Fire in the Hills

God at work in the middle of the fire

Story and Photos by Sean White


 

Eddy and Ange Silva woke up to the smell of smoke. It was the middle of the night and the whole house was full of ash. They leapt out of bed and looked outside to see fire coming down the hill behind their house.

The Silvas live in the Hurri Hills, a remote region in the far north of Kenya. Since arriving in 2011, they have seen many people come and go. They went to the Hurri Hills to serve among the Borana people. But in 2015, while the Silvas were on a brief visit to their home country of Brazil, nearly all of the Borana people fled due to tribal conflicts. When the Silvas returned, they discovered all of their friends were gone. The Gabbra people now lived where the Borana were before. The Silvas needed to start over. They questioned if they should move on to a new place or stay in the Hills and continue building relationships. After two years of confusion, that question would be answered on this night.

When Eddy saw the fire coming, he got in his car and drove to the nearest village to ask for help. Ange prepared for the worst. She packed a bag with their passports and some clothes. Then her and a guard sat outside and started praying. They prayed that God would change the direction of the wind or put the fire out. The wind never changes direction in the Hills, it always blows directly toward their house. They prayed Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”

The rainy season had ended a few months before and the rains left the grass tall. With no rain in the last few months, it was very dry. This created a huge expanse of tinder that required very little to set it ablaze.

Eddy returned with several men from the local village. They jumped out of the truck and grabbed branches to put out the fire. But they quickly realized they could not stop the fire’s steady advance toward their home. All the while, Ange never stopped praying. Even as the men tried to put out the fire, she prayed desperately that God would do something.

Eddy and Ange Silva in front of their home.
A Gabbra village in the Hurri Hills

“There is nothing else we can do. The fire is too big for us to put out.”

Photos taken the night of the fire show how large it was, almost 1km wide.

The fire as it approached the Silva’s house.

They tried again and again to stop the fire, but it would not go out. Exhausted, they all put down their branches and turned with regret to Eddy and Ange. “There is nothing else we can do. The fire is too big for us to put out.”

In this moment, Eddy and Ange knew that it would take a miracle to stop the fire and save their home. They stopped and prayed together while the fire advanced towards their house. Then, when the fire was only feet from their house, something happened. The wind changed and the fire began to go in another direction. Instead of coming towards their house, it turned 90-degrees and went down the other side of the hill!

Taken after sunrise on the day of the fire, this shows the fire moving away from the Silva's house.

The fire moving down the hill and away from the house, leaving scorched ground behind.

The fire came right to the edge of their property. This wall is built where the wind changed direction and the fire stopped advancing toward the house.

Everyone stood there in disbelief. Eddy and the men got in the truck and followed the fire to make sure it would not harm anyone else, but it only burned empty land. No person, house, or animal was hurt.

Eddy brought all the men back to the house. They made chai and sat together, speechless at what they saw. The men knew that the wind would not have changed direction on its own. It could not be chance that it changed that close to the house. One of the men spoke up, “Your God must be very good, He protected you and your family. We know there is no other way this could have happened.”

That night, nearly a dozen men’s hearts were opened to the love of God. On their front porch, covered in ash, and smelling of smoke, the Silvas shared the Gospel with them. In the coming days, word spread of the God who changed the wind. When the Silvas went to villages, people would ask them to share the message of this God. There were some villages where people did not want to hear about Jesus, but once this story spread, their hearts were open and they asked the Silvas to come and share the Gospel.

After two years of uncertainty about their future in the Hills, the Silvas knew that God wanted them to stay and bring the Gospel to the Gabbra people of that area.

Many of the men who sat on the porch that night decided to become followers of Jesus. Today, they are the strongest believers and even leaders of the church in the Hurri Hills. Their village is now the location of one of only two churches in the area.

After the fire, the places that it burned gave way to new growth. The burned ground made way for fresh grasses and bushes, good food for the many herds in the Hills. The fire tilled the hard, dry soil and brought new life to so many in this region both physically and spiritually.