Because of Christmas, the life of a rebellious teenager on a path to destruction was saved.
A liar, cheat, thief, and vandal, arrogant and profane, this searching person was dramatically transformed. Only the love and forgiveness of Christ can change a deceiver into a person of integrity who freely gives of his time, resources and services to help others instead of hurting them. Only Jesus can take someone from hitchhiking across the country, hostile toward God, to traveling throughout the world proclaiming Him; or inspire someone voted least likely to succeed in motivating multitudes to reach their maximum potential.
Why would any reasonable person oppose the message of Christ’s birth?
Open your New Testament to the book of Luke and learn all about Jesus’ coming. Then continue through the book of John to discover who this Jesus is. Christ just may become the joy and passion of your life as He has come to be in mine. Merry Christmas!
– Bill Rudge
The following poem was found on the body of a nineteen-year-old American soldier in Vietnam.
Look God: I have never spoken to You,
But now I want to say, “How do You do.”
You see God, they told me You did not exist;
And, like a fool, I believed all of this.
Last night from a shell hole I saw Your sky;
I figured right then they had told me a lie.
Had I taken the time to see the things You made,
I would know they weren’t calling a spade a spade.
I wonder, God, if You would shake my hand;
Somehow, I feel that You will understand.
Strange, I had to come to this hellish place
Before I had time to see Your face.
Well, I guess there isn’t much more to say,
But I am sure glad, God, I met You today.
I guess the zero hour will soon be here,
But I am not afraid since I know You are near.
The signal – well, God, I will have to go;
I love You lots, this I want You to know.
Looks like this will be a horrible fight;
Who knows, I may come to Your house tonight.
Though I wasn’t friendly with You before,
I wonder, God, if You would wait at the door.
Look, I am crying, me shedding tears!
I wish I had known You these many years.
Well, I will have to go now, God. Goodbye—
Strange, since I met You, I am not afraid to die.
Reprinted from the Jesus People Newsletter, Volume 47, Issue 2, Sacramento, California.
While most people thought the goals and vision of Bill and Karen Rudge could never be achieved, Bill and Karen believed God would fulfill what He led them to do. In August of 1977, while in their mid twenties, God led them to start a unique ministry that was destined to become an international outreach. With no money or facilities, they began an incredible journey of faith.
Many of you are witnesses of the miraculous ways the Lord has worked in and through their lives and ministry. You know about the “giants”– the impossible circumstances and obstacles the Lord has enabled them to overcome.
Some of you were there when God literally stopped the rain and thunderstorms from preventing ministry events and outreaches. Others of you observed God’s mighty hand of protection as you traveled with Bill to mission fields or on other dangerous ventures.
Most of you are aware of the numerous times, over the years, Bill and Karen were in need of a financial miracle or when they stepped out in faith to begin building projects. Some of you were eyewitnesses to the astonishing ways the Lord provided the land and enabled the building of two ministry centers primarily with the help of volunteers and without paying any interest. Most of you have read about; some of you can verify and attest to, miraculous interventions the Lord did in seemingly impossible situations (see Bill’s book, Overcoming Giants).
Many of you remember that in spite of the previous ministry building being unsold, Bill and Karen stepped out in faith and constructed a new facility. Then, on the very day they began moving items into the completed new facility, the former ministry center was sold.
As a crucial part in God’s provision for the needs of this ministry during its 42 years of existence, you have enabled this dream of taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth to become a reality. But it is one thing to dream, and quite another to live by faith day after day and year after year – often confronting overwhelming obstacles. Yet, Bill and Karen have dared to trust the Lord, walk in obedience to His Word, be led by His Spirit, and persevere in faith and determination until His purposes were fulfilled.
Throughout their lives, Bill and Karen have witnessed the Lord’s protection in some incredible ways:
• Bill nearly froze to death in New Mexico less than a week before his conversion – but God dramatically rescued him.
• As a brand new Christian, a car battery exploded in his face – a miracle he was not blinded. (Years later, Bill’s youngest brother was told by a woman who witnessed the explosion, “Your brother should be blind!”)
• Shortly after start of Bill Rudge Ministries, Karen’s life-threatening liver disease suddenly disappeared.
• A shattered left ankle in the early days could have wiped out various aspects of the ministry such as Bill’s fitness and defense classes, school demos, soccer training and the obstacle course.
• Bill and Karen’s then two young children and three of their friends became separated from a group and wandered the streets of New York City by themselves for hours.
• An attempted abduction of their preteen daughter was thwarted by a friend who pulled her free from a man trying to drag her into a van.
• Armed guards in Jordan threatened to abduct their 13-year-old daughter from a bus.
• Bill has been in several near-tragic accidents, including a violent four-vehicle collision with his family while traveling through Oregon following a speaking engagement in British Columbia.
• Bill clearly heard a voice say “Stop!” as he began to pull into an intersection in Jackson Center seconds before a semi-truck whizzed by within a few feet of his vehicle.
• Placing his hand on the door handle of his vehicle in the middle of the night, leaving to meet with a former prisoner who called for help, Bill distinctly heard the word “Ambush.” He fell on his knees and prayed, then continued alone to what proved to be a set up from which only God could have delivered him.
• In Nigeria, Bill and his assistant were surrounded by 15 agitated and aggressive street people.
• In Haiti, Bill, his son, and two other team members were surrounded by approximately 40 hostile Haitians leaving a voodoo ceremony late at night.
• Over the years, Bill has traveled in several Middle East countries during threatened attacks against U.S. citizens.
• The first female suicide bomber detonated herself at the exact site Bill and his associates had stood just 23 hours earlier after speaking to a Messianic congregation in Jerusalem.
• Bill and his 13-year-old son were nearly struck by a speeding bus in the mountains of northern India: It slid to a stop just two feet in front of them.
• Bill was nearly shot during a conflict at a cult complex in West Virginia where later remains of murdered bodies were found.
• While leading a feared voodoo witch doctor to the Lord, Bill, the interpreter, and the witch doctor were supernaturally protected from being attacked by three angry men armed with machetes and a lead pipe.
• The vehicle in which Bill, his son-in-law, nephew, and Indian host were traveling came within inches of going over the edge of the Himalayan mountains.
• Bill and two others were smuggled in and out of a country where it was forbidden to share the Gospel under penalty of prison or death.
• Karen and Bill faced great peril when trapped in the California wildfires.
• Karen was diagnosed with cancer fifteen years ago and told she only had five years to live.
• Bill was bitten by a brown recluse spider – one of the most poisonous in the United States. Trapper John said, “Everyone I know who has been bitten by a brown recluse spider lost all or part of a limb or has a hole in their leg or arm. Bill does not have even a mark on his finger. It is truly a miracle.”
• Greg Callahan sent Bill a letter concerning an incident that happened when they were youths at B Street Playground in Sharon. He wrote:
Tonight as I was reading your book it came back to me about when you had a card game where you would flip cards and bet you knew which card was mine. Well, you got me. But what truly puts a tear in my eye is that we used to stack those picnic tables three high and play cards on top of the third one. They were large and heavy picnic tables which took several guys to move. One day you and I were sitting on one side of the picnic table stacked three high and somehow it went tumbling over. Those tables had to weigh at least a couple hundred pounds and we fell quite a ways. We were both sitting with our feet under the table so that when it fell there was no way out! When we hit the cement floor the seat hit first so that we didn’t get crushed. It just amazes me that we could have been killed or crippled all those years ago, but by the grace of God nothing happened and here we are today.
The Lord’s Assurance
Early in his ministry the Lord assured Bill that his life would not be taken until God’s purpose was fulfilled. Bill has faced life threatening situations throughout his ministry and during many of his adventurous mission trips to dangerous countries throughout the world. He has often been in potentially explosive situations: Threatened, surrounded, attacked; had spells put on him – even “prophecies” for his destruction. But the God of the Bible has either given him the wisdom for how to deal with them, or has intervened to protect him.
He holds victory in store for the upright, He is a shield to those whose walk is blameless, for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of His faithful ones. Proverbs 2:7, 8
This does not mean we will never be injured, attacked, or even lose our lives, but the Lord will be with us and bring ultimate victory out of every adverse circumstance.
What More Shall We Say?
Time and space does not permit us to tell of all the miraculous events initiating our radio ministry and military outreaches; or the amazing way God used Gabriel (General Secretary of the Federation of Evangelical Churches of India) to open doors to begin our international outreach (precisely 10 years from the start of the ministry) fulfilling exactly Bill’s initial goals and vision for the ministry.
Nor does it permit us to tell (in this issue) of how the Lord enabled Bill – at no financial cost to the ministry – to fulfill the goal of blitzing the world with the Gospel in 2000. Or of many other astonishing feats and exploits the Lord has done through this ministry.
Those who honor Me I will honor. 1 Samuel 2:30
From the very beginning of this ministry, Bill and Karen’s desire has been to honor the Lord. As a result, God’s blessings (along with the difficulties) have far surpassed anything they might have imagined.
This journey is testimony to God’s grace and faithfulness. The Lord has protected, provided and fulfilled everything He has led them to do. These, and other miraculous events are recorded in a history of the ministry notebook entitled The Impossible. A future book will share in more detail these amazing accounts of what the Lord has accomplished in making the impossible possible.
In sharing these highlights we want to encourage you, to build your faith and to testify of the faithfulness of our God. As the apostle Paul said in Romans 15:17, 18:
Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me….
Don’t compare yourself to others or attempt to imitate them. Just follow the path the Lord has for you.
Bill Rudge surrendered his life to Jesus Christ on May 23, 1971 at the age of 18 after hitchhiking across the country. He has never wavered in that commitment – the wisest and most courageous decision of his life. His walk with the Lord has proven that it takes more strength, determination and self-control to live for Christ than any other lifestyle available. And it has been the most exciting adventure imaginable!
by Bill Rudge
No news from Karen is good news regarding BRM finances! But on Wednesday, October 31, 2018, Karen informed me that we needed $1,163 from Emergency Funds to cover October’s remaining expenses. Since we had to leave for Franklin, Pennsylvania for the District 10 Girls’ Soccer Championship, we were unable to get to the bank before closing. No one knew of this need outside Karen and me. Halfway to Franklin I received a call from a friend of the ministry. She shared in a follow-up e-mail:
It was about the middle of October when I was looking for a card for my granddaughter at the store. Bill and Karen’s son, BJ, walked by me and gently tapped me on the shoulder and said hello. I replied “hello” and after a few other words we went our separate ways. It remained with me that just the simple gesture of a touch on the shoulder can be so meaningful. It made me want to show the same kindness to others.
At the end of October, I was sorting money that is received from the sale of snacks and drinks at our work place. I usually never have time to roll the loose coins but was able to this time. While sorting and wrapping the coins I felt God speak to me that I needed to take the box of coins and money to Bill Rudge. Keep in mind it was after 3:00 p.m. and I had a busy evening ahead. I thought about taking it the next day but felt God urge me to take it that evening. It was after 4:00 p.m. when I got to the ministry and it was closed. I called Bill’s cell phone and reached both him and Karen as they were driving to Franklin.
I explained why I was calling. We were interrupted several times due to poor reception but by then I was determined to finish my mission as God instructed me. Bill informed me that they did have a special need to end the month but would not tell me the amount. I placed the money box in a secure location Bill advised me to use and prayed it would help toward the deficiency they were facing for October. I honestly did not believe there would be enough money in the box but God knew and whether God multiplied it overnight I do not know.
I was driving the next morning when Bill called to inform me how much was in the box ($1,177) so I pulled my car over to the side of the road and I am glad I did. Bill explained exactly how much was needed ($1,163) and that there was $14.00 left over towards November. God never ceases to amaze me! HE knows all and there is no coincidence with the time-line of events leading up to this. I am thankful I could help Bill and that I listened and followed God’s urging. I encourage everyone to be obedient to God’s call.
This “miracle” would have never happened if this woman was not sensitive and obedient to God’s Spirit, or if all our other ministry supporters had not previously sent in their donations (both large and small). A heart-felt thanks to all of you for your generous, faithful and sacrificial giving!
“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.
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.
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.
Nicole 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
by Bill Rudge
After a woman used crude language several times during our conversation I said to her:
“I wallowed in the filth of my lifestyle and language for many years. But the Lord in His mercy reached down and changed my life and cleaned up my vocabulary. Why do I want to regress back into the muck from which He delivered me?”
That caused her to stop and think. It then created an opportunity for me to share the Gospel with her to which she listened intently. A few months later in her home she got down on her knees and gave her life to Jesus Christ.