"We Couldn't Go In"

The sirens wailed by as I was out jogging early Tuesday morning. From their sounds, it appeared that not only our Oronoko-Berrien Springs volunteer fire department was responding, but units from nearby towns as well. Only later did I learn of the deadly fire that engulfed an apartment building not far from campus. Eye witnesses spoke to John Paul, an WSBT-TV reporter who wrote up an account for the South Bend Tribune (11-16-11). Rhodel Kabah, a resident of the apartment complex, told him, "I kept hearing shattering glass and screams." A neighbor, Quigley Morris, described standing outside the raging inferno: "The most difficult thing I've ever done in my life was to stand and listen to the mother cry and know there's a kid in there." The three-year-old child was trapped in an upstairs bedroom. The parents tried to coax her to the bedroom window, but she was too frightened. "When they told me a kid was in there, I said we have to do something," Morris went on. "[But] when we tried to go through the door, it was impossible. The smoke was in our faces." Firefighters later recovered the child's body. The child's father was airlifted to a burn unit in Kalamazoo, where he is recovering from extensive burns and broken feet from his second-story jump. Berrien Springs Oronoko Township fire chief Bruce Stover later observed that the fire simply grew and spread too rapidly, preventing any possible rescue of the trapped three-year-old. "We couldn't go in," he said. "We wanted to go in, but we couldn't go in; there was nothing we could [do] to search for the child."  And so our community mourns with the grieving family. "We couldn't go in." Because the truth is, sometimes it is simply too late - too late to save the entrapped, too late to "rescue the perishing." In a civilization whose flash points and hot spots could engulf an entire region or even the world in a matter of days, the fate of seven billion really is a big deal, isn't it? How many of earth's children are even cognizant of the smoldering danger that could at any moment explode into an inferno? What shall we do for them? What if we had known a way to save that little girl this week - what if we could have rescued her but chose not to? How would her parents respond? Desire of Ages minces no words: "How would a father and mother feel, did they know that their child . . . had been passed by, and left to perish, by those who might have saved it? Would they not be terribly grieved, wildly indignant? Would they not denounce those murderers with wrath hot as their tears, intense as their love?" (825). And could you blame them? Now comes the zinger: "The sufferings of every man are the sufferings of God's child, and those who reach out no helping hand to their perishing fellow beings provoke His righteous anger" (ibid). The very strong point? We cannot stand by and do nothing. Because the people we study with, work with, live with, play with, and neighbor with belong to our Father, they are our family, too. We must go in after them. After all, Christ did for us - irrespective of the infinitely high cost he had to pay. We must go in after them. For Jesus' line seems all the more apropos as the holidays approach, "Freely you have received; freely give" (Matthew 10:8). Milton Agay, police chief for our village and township, told the reporter: "You wish you could do more, but what can anyone say? You just feel heartbroken for the family and for the loss of a life." Well put, Chief. So let us go in now before it's too late.