Recovered Memories

August 1, 2013 • United States

Samaritan’s Purse volunteers helped families who lost their homes to the Colorado wildfires by finding cherished items

Duane and Elenah Reynolds did not expect to find much, if anything, in the rubble of their home destroyed by the Black Forest Fire in Colorado. But they did hope to recover a few precious mementos.

One was a small gold coin given to Elenah in 1972 by the last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie. She received the coin as a gift of appreciation for her work with the Ethiopian Ministry of Public Health.

“It’s been in her jewelry case since the 1970’s,” Duane said. “I haven’t seen it probably in 30 years, but it was one of the things that was really, really, really important to us. And we were sure it was gone.”

When Samaritan’s Purse volunteers arrived to help the couple search through the ashes—all that remained of their home of three decades—Duane asked them to look for the coin and pointed out where the jewelry case was situated in the house.

8-1-13-colorado-fire-ashesTwo ladies went to work, kneeling on their hands and knees in the pile of ashes for about three hours. It seemed an impossible task. Most aluminum and pewter items in the house had melted into hardened globs. But the Ethiopian coin not only was found, but looked shiny and new.

Duane could hardly believe it.

“It was amazing to find some of that stuff that survived,” he said.

The Black Forest Fire was the most destructive in Colorado history. It burned 16,000 acres in nine days in June, destroying more than 500 homes, killing two, and forcing thousands to flee.

8-1-13-colorado-fire-siftingSamaritan’s Purse staff and equipment arrived in the area on June 19, and stayed for six weeks. More than 2,450 volunteers, working out of our base at Mountain Springs Church in Colorado Springs, helped 151 homeowners like the Reynolds by sorting through the rubble and sifting the ashes, looking for anything that could be salvaged.

At every home site, the volunteers were able to minister to people dealing with the pain of losing not just a house but precious belongings. In the Reynolds’ case, it was a carved giraffe bought on a memorable trip from Ethiopia to Kenya, a large rug that took orphans in Ethiopia a year to make by hand, plus possessions from Reynolds’ brother, who died in Beirut in 1986.

“To think that stuff like that is gone … it hurts,” Duane said. “It’s memories. We had a lot of stuff in that house, after 45 years of marriage, and it’s just ashes. It hurts something terrible.”

Duane said he didn’t know what he would have done without the Samaritan’s Purse volunteers who helped with the physical task of looking through the debris.

“I can’t sit down there and sift the ashes of that house,” he said. “My wife is half a cripple, and she can’t breathe up here. We couldn’t do it.”

Because of health problems, the couple plans to move to Massachusetts. They already bought a house, and were days from closing on the sale of their Colorado house before it burned to the ground. Insurance won’t cover the loss.

8-1-13-colorado-fire-stories“Life is very confusing right now,” Duane said. “I don’t want to cry sob stories about the whole thing, but it is very frustrating.”

In the midst of all the difficulties Samaritan’s Purse volunteers helped with more than just the physical aspects of the cleanup process. As they brought recovered items to the Reynolds, they took the time to listen to their stories about the things found and the things lost.

“None of these people know who I am, who my wife is, where we came from or anything, and they are out there sweating and digging our treasures out of the ashes—(things that) don’t mean anything to anyone (else), “ Duane said.

When the team presented the couple with a Bible signed by the volunteers, Elenah thanked them all.

8-1-13-colorado-fire-reynolds“The things you have found are just incredible,” she said. “I’m going to have a special shelf where anyone who walks in our house will see this (Bible) and all the things that you have found for us. You are a wonderful group. I appreciate everything you have done and so does Duane more than you know. It’s beautiful.”

One of the precious items recovered from the ashes was a cross necklace Elenah had bought in Ethiopia. A local goldsmith had hand-sculpted a replica of an ancient Coptic cross for her, and Reynolds said she had worn it almost daily ever since. About a month before the fire, the necklace had been lost in the house. But a volunteer found the irreplaceable cross in good condition.

The memories the volunteers were able to recover for every homeowner we helped stand as a testimony of God’s grace and the hope only He can give in hard times.