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.

You Say… But God Says…

Your Circumstances May Say

It is impossible.  Things are hopeless.  I can’t go on.  It is never going to work out.

God’s Word Says

All things are possible to him who believes. (Mark 9:23)

The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. (Hebrews 13:6)

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:13)

God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Bill Rudge

Don’t Quit

When things go wrong as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
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

How Much God Loves Us

by Bill Rudge

Daily I get a glimpse of how much God must love each and every one of His children. The following are just a few examples using my 11 grandchildren to reveal my love and enjoyment of them and how much I miss them when I am not with them.

When my 18 year old granddaughter left for college in August or previously sang for a Memorial Day Program or church services before I spoke…

When my 16 year old grandson works out with me on the obstacle course and then hangs out with me after and gives bear hugs before leaving…

When my 15 year old granddaughter asks me to play catch with the football or play basketball with her…

When my 14 year old granddaughter shared her testimony and wrote a story about her papa or sang before I spoke at the Salvation Army…

When my 13 year old granddaughter cut her long beautiful hair and donated it for wigs for cancer patients or received a special award for kindness at school…

When my 11 year old grandson asks me to sit beside him in a hammock so we can “shoot the breeze” or walks the West Hill with me and his cousin, thrilled by the stories from my youth…

When my 8 year old granddaughter smiled angelically as she bowed with perfect form after performing at a piano recital or laughs while I fly her through the air during a blanket ride…

When my 7 year old granddaughter holds my hand and arm tightly while walking through a dark hallway or asks me to tell her a story as we go on another “Papa Adventure” from my childhood or walks on her hands while I hold her feet…

When my 5 year old granddaughter is carried by me upstairs to bandage her left knee after she cut it running to the jumpy house, or after spilling something smiles at me when she realizes she is not in trouble or when we swing together…

When my 4 year old granddaughter cuddles up to me and wraps her arms around my neck and kisses me lightly on the cheek as she says, “I love you papa” then curls up under my arm and falls asleep or talks to me about Jesus and the Bible…

When my 3 year old granddaughter giggles in my arms when I tell her to go down the slide or while putting her head under water in the pool or while going through the tickle tunnel…

These are just a few of the countless times I get a glimpse and am reminded of how much our Heavenly Father loves each of His children and receives joy from a close relationship with each one of us.

A Heart of Thankfulness

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Lucas Rudge, surrounded by his family.

by BJ Rudge, Ph.D.

I was reminded of the importance of having a heart of thankfulness when my father and I had a conversation about the birth of my son Lucas. When my wife, Tara, was pregnant with him, she was diagnosed with group B strep. We were told it was not serious, but it would require her to receive an antibiotic a few hours before Lucas would be born. My wife was somewhat concerned because with the previous pregnancy, our daughter was born within just a few hours. In light of this, she worried about making certain she could get the antibiotic prior to delivering our son. To ease her anxiety the doctor told Tara she would induce her so there would be no concern about getting the antibiotic. The day set for her to be induced was about a week before her actual due date, and other than the need for the antibiotic, my wife was progressing well. The doctor had no problem inducing a week early. Everything went well that day.

Tara took the antibiotic, and labor (at least from my standpoint) moved along smoothly. During the birth the doctor noticed the cord was wrapped around my son’s neck, and she quickly removed it. In the excitement of having another child, I didn’t think too much at the time about potential implications of the cord being around his neck. It was not until later, discussing this with my wife and my dad, that we all realized we could have lost Lucas. I truly believe that if my wife had not been induced a week early, my son might not be here today. I finally did what I should have done at the moment he was born – I got down on my knees and thanked the Lord!

When my son was born, it was a rainy and overcast day. However, at the moment he was born, the doctor commented how the sun suddenly came out and shone through the window. What a reminder to us of God’s faithfulness as He blessed our lives with our son Lucas (which, by the way, means “light bearer”). His birth date also was a blessing to my father. It was on that same date, July 5 – but decades prior – that his little brother, at age seven, was struck and killed by a car.

An Attitude of Contentment

When I was in Haiti as a youth, I witnessed both an amazing expression of gratitude and the demonstration of contentment. The mission compound where we stayed took food and water to a remote village once a week. This tiny village was extremely poor and the people had to walk miles to get water. As we approached, I was struck by two images: the first was of extreme poverty and the dire conditions in which the people lived. Their village was situated along a dirt path with minimal vegetation. The huts were made of dirt, straw, and what appeared to be old tin metal sheets. The children were running around naked and the adults were wearing tattered clothes.

Second, along with the extreme poverty, I was struck by the faces of the people as we entered the village. They began to smile and wave as they ran towards their huts. They came out wearing their best (old and worn-out) clothes as they headed to the one-room church that had been built near the mission compound. As we walked into the church they were singing a song. I asked our interpreter what they were singing, and he said, “They are thanking God for all He had given them.” I looked around and thought to myself, “What things?” These people had no houses, no cars, barely any food or clothes, and lived in a hot and extremely dusty environment. How could they be thankful?

Then I realized that a thankful heart does not focus on what it lacks but is content with, and grateful for, what it has. As the apostle Paul reminded the believers in Philippi:

I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).

An attitude of contentment moves our focus from circumstance to our Source of Strength. It reminds us that we serve a God Who is greater than anything we face, and as the Psalmist reminds us, His greatness is the reason we can have a heart of thankfulness:

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord
is a great God and a great King above all gods.
Psalm 95:2, 3

The preceding was excerpted from BJ’s new E-book, “Powerful and Effective Prayer.”

Kids’ Corner

Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Author Unknown

The following lighthearted humor was contributed by one of our supporters in California, Diana Trepesowsky.  Thank you, Diana.

• A mother was preparing pancakes for her sons, Kevin 5, and Ryan 3. The boys began to argue over who would get the first pancake. Their mother saw the opportunity for a moral lesson. “If Jesus were sitting here, He would say, ‘Let my brother have the first pancake, I can wait.’” Kevin turned to his younger brother and said, “Ryan, you be Jesus!” Author Unknown

• A father was at the beach with his children when the four-year-old son ran up to him, grabbed his hand, and led him to the shore where a seagull lay dead in the sand. “Daddy, what happened to him?” the son asked. “He died and went to Heaven,” the Dad replied. The boy thought a moment and then said, “Did God throw him back down?” Author Unknown

• A wife invited some people to dinner. At the table, she turned to their six-year-old daughter and said, “Would you like to say the blessing?” “I wouldn’t know what to say,” the girl replied. “Just say what you hear Mommy say, the wife answered. The daughter bowed her head and said, “Lord, why on earth did I invite all these people to dinner?” Author Unknown

Praise the Lord

by Karen Rudge

Two weeks before leaving for our Israel trip I was in a lot of pain and had the flu which went into bronchitis. I had a lot of ministry work to do before leaving and was praying I would be able to go. Many people were also praying for me. The Lord spoke to my heart to listen to praise music and praise Him.

It is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and praise is beautiful. (Psalm 147:1)

When I felt the most pain or sickness I would leave my office and go listen to praise music, pray and praise the Lord. The pain would lessen and I had enough energy to finish the work needed for that day. Praise the Lord! I was able to go to Israel with virtually no pain or sickness.

J. C. Penney was a business man who lost everything in the 1930’s to the Great Depression. He became ill and sank to such a low depression that he was admitted to the hospital. He felt he was going to die. Then one morning he heard singing coming from the hospital chapel. As he listened the words began to sink into his soul:

Be not dismayed whatever betide, God will take care of you; Beneath His wings of love abide, God will take care of you.

Instantly the darkness left him and he said there was a warm and brilliant sunlight. It was then he became a born again Christian. From that day on he never worried. He said the 20 minutes of the chapel songs were so glorious it changed his life. When he died at age 99 he left 1660 department stores in his name.

Praising the Lord can lift anyone out of a deep sorrow, sickness or anxiety:

Let them praise His name with the dance; Let them sing praises to Him with the timbrel and harp. For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; He will beautify the humble with salvation. Let the saints be joyful in glory; Let them sing aloud on their beds. (Psalm 149:3-5)

Examining the Evidence

by Bill Rudge

“Be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks the reason for the hope you have.” 1 Peter 3:15

With so many religious and philosophical options to choose from, why are you a Christian? Is it because you’re convinced that Jesus Christ is who He claims to be and that the Bible is the unique revelation of God?

1 Peter 3:15 encourages us:

Always be prepared to give an answer [make a defense] to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.

The Quest

I shared Christ with a young man to whom I was giving a ride. He said, “Bill, don’t waste your time. I don’t believe in Jesus Christ, and I don’t believe in the Bible.” I responded, “That’s fine Dan. You have a right to believe whatever you want, but don’t be so foolish as to reject the Bible and Jesus Christ without first examining the overwhelming evidence.”

I then shared with him some of the archaeological discoveries that have established the historical accuracy of innumerable biblical details, as well as the scientific evidence, and the accuracy and superiority of biblical health and nutrition principles. I shared some of the messianic prophecies in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) that had been made at least 400 years before Christ walked on earth, explaining the mathematical impossibility for anyone to fulfill just a few of these prophecies, yet Jesus fulfilled them all. I explained to him how the evidence of the resurrection is undeniable and asked him what other religious leader has an empty tomb.

I asked Dan to consider the numerous biblical prophecies written almost 2,000 years ago concerning the end times in which we are now living – prophecies foretelling a one-world government, a one-world monetary system, and a one-world religion. The specific details and exactness of these and many other prophecies that are being fulfilled right before our eyes would have been impossible to foretell without divine inspiration.

Finally, I shared the reality of Jesus Christ through the tremendous way in which He has transformed my life and millions of others throughout history, as well as the miraculous interventions the Lord has done in my life and ministry. These evidences and many more are the reasons why I gave my life to Christ.

The Three Questions

I didn’t believe in Jesus Christ and become a Christian out of random chance or haphazard choice. Initially, there was an intentional bias on my part and a deliberate rejection of Him due to lifestyle choices, ulterior motives, or being unable to resolve the conflict of a loving God with the suffering and death I was witnessing.

Lasting fulfillment always eluded me despite all my searching which either proved insufficient or led to a dead end. My restless heart and relentless quest for truth and purpose forced me to honestly consider three crucial questions:

1) Is there a God? If there isn’t, then I can live any way I want. However, my search and research convinced me there is a Creator.

2) If there is a God, are there many ways or only one way to this Supernatural Being? After examining the evidence I was convinced there is only one way to God – through Jesus Christ.

3) How do I come to know God and what does He require of me? My spiritual journey proved fruitful. I could not deny the truth. At age 18 I became an ardent believer in and follower of Jesus Christ as my Savior and Lord. God’s Spirit began to transform my life as I spent time in Scripture, prayer, and fasting and started living by the biblical principles I will be sharing in upcoming newsletters.

I have grown in my faith over the years and my continuing investigation and research confirms the wisdom of committing my life to Jesus Christ. There is only One before Whom I willingly bend my knee and bow. To Him alone do I entrust my life, my future, and my eternal destiny!

Excerpted from Reaching Your Maximum Potential in Christ (which is being updated and expanded for its third printed edition and E-book).