to a one-hour Red Cross training for volunteers, followed by a one-hour chaplain training session.

The people of California and the Red Cross workers were amazed that being from Pennsylvania, a refuge of the fire myself and staying at a temporary shelter, I should serve as chaplain to other fire victims. Truly, the Lord orchestrated this ministry opportunity. Some of the people affected by the California wildfires had, a few years earlier, come east to help at the 9/11 terrorist site. Now I was able to return the favor.

On Wednesday I took eight hours of Red Cross Mass Care Training. KC Hutter, owner of Dirt Cheap Car Rental, gave me free usage of a yellow convertible Mustang. (I wanted something more conservative but she insisted I “deserved” this vehicle.)

On Thursday we moved back into Tabitha’s house. With no telephone service or electricity, we had to throw out all the food in the refrigerator. We had a cell phone, but no way to charge it.

That same day, Karen and I went down Stagecoach Road to see Susan (the woman we’d met on 8 East when the canyons around her house were burning). She was overjoyed to see us, and we were overjoyed to see that her beautiful new house was still standing. The fire came within 20 feet of it and the canyon burned on three sides, but her house remained untouched. I gave her a copy of my book, Faith Through the Fire and a pamphlet copy of my testimony which she enthusiastically received.

During the following days I had hundreds of ministry opportunities. Next month I will share some of the amazing stories and exciting opportunities during the devastating wildfires.

The WHYS of Adversities

by Bill Rudge

Bringing Difficulties On Ourselves

We make choices all the time: what we eat, where we go and what we do. Sometimes we suffer the consequences of those choices, such as the young man who called in despair because choices he made require him to appear before a judge who will determine jail time or probation.

Natural Consequences

If I get too close to the edge of a cliff, I am going to fall off. I did not fall because Satan pushed me over or God is punishing me. I violated the law of gravity and suffered the natural consequences.

Spiritual Warfare

There is a real enemy who seeks to defeat and destroy every person committed to Jesus Christ. When we face spiritual warfare, it can become intense. Bizarre things can happen with little or no explanation. At these times we must know the authority we have as believers in Jesus Christ and how to use the armor of God and the sword of the Spirit.

Refining and Molding

Scripture is clear that God purifies and prepares His people. Anyone used by God will go through wilderness experiences to be trained to stand in the midst of life’s challenges and temptations. Just like a soldier is prepared for battle, believers are trained through difficulties to face any circumstance. It has been accurately stated that there is no testimony without a test.

Discerning the Difference

When adverse circumstances rise up and I go through the “flames” of life, I get on my knees and ask, “Lord, is there sin in my life? Am I reaping the consequences of some attitude or choice I made in disobedience to Your Word and Spirit? If so, I repent. Otherwise, I evaluate whether this is “the rain that falls on the just and the unjust” or am I in the midst of spiritual warfare. Has the enemy targeted me and designed a scenario to discourage and defeat me and thwart God’s plan for my life? If this is not the case, I realize that God is doing a work in me and I am going through a season of refining. Therefore, I submit to the process and ask Him to strengthen my trust in Him as He fulfills His purpose to use me as a testimony for His glory.