Recovering From Fire has a Salty Taste

February 18, 2011

As Fifty mile-per-hour wind pushed a firestorm through the small town of White Swan, Washington last Saturday, Derel, Belinda, and I sat in the home of a member of the church while Jill sat with a family a few miles away who most likely was losing their home at that moment.  Looking out the southern window limbs blew out of trees like straw and out of the northern window fire raged on.  Conversation was about the moment, silence was about tomorrow.

Nearly a year ago we began having conversations of making the relationship between Log Church (Disciple of Christ) and Wilbur Memorial (Methodist) more formal.  Little did we know when we first sat down discussing the different gifts each denomination and each pastor-social worker brought to the table, just how beneficial that would be in a time of disaster.  Disasters have a tendency of bringing people closer together.  However, when folks are already in the middle of that wonderful, rich, muddy relationship of being family, what can be done in the middle of sadness is some wonderful stuff.

Seldom in such a disaster does a small Church bring three pastors and a social worker to the table.  Since last Saturday, the Wilbur/Log partnership has had either a pastor or social worker sitting at the table as each phase of community health and care unfolded.  This has meant the level of individual pastoral care being offered is beyond what any us could have imagined a year ago.  The community is receiving a quality of immediate care that is only obtainable by having two denominations working together rather than apart.  The possibilities of intermediate and long-term denominational care are vast because Church folks are living out their work as family rather than neighbor.

Today is the seventh day since the wind slid down off the east side of the Cascade Mountain Range and funneled fire from one home to the next.  Seven days since the everyday world of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, elders and children was laid to ash.  It is trite at this moment to metaphorically speak to the mythical Phoenix rising out of the ash, for the taste around the idea of it will all work out is stale.  Instead, imagining a faithful people, local and global, rising together, working together to reach down and gather a handful of ash and mud and mold it into the body and breathe the breath of life into it; well, now that has a salty taste where the artistic creativeness of an inspired people who gather at the table and partake in the fullness of life given.

Seven days later and the family has started to gather.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief and the Disciple Week of Compassion has gathered and begun giving and helping us make a difference in the lives of our sisters and brothers.  Direct help in caring for the immediate wellbeing of youth and children has begun.  Organizing for intermediate and long-term rebuilding help is in process.  However, even working together, these stalwarts of Disciples and Methodists can only help so much.  The rest is up to all of us.

There are at least two ways you might help in White Swan’s intermediate and long-term recovery.  First is financially.  The ministry efforts of theWilbur/Log partnership are being strained.  Assistance is needed to help pay to have pastors present in the community—for gas to make visitations, or to simply take a youth to the Cougar Den for lunch and conversation about their life in trying times.  If you choose to give, please send a check to either the Log Church or Wilbur

Memorial and designate it for “White Swan Fire—Long-term Recovery Effort.”


A Presence in Wilbur Fellowship Hall

Second is physical.  If you are a member of a community who wants to make a hands on difference, consider organizing a worktrip to White Swan.  Beginning with Spring Break until the end of autumn help is needed.  The work you do will matter.  It might be directly working on a blown off roof or it might be at the homeless shelter in Wapato or it might be in a children’s program or it might be helping on a farm; regardless what form the work might take, it is tied to the health and wellbeing of the White Swan community.  Not only will you make a difference in local lives but yours will change as well, for in the course of these worktrips Jill, Derel, Belinda, and David will walk with you and discuss the unique framework of Church and society on the reservation and we promise you will go home with an experience that will inform your life conversations.  If you choose to bring a group of people for a worktrip this spring, summer, or fall, please visit our SAGE, Learning and Serving Trips webpage:, and call us for more information.

Structural stuff like addresses and phone numbers are below.  To close though is to say, we know your prayers have been with the White Swan community during these last seven days.  We have felt them and they have made a difference throughout the community.  In the middle of conversation with a young woman the other day, she said, “I don’t know what it is, but I know I am not alone…It’s something like, you know, something like having many hands supporting you and not letting you fall down.”  Your prayers matter, please continue!

Wilbur Memorial Methodist Church:  PO Box 40, White Swan, WA 98952
Derel Olson: (509) 874-2736

Log Church (Disciples of Christ): PO Box 547, White Swan, WA 98952
David Bell: (509) 969-2093
Jill Delaney: (509) 874-2824
Belinda Bell: (509) 969 4575

© David B. Bell 2011


  1. Dear Dave,
    Thank you for bringing to light what you are facing in White Swan.

    The future of the church is grounded in sharing. Denominations will likely merge in the greater call to mission and service in Christ’s example.

    Be assured, our prayers are with White Swan.

    Peace, Debbie


    1. Thanks for your support Debbie! I think the future is brighter as well when we view it through the lenses of sharing. The trick to denominational merging, it seems to me, is for neighbors to to take that walk when they feel it is of their choosing, based in spirit led relationship, rather what drives too many corporate mergers–finances.
      Peace, Dave


  2. Dave and Belinda: We are sharing this message with University Place Christian Church folks and will be keeping all of you in our thoughts and prayers. We still refer to you visit here and appreciate what you shared with us of your work there. Waunita K.


  3. I find this to be a sad event for White Swan and the wonderful people who have faced this fire. In the 90’s there was a fire. The youth at Nampa First Christian Church with my leadership were there just hours after a fire. Our youth along with Brenda Lynch and myself cleaned, polished and enjoyed the Log Church. We even spent a night in a real Indian tent. You have my love and prayers. Know that we all care.
    In gods Love, Mary


    1. Fire has a tendency to remind us that when disasters such as this occur, they are never natural. Rather, they reflect the injustice that systems keep in place that allows hurt to arise again and again. It is good you were here last time. Your support and drive to remind folks off the reservation there is great need for their help–physical and financial–is deeply needed.


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