It rains on the just and the unjust.
And so, on June 26, the Waldo Canyon fire poured down embers on homes across Mountain Shadows, falling on wood shake and tile roofs alike, igniting stucco and wood siding.
Jonni McCoy keeps that Bible verse in her heart as a reminder that fate didn’t single her out when her home at 2280 Courtney Drive burned to the ground.
“If something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen to all of us,” she tells herself.
For McCoy and her husband, that was never more true than in the days, weeks and now months since the fire decimated their neighborhood, and hundreds of other homes. The couple, regular churchgoers, found themselves surrounded by pastors and ministers of many faiths and sects as they picked through the rubble.
The cleanup, and the almost warzone-like devastation, was shared by everybody.
“There was a pastor from another church — he came up and introduced himself,” McCoy recalled. “He volunteered to come sift through my ashes. While we were sifting, there were three other ministers who showed up to make sure we were all OK. ... It was just a lot of pastoral people showing up trying to give care.”
For McCoy, it’s not a question of a shaken faith, but of the pillar of strength that faith offered her — whether in the form of strangers eagerly sifting through her ashes, random donations, or acceptance into a community that she previously was not a part.
Two pastors on the westside, Doug Goodin of Front Range Alliance Church and David Hiester of Wilson United Methodist, say surviving the Waldo Canyon fire has given many people a chance to reaffirm their faith in God, rather than turning them away from it.
“It really gave them the opportunity to show the church, we believe in a good God who loves us,” Goodin said. “I had one guy tell me that it just really released him from a tie to the temporal things, realizing that they could be gone any moment.”
In the wake of the fire, Goodin saw people opening up their homes, and an outpouring of support — and sometimes the crucial need to talk about normal things with friends and not dwell on the tragedy.
“I think again, for some it will be a reminder that we’re Christians,” he said. “They’ll be more thankful than ever for the church community.”
Hiester, who moved to Colorado from Utah, was scheduled to become a part of the Wilson United Methodist community in early July, but the fire assimilated him into the church much quicker than he expected. He was moving his family into their new home on June 23 when his son spotted a rising plume of smoke; Hiester’s first day with the congregation was expedited to June 27, the day after the fire destroyed hundreds of evacuated homes in Mountain Shadows, the church’s neighborhood.
“You know, of the people whose homes were destroyed, they are struggling. They are restless and weary, but I think I can safely say that their faith has been confirmed and strengthened in the midst of this,” Hiester said.
Once Mountain Shadows residents were allowed home, Hiester was among the pastors and ministers wandering amid the debris and ashes. There he met the McCoys, who later decided to check out the Methodist services after feeling a need to attend a neighborhood church, McCoy said. She began attending a support group at the church, and the congregation gave she and her husband some of their donated money to help with expenses. But the church seemed to expect nothing in return, McCoy said.
“We haven’t made a decision of where we want to stay,” she said of the family’s switching among churches in the area. “They’ve been very supportive of us, even though they don’t know where we are going.”
Hiester has launched into his role as a de facto Waldo Canyon fire recovery leader. Along with other members, he opened the church’s Wednesday night meals to all Mountain Shadows residents, who came frequently in the weeks following the fire. With the holidays approaching, the church designed hundreds of ornaments for each of the families who lost homes. They handed out the ornaments last month when a large commemorative fir tree was lit in front of the church on Flying W Ranch Road.
To compete with the din of construction, Hiester led groups of carollers through Mountain Shadows in early December for what he called a caroling blitz.
And just before Halloween, the McCoys asked Hiester to lead a ceremony blessing their newly poured foundation on Courtney Drive. For the McCoys, it was a thank you to Hiester and show of their faith all in one.
“We just feel our entire lives belong to God, and we just try to submit everything to him,” McCoy said. For his part, Hiester was moved to tears, McCoy said.
“The church has discovered that they understand the love and grace of God through the people in the community. They are the recipients now of tremendous grace and generosity, acts of love and selflessness,” Hiester said. “Man, we wouldn’t have experienced this had (the fire) not happened.”