The worst fire disaster in Israel’s history has devastated the nation. The nation of Israel went into deep shock and mourning as the worst fire they had ever experienced claimed the lives of 43 people, most of whom were burned to death. At least 8,600 acres (3,480 hectares) of forest with an estimated 5 million trees were incinerated, and 74 buildings were destroyed with an additional 175 buildings sustaining significant damage. It is estimated that it will cost up to US $82 million to repair homes and infrastructure and to restore the forest.
Immediately, help came to the beleaguered nation as up to 16 nations sent firefighting crews and equipment. Firefighters from all over the world fought the ferocious fire side by side with their Israeli compatriots. They all spoke of this being one of the worst fires they had ever experienced. Flames 40 meters high (131 feet) in high winds made the fire unpredictable and extremely difficult to overcome. Finally, after three days of intense firefighting action, the blaze was brought under control.
The morning after the fire ignited, Bridges for Peace stepped into action as we dispatched a large truckload of food to help those who had been evacuated from their homes. Over 10,000 people had to be rescued from the advancing flames and housed in shelters. Shaul, an Israeli friend, was able to obtain an army vehicle to deliver the food. This was necessary to ensure entry into the affected areas. The authorities sent him to Kibbutz Nachsholim, the temporary dwelling of the residents of Kibbutz Beit Oren, which at that moment was in flames.
He saw the shell-shocked people as they waited in shelters to find out if their homes were destroyed. Later, they found out that many had lost everything. He delivered the food, letting them know that it came from Bridges for Peace, a Christian organization that loves Israel. Pieter Marais, our Israel Operations Director, also sent Bibles (the Tanach, Genesis to Malachi), and Shaul told us that they were happy to receive the Word of God at this terrifying time. With fire all around, the acrid smoke was everywhere, and although Shaul stayed only long enough to make the delivery, he suffered from smoke inhalation and had to be hospitalized for two days. Upon his release, he returned to Jerusalem with deep sorrow at what he had witnessed.
In Israel after a death, family members “sit shiva” (a seven-day period of mourning for their lost family member). We delivered care packages to their homes. It was another way that we could show we care.
On December 5, the Israeli government sent us a request asking the evangelical Christian community to help rehabilitate the Carmel forest region. We’ve been inundated with requests to help with the intensive restoration process. The needs are so great right now that it will take many of us working together to overcome the devastation. Forests need to be replanted, communities rebuilt, people clothed and fed while they are waiting in temporary dwellings, emergency systems need to be upgraded, and the list goes on.
The Scripture says that “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity”(Prov. 17:17). As Christians in Israel, we stand with the people of Israel on a day by day basis. We don’t just show up once in a while! Our daily faithfulness is making a difference in the way Christians are viewed by our Jewish brothers. However, it is the love shown in the midst of extreme situations that really communicates our love.
We were able to respond quickly because we already had the food in our warehouse, and we knew the right people who could get it delivered to the exact place and at just the time it was needed most. Our Christian team is always ready to fly into immediate action, which is only possible because we live here.
On December 3, we sent out a call to Christians all over the world to pray for rain to put out the fires and to send donations to help us feed those who were suddenly homeless. Immediately, we began to receive responses. Christians, like you, were praying and sending financial support to minister to the Israeli people. Today, just a week after the fire was extinguished, I am happy to tell you that God answers prayers. The winter rains have begun to fall and the danger of more fires is greatly diminished.
Great damage, however, remains. We call out to you who love Israel to assist us in restoring the Land of Israel. By our actions, we can show the people of Israel that they have “brothers and sisters” who quickly step up to assist in their time of adversity. We ask you to give generously to help us care for the people, to help rebuild communities, to replant the forests, and to help Israel be better prepared for future tragedy.
In His Service from Jerusalem,
Rebecca J. Brimmer,
International President and CEO
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