Monday, February 2, 2009

Just when I was wondering what I would write about . . .

For those who have been keeping up via our emails, what follows won't be a surprise. However, if you haven't heard, below is a report of God's grace in the house fire that resulted in our house in Emo burning to the ground in the early morning of Tuesday, January 27th.

This is a picture of our house this past summer.
(The pine tree on the left was cut down in October)

And this is a picture of what remains of our house right now,

taken from almost the exact same spot.

So what happened? Well here is the story.

Lois and I went to bed Monday night after a somewhat challenging day. We had hoped to have a date day, but Stephen was home sick. So it was a bit of a battle to stay positive, and we spent a lot of time praying throughout the day to have fun, work together well, etc. (those prayers were answered as we dealt with the fire later on). During the morning we were organizing the last of our storage rooms and putting up our second last shelf, and somewhat grumbling about the work we still had to do after almost 6 months in our new place (seems somewhat ironic how God helped us "simplify" our life just a few hours later!). We went to bed around 10:30, after having put a few logs on the downstairs (main floor) stove for night.

About 12:30 am we were were woken up by the smoke detector going off. I jumped out of bed, ran down the hall and opened a pocket door to the main floor (all our bedrooms are on the second story, with the rec room, guest room, and laundry area on the main floor). Thick black smoke poured through the opening and I turned and yelled at Lois to get the kids as this was a real fire. Lorianne was already in our room when I returned, and the boys got there almost right away. They headed to the balcony out our bedroom (on the North or left side of the house in the first picture). God gave me the presence of mind to phone the fire department from the phone in our bedroom, and after hanging up I rushed to the balcony to attach a rope ladder to the railing (as we told this story around town, people complimented us on having a fire escape plan. Actually, we didn't but had purchased the ladder for a kids tree fort in summer prior to moving in. Once we moved in we decided to keep in case of a fire, never thinking we would actually need it. God obviously knew we would).

As we were standing outside in our pyjamas, the kids were screaming because it was so cold - around -35c with a windchill of below -40c. Lois went into our master bedroom closet just a few steps from the balcony door, and got out 4 sleeping bags, our blanket, and a jacket. I attached the ladder, and climbed down to the snow below wearing only a t-shirt and pyjama pants. Lorianne came next, and I sent her to the van parked in front of the house. Caleb was a bit out of control, and couldn't climb down, so Lois helped him down and I caught him as he fell. Stephen went into a sleeping bag and Lois dropped him down, and then Joseph climbed down part way before jumping, and Lois came last. At this time we could already here windows breaking, and see an orange glow reflecting on the snow at the back and south side of the house.

This is the view of the house from where we would have climbed down

We made it to the van, and then I ran to open the front door for the firefighters (I didn't want them to have to break it down!). As I opened it (not a smart idea), smoke filled the basement and flames were on the stairs going up already. I ran back to the van and the kids were screaming at me because they could see flames coming out of the front of the house where I had just been. After about a minute or so in the van we realized it wasn't safe to stay so we fled. (Clearly we are still new to the country as we didn't have our keys in the van - but it was unlocked so we were half way there!)

The kids and us started running down the driveway. I ran to the shed to get a jacket that I had there, while the others had sleeping bags. Stephen made it a few steps before it was too cold, and then I helped him into the sleeping bag and he shuffled along. Caleb stopped soon as well, and Lois zipped up his bag and helped him into it. Lois had socks on the whole time, but she too got into a bag and shuffled along. Lorianne, Joseph, and I (the high strung ones as Lois says) didn't think about that (nor was it an option for me since I didn't have a bag), and ran barefoot down the driveway. Somehow either I or Lois had thrown socks out of my drawer onto the balcony, and then onto the snow below, but in the panic of the moment they never made it onto our feet.

So we made it down the driveway and onto the road, but our nearest (and only) neighbour's house was still a good 300m away. As we limped down the road the Emo Volunteer fire department showed up in their truck. I pointed them to the correct driveway, and they drove up it, leaving me wondering if they should have forgotten the fire and just helped us get out of the cold. By God's grace one of the firefighters had missed being picked up by the truck and came about a minute later down the road. I flagged him down, and he picked up me, Lois, Caleb and Stephen, and then drove a bit further down the road to where Lorianne and Joseph had already made it.

While we were only outside for at the most, 15 minutes, the impact on Lorianne's, Joseph's and my feet was severe. We developed 2nd degree frostbite burns on our feet, and from this past Tuesday till yesterday morning, spent 1 - 1.5 hours at the hospital having our feet looked at and the dressings changed. The initial blisters were very painful, and were about an inch high on Joseph's feet (pictured here), and mine. While this picture looks gross and painful, the kids have really done great with all of this, and have been great patients at the hospital.

This was taken just before the previous picture, so it looks worse than it feels

Lorianne's feet were the worst for the total surface area affected, but even she has been a trooper about it. In God's grace, I only had one foot that was really bad, and was able to hobble around on crutches for the first couple of days. As of today, I no longer need the crutches, and can even put two boots on for brief periods of time! The blisters have stayed really clean on all our feet, and currently we are cutting away the dead skin to reveal the "baby" skin underneath, which is smooth and healthy looking. Most likely it will be another week or two before Joseph and Lorianne can walk consistently on them. They have been doing a fair amount of crawling around for the past few days, though Joe can now walk on his heels.

This is their preferred mode of travel, and both of them have wheelchairs at school.

I changed the dressing at home today, since there is no more leaking. It took a lot less time, and meant we could have breakfast together.

Getting back to the night of the fire, the firefighter asked us if we had keys to the van. I said no. Fortunately the firefighters had the physical strength to move the van (even though it wasn't in neutral!) about 15 feet away from the house. We were then driven to our friend's Henry and Beth Petkau's place, just a mile east of Emo. Another God moment, was that God had woken up Henry just 10 minutes prior to us arriving. He checked with Beth if she was alright, and she was, but was fully awake when the firefighter knocked on the door a few moments later.

Needless to say they were shocked at what happened, but welcomed us in. We all went downstairs, got some blankets and warmed up. The kids had stopped crying for the most part by this time, though Joe and Lorianne were still in a lot of pain. I stayed with the family for a bit, and then got some warm clothes from Henry and then he, and his son Bob (who brought a camera at my request and snapped 80 pictures - I will post them later) and I headed back to what was left of our house. We could see the light from the flames and the smoke a mile away, and by the time we arrived at the home at around 2:00 am, only one partial wall remained standing. Basically, our entire two story house burned into about a two foot pile of rubble in 2 hours.

So what has happened since then? A great deal! After two nights with Henry and Beth we moved back into our old Parsonage right in Emo. It was fully furnished courtesy many people in Emo and our church with almost everything we needed within 24 hours (we had to purchase a mattress and box spring for ourselves, as well as a washer and dryer), and with really nice things. Some of these things are lent to us and some are given to us. A lady in our church, Carmela, co-ordinated this whole project and recorded what needs to be eventually returned.

You would never guess this house was empty a few days ago - notice the food in the cupboards!

A freezer showed up on Tuesday night already (God story again - some friends had borrowed it to their siblings, and had wanted it back for a while. They phoned Tuesday morning and their sister had "just happened" to have cleaned it out the night before).

We have no idea who most of this meat came from, but are amazed that we will eat better now than probably ever before!

We have been blessed by the incredible generosity of the people of this community and the entire Rainy River District. Churches in both Rainy River and Fort Francis (a distance of about 85 km) and almost every town in between have either written us checks or donated us food and clothes. Women's groups are making us blankets and children are even giving us their tithe money! (A young girl at church on Sunday said "Here, I want to give this to you" and handed me a twoonie). It has been overwhelming and humbling to see God's grace poured out.

A community event has been planned for us, and while we tried to say it wasn't necessary, we were told it there was no option not to have one. Many people have come forward to share stories of their struggles with house fires, and also we have heard numerous stories of how God is using this event to glorify himself. People are surprised at how we are handling this difficult situation, and we can say with joy that it is because thousands of people are praying for us. God wants to have his love spread, and for people to understand the joy of the gospel, and if we thought we had a platform from which to talk before, we have an even greater opportunity now. Our hope is always in Christ, and not in our stuff, and we truly are thankful to be alive.

So thank you for your prayers. God continues to up hold us, and we will one day, Lord willing, rebuild again at this beautiful spot. (We are also thankful for the great clothes we have received!). On Sunday I had a chance to share a few verses of Scripture with the church, and I think they truly speak to what God has done in our lives, not only in the past few days, but in the previous months and years.

And Job said, "Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." Job 1:21

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. Philippians 3:7-8

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. 1 Timothy 6:6-8

So we rejoice in the truth that we have Jesus Christ, and that being saved from the fires of a burning house is great, but being saved from the fires of Hell is even greater. God is good, his purposes will prevail, and he will see us through. He has provided for us physically, and we continue to lean on him for the emotional and mental strength we need to make it through each day.


The Laughing Rover said...

Your story made me cry... I am awed by what God has done and is doing, and am praying for you all!

andrea said...

I've just posted your blog on mine...I want so many more people praying for you!
It's an honor to know you both!
Love you people!!!

Anonymous said...

God has taken you through a lot in the last couple of years. So glad you had the privilege to share that wonderful house with so many in such a short time. We are praising God with you that you as a family were spared but it must be a very empty feeling to loose everything. It happened to my nephew many years ago. God is good, all the time is what we so glibbly say when all is well, but we must chose to believe that He is good in the not so good times. May God use this incident and you to the glory of His name.
Kathie & Ed Kroeker

Robyn said...

It is so good to hear your testimony of God's faithfulness in this situation. We've been so thankful that others have passed on the updates to us and praise God with you that He is the Rescuer!!

Am I allowed a few little questions?
1) Have you been able to get keys made for your van? i.e. Are you driving it again?
2) Did the fire start from the wood stove?
3) I noticed your dog in one of the pictures. How did he escape?

We love you all and will keep praying for you.

for the Olfert Family

P.S. When things settle down a little more for you guys, we will reprint the photos we printed a while back from that photo shoot we had with you in Fall a few years ago and send them to you.

Stacy Kaye said...

Wow, I was led to this blog by someone else, and I want to say thank you for sharing this difficult event in your lives and allowing God to work through it. What a blessing you and your family must be to those in your community!

Pastor Ted said...

Hi Conrad & Lois,
What an amazing story of God's protection. We praise the Lord that you all escaped safely and are healing from the frostbite.
You have left an incredible testimony not only with those in the community in which you live, but also with everyone who hears/reads about your journey.
Truly your family has learned what the really important things in life are - not the temporal, earthly things, but those eternal values that no fire can destroy - your loving relationship as a family, with Jesus and His people, and friends in the community.
May God bless you as you rebuild and face all the challenges that come with that. We are praying for you. Ted & Mary Goossen

Anonymous said...

I am glad to hear how things are working out. Brent W from NCEM sent out the prayer request and the blog link because I come from Fort Frances and knew some of the people in "your" church. The generosity of the churches is not surprising to one that has lived there.
You continue to be in our prayers.
I didn't realize that you had such frostbite on the feet. If there is something that I might do to help in this area, please let me know.
Jim Pattison Certified Pedorthist

Anonymous said...

We have been praying for you here at NCEM and our church home group as well. Some people remembered your family when you visited Scarborough Baptist. What an incredible story! May God continue to provide all that you need, and use this experience to further His kingdom for His glory!
It is a reminder to all of us about setting our mind and hearts, not on earthly things, but on things above!
God bless,
Ardys Winger

Anonymous said...

Sent a note the long route after reading about your journey on milestones and messages......and thinking about your family last Sunday.........keep seeing the blessing in the middle of the confusion........the feet look so sore. Praying that they will heal quickly and nicely. Remembering you all in prayer...Sincerely in Christ - Barbara Virgin (Emo - Barwick - july Aug 1974 - July August 1980)