Today marks the 26th anniversary of the largest railway disaster in Soviet history, a tragedy that came just a couple of years before the formal dissolution of the Soviet Union. As two passenger trains from the Trans-Siberian Railroad met in the Ural Mountains, a leaking gas pipeline exploded and killed 650 people. Many who survived suffered burns over much of their bodies while others suffered from lung and respiratory damage due to toxic fumes given off by the fire. Then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev denounced the accident as “negligence or improper work practices…Many of them [disasters in various branches of industry] are caused by mismanagement, irresponsibility, disorganization. I cannot say for sure right now, but experts are saying that once again we have negligence and violations in the operation of complex equipment” (“Soviet Rail Fire Kills 650: 2 Trains Caught in Gas Explosion,” Steve Goldstein, Philadelphia Inquirer, 6/5/89). The final death toll was lowered to 500, but Gorbachev’s suspicion was confirmed:
The LPG pipeline, carrying gas along some of the same route as the rail lines, was loaded with a mixture of propane, butane and other hydrocarbons, pressurized to keep it liquefied. Pipeline engineers noticed a drop in pressure in the pipe on the morning of June 4. Instead of searching for a leak they increased pressure in the line to maintain production. This resulted in two huge clouds of heavier-than-air propane gas leaving the pipe. The gas traveled a half-mile to the rail line and settled in a gully between the towns of Ufa and Asha (http://en.atropedia.net/article:384fd5).
Those two ill-fated trains, filled with children, passed right over that gully and stirred the gas with their motion. A spark from the track ignited the gas, causing a fireball a mile wide and flattening trees for two miles while the explosion, visible for 95 miles, broke windows in Asha (ibid.). This catastrophe was imminently avoidable, making it far more heartbreaking and devastating to survivors and victims’ families.
Sometimes, we preach and teach about the harm of destructive teaching by wolves in sheep’s clothing (cf. Mat. 7:15). Some creep in unnoticed, apparently with a deliberate agenda to do harm to the precious bride of Christ (cf. Jude 4ff). Paul wrote of some who upset the faith of others through false teaching (2 Tim. 2:18). All of these and similar warnings deserve our vigilant concern.
However, do we often fail to see the untold damage done by simple, stunning neglect? Carelessness in our example and our speech can wreck havoc on impressionable people swayed by our powerful influence (cf. Luke 17:1ff). Failure to monitor our attitude can be tantamount to a volatile explosion for the faith of someone (Phil. 2:14-16). Ignoring the needs and pleas of help by brethren in our midst can be devastating for them and us (Mat. 25:41ff). James deals with harmful attitudes within self and toward others, issuing this caution, that “to the one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (4:17).
As I consider the stewardship of my life, with my opportunities, influence, and resources, I must not ignore my duty and responsibility to be a magnet for the Messiah, not a saboteur of the Savior.