Monday’s Column: Neal At The Cross


Neal Pollard

John Castillo Kennedy writes a riveting account of the fire that swept through San Francisco in the wake of the catastrophic earthquake that struck on April 18, 1906. The earthquake and resulting fires, which killed 3000 people, destroyed 80% of the city. Among the dead was the city fire chief. Firefighters, unaccustomed to using dynamite to create firebreaks, caused several of the fires. 

At one point early in the fires, according to Castillo, the spread of the flames surprised people living along Pine, Bush, and Sutter Streets, forcing them to flee immediately. They had been confident that the flames would not reach them there. The author says,

“Quickly filled trunks grated up the hills. Wagons, mostly pulled by men, rattled over the rough cobblestones. Baby carriages and toy express wagons rolled along packed full with the ‘things’ people had snatched up in the flight. Pianos were bumped along the sidewalks–some went to pieces in the process. Sewing machines slipped along on their rollers with stacks of bedding and the like lashed to them. Women had their valuables on their person, or carried trinkets Gypsywise in handkerchiefs. Men wore columns of hats five-high. Some carried only a book. Parrots jabbered and scolded from many cages. Some people had blankets. Girls usually had bandboxes. Boys stretched poles between them and carried, suspended there, bundles of clothing and provisions. Once it was only a ham” (83). 

These panic-stricken people, with no time to prepare, reached for the thing that had the most practical or sentimental value to them. Something made people faced with total loss and threat of life to lug heavy items or pets or food. Many of the choices seem irrational. Perhaps they were in shock or acting in impulse. In essays and contests asking people what they would grab if their house was on fire and they could only grab one thing, they have cited passports, wills, legal documents, insurance policies, personal papers, portable hard drives, phones, etc.

I’m trying to put myself in their shoes. If I was in one of the many neighborhoods forced to flee my home with no time to spare, what would I have been sure to grab? How long would it take my mind to settle on sentimental family items like old photos, my wedding video, or the boys’ baby books? Would I be relieved if I could make it out with my Bible, though I saved nothing else?

I do not judge those folks with their bizarre, split-second decisions. For some reason, it just made me do some introspection. What does my priority list look like? What do I value most in my life and in my home? What would I try to be sure to preserve?

Perhaps the answers to those questions is best provided by my choices in ordinary, every-day actions. I want my wife, children, fellow-Christians, and, most of all, my God to see from my life that they come before the things of this world. The things will all ultimately burn (2 Pet. 3:10). It is the relationships that will outlast the final, global conflagration. I pray that my influence and example will save them from the fire (Jude 23).  

Reference: Kennedy, John Castillo. The Great Earthquake And Fire: San Francisco, 1906 (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1963). 


Her Closet Was Her Refuge

Her Closet Was Her Refuge

Neal Pollard

42-year-old Sefa Cebeci was with her husband in a seven-story building in Duzce, Turkey, when just before 7:00 P.M. local time on November 12, 1999, a 7.2 magnitude earthquake shook the city.  The building collapsed, and when all was said and done nearly 1,000 people were dead—including Sefa’s husband who was right beside her.  Despite rescue team leaders from some countries calling off the search for survivors after three days, an Israeli team pulled her from the rubble after nearly 5 days without food and water.  She would have to have an arm amputated and her kidney failure from dehydration nearly killed her.  She was able to survive in freezing temperatures for 105 hours under tons of concrete. How? A closet fell on top of her and protected her from her collapsed house.  Her closet became her refuge (facts via BBC News articles, 5/11/13 and 11/17/99).

Have you ever noticed a Christian whose life seemed to be crashing in all around them?  You would not imagine they could survive the spiritual carnage.  Yet, they survive.  The reasons certainly vary, but one variable that has to be in place for them has to do with their “closet.”  Do you remember in Jesus’ great sermon that He said to “enter into thy closet” to pray rather make a vain, public show of prayer (cf. Mat. 6:6, KJV)?  That word “closet,” variously translated “inner room,” “your room,” “private room,” and “inner chamber” is one found almost exclusively in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) and the gospels.  It is translated “storehouse” or “warehouse” (Luke 12:24; Mat. 24:26), but also “bedroom” or “chamber” (Gen. 43:30; 2 Ki. 6:12; Zodhiates, Spiros. The complete word study dictionary: New Testament 2000: n. pag. Print).  It refers to any place of privacy where one cannot be easily seen (ibid.).

Isn’t that where spiritual survival is made or broken, not necessarily and not primarily in our public assemblies or fellowship activities but in private?  When I am alone, do I seek refuge by entering into the closet of prayer, study, and private devotion?  In happy, prosperous times, I should be found there.  It will prepare me for calamitous, catastrophic events.  When my life is shaken to the core, I will survive if in my closet.

Jesus does not specify what kind of reward enjoyed by those whose prayer life is genuine rather than showy, but certainly there is no greater reward than enduring the trials of life spiritually intact. We may come away scarred and hurt, but we will survive!  Be a spiritual survivor!  Spend as much time as you can in your closet.

Actual photo of Sefa Cebeci in an Istanbul hospital (1999)