By Paul Jung

Last year’s camp was the final Annual Methodist Youth Camp ever. It was lit. Literally. 

A cabin lit up in flames and totally consumed our clothes, electronics, personal valuables, and almost took my life too. 

Late in 2018 at the end of AMYC in Adelaide, we were told the final camp would be based on Ezekiel 37, ‘ARISE’ with emphasis on Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry in the Valley of Dry Bones. One month before this year’s camp, I was told to lead a worship session and also co-lead a group through camp. All the leaders prepared in prayers and devotions with expectant hearts and excitement to see how God would move everyone’s heart in this final camp. The question of what would happen at camp was on each of our minds.  

I must say before sharing anymore that this testimony is not something so casually shared. To some readers, it may be just as difficult to read as it was for me to write. I believe, however, that there is a sense of urgency for this message to be spoken, and I have found myself battling to finish this writing. Whoever you are, when you read my story, I ask you to accept it with great seriousness and an understanding heart. I ask in prayer for the eyes of your hearts to be open by the Holy Spirit and receive the same urgency for the gospel that I have. So, here is my story from AMYC 2019, ‘ARISE’. 

On Monday, the first of December, the first full day of camp and after our second session, everyone had made their way for lunch. I, however, had taken a detour to my cabin. Apostlebird was the name of my cabin. It had four rooms joint next to each other, wooden frames, aged carpets and blinds that covered the summer sun. It could get real cosy with the in-built heaters as experienced on the previous night; but nice for Melbourne’s odd weather. I was there to use the toilet located on the far-left back corner of the cabin. 

I was sitting on the toilet, looking mindlessly towards the tiny space the bathroom had to offer. It was a humble and rather quite claustrophobic bathroom. Needless to say, it was clean and tidy. All seemed to be fine in this small space, except it soon bored me. I must confess that to my knowledge at the time, the toilet was the only spot around the whole campsite with the best 4G data connection. And so, I wanted to see what the rest of the world was up to by scrolling through Instagram. As I was nearing to the end of my business, I had heard a single faint beep from the outside. It was clear enough for me to guess it was from within the cabin or possibly its immediate surrounding, but too soft that I was unsure what it may have been. Anyways, I was finished when I heard the faint beep again. I began to wonder what it may be. Was someone throwing a prank from outside? Are they using the loudspeakers again? It wasn’t until a while until I heard a third beep, but this time with a little scent of smoke. I had flushed and washed my hand. Took my drink bottle resting above the sink and had my phone in my hands. I was ready to join with the others for lunch, not expecting anything too severe. 

Have you guys ever watched Monsters Inc.? It’s a cute movie about two monsters helping a small human child find her way back home through these special doors. They are special because, when powered, they allow anyone to travel from the monster’s dimension to a correlating room in the human dimension. In this way, the monsters travel into little children’s closets to scare them at night. Anyways, my toilet door seemed to be the same kind of door. When I opened the bathroom doors to head out, what I saw was like another dimension. Except, this is not fictional. I really did see something else through those doors.  

Instead of seeing the familiar timber bunk beds lined up against the walls, and our belongings lying on those aged carpet, I saw darkness. It was thick darkness that blocked all the light from the windows and the doors. I remember such darkness because the first question that I thought to myself was, “I don’t remember the curtains being this effective even at night.” To remind you, it was only a little past noon. The sun would have been high above on the summer day, bright and clear. Yet, entering this darkness meant that you would instantly lose your bearings. I would easily be lost in the cosy-sized cabin room. The second sense that I felt was the sharpness of the smoke. It was pungent, shooting right into my nose with my initial breath. It felt like having a knife pierced through the nose. Perhaps I could hold my breath and find a way out, but upon entering the smoke my eyes began to sting. When I opened that door, it was truly a sudden vision of death in front of me. A wall of darkness that would not let me pass. 

In a short time, I realised the reality of the situation. There is a fire in one of the joint rooms and the smoke has quickly filled to this room; but thankfully not completely burning yet. No thought of rescuing our belongings came into my mind; not that I could see any belongings through the smoke. I looked for the best way out, turning towards the toilet window. An adorable 40 cm by 20 cm frosted glass rectangle. I could try breaking it, but it would take too long, and I wouldn’t fit. Then towards my feet I could see the cabin carpet. Light was coming through from beneath. The smoke had not yet fully reached the bottom and there is a gap of air for me to find my path out. As I bent down, I saw that the smoke reached down to my shin, but regardless I could clearly see my way out. 

Heading towards the exit, I saw a little stream of water being sprayed into the middle cabin room. As a witness, the water did no good against the fire. The water stream was pathetic and the fire was in a further room. When I got out, Pastor Sean Kong and Andrew Tan had the extinguisher trying to reduce the fire, but we quickly made the decision it was too late. We distanced ourselves from the cabin. As I walked away I saw a portion of the roof collapsing and the blaze flaring up through it. I came to terms that everything in there was gone. All our toiletries, our packed clothes, some of our wallets, multiple cameras, a passport, a violin and my laptop all taken in the fire. I that I have were my phone, bottle, the clothes that I wore, and my Bible which was safe in the worship hall. Thank God that no one else was in the cabin. 

Although the above imagery of the cabin may shock many readers, the first-hand experience of surviving a blazing cabin surprisingly did not scare me, put me to panic or sorrow. Rather, it was in the aftermath, as I process the experience alone with God in my desperately needed quiet time that I began to cry and tremble. Not because of surviving a cabin fire or losing all my possession, but the revelation of God through it all.  

When I made my distance from the cabin to then see the fire flaring through the roof, two words came instantly into my mind. “Consuming Fire.” A fire so large and hot to consume and take all that it can. I saw the cabin fire rise higher than the cabin. I could feel its heat from my distance and hear the crackle and roar of the fire as the cabin rumbled. All things around the fire was unstable, all things were shaken and in a near state of destruction. It says in Hebrews 12:28-29: 

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” 

Truly the things of this world are not eternal. It can be shaken; it can easily be burned away. Don’t be so attached to the finite materiality of this world. It is meaningless. Instead hold fast to what is promised to you in eternity – the kingdom of God that cannot be shaken. A fire may have taken my belongings, but I still have my faith and the promises from God. The second revelation is the ferocity of a fire when it is on its way to consume all things possible. We believe in a God who is loving and gracious, but is also strong, mighty and just. Like the cabin fire, our God is a consuming fire. When faced with such element with its raw burning power, you are with awe. 

In my moment of reflection, I have been reminded of another quality of fire found in Malachi 3:2-3, 

But who can endure  the day of his coming?  Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire  or a launderer’s soap.  He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver;  he will purify  the Levites and refine them like gold and silver.  Then the  Lord  will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness.

I have heard, to purify silver the refiner must sit by the heat of the fire as he waits for the metals to melt and the impurities rise above the silver to be then removed. Then refiner will know when the metal is pure, as he sees his own reflection found on the surface. He will draw it out away from the fire to shape it into something beautiful and for it to show his workmanship. Apostlebird burning and consuming all my belonging during this camp was not a loss. I believe that this event is an act of withdrawing matters in my life that are not totally necessary and realising more to life itself.  I trust that God is in a process of making me more Christ-like to continue glorify him as he has intended for his creation, just as a refiner waits by the fire until he sees his own reflection. 

So, I urge you brothers and sisters, that what you have in this world is not entirely as important as you would first think. Of course for the means of survival you must have the basics, but as Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-34, “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is life not more than food, and the body more than clothes?” He does not say to dismiss the necessary, but rather not to worry about them. It is not about what we shall have now and what we shall have next, but rather to seek his kingdom, and His righteousness which will provide for you for eternity. Surely, the things in the world cannot satisfy our desires; especially for eternity. Therefore, I find this next verse helpful in aiding my understanding of the losses in Apostlebird. 

1 Peter 1:17-19 

Since you call on a Father  who judges each person’s work  impartially,  live out your time as foreigners  here in reverent fear.  For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed  from the empty way of life  handed down to you from your ancestors,   but with the precious blood  of Christ, a lamb  without blemish or defect.

In this world that is temporary, all I truly have is my life, and yet even this is not mine to take freely. The things that I have gained and built in my twenty-two years can disappear instantly, but I will still be grateful that I did not set my values in the world and the things that I have. I will not lose the gift which determines my judgement, the blood of Jesus Christ that gives eternal life (cf. 1 Peter 3:7). So, You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.  Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!” (James 5:8-9) We will never know if tomorrow will be the end. Be patient in the hope of Jesus Christ and stand firm in your faith with one another. Just as I had opened those doors to see the darkness of the smoke of the fire. Who would have known whether I would come through it? My life may well have had ended there. Then upon the day of judgement, what have I done that truly showed my faith? Did I abide in the Word of God? Did I fear the Lord? 

To all who read my testimony, and those especially who have suffered or are still suffering from the Australian bushfires or other disasters, know that my heart resonates deeply with you. Though my losses may be minimal in comparison, there is no doubt that I can relate. I too sought for a quiet time to process all that has happened and to know the meaning of the fire. A similar description of darkness was spoken by Peter in Acts 2:16-21 (cf. Joel 2:28-31): 

No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says,     I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy,     your young men will see visions,     your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women,     I will pour out my Spirit in those days,     and they will prophesy. I will show wonders in the heavens above     and signs on the earth below,     blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness     and the moon to blood     before the coming of the great and glorious day of the Lord. And everyone who calls     on the name of the Lord  will be saved.

Amos 5:20

Will not the day of the  Lord  be darkness,  not light—     pitch-dark, without a ray of brightness?

If there is anything that I can understand from the fire, smoke, and loss, it is that they are only a minor representation of the final Day of the Lord. If you are trembling in fear of this, what kind of darkness is awaits us in the day of the Lord? So, I call to everyone, even if do not believe the words that I write to you, consider what you have in your life that is perishable. What do you have which gives joy for eternity? Call on the name of the Lord Jesus. In any moment of loss or suffering, you can be reassured in Jesus Christ and what he has done and have for you in eternity. 

Truly as it is written in Psalm 119:105, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” In any moment of darkness, whether depression, or anxiety, or grief, or even the pitch-black smoke, the Word of the Lord is a light for all to be guided. As I have followed the light underneath the billow of smoke to find that I will have life, or to have peace in times of great distress. The Word will guide you.

Brothers and sisters, this is my final statement from this fire incident. Just as Jesus is the light and is one with the Father, we are one with Jesus by the Holy Spirit that dwells in us. We are also made to be light of the world (Matt 5:14). Do not fear the things in this world, the things that are perishable. Fear the Lord and be bold in the Gospel and all that God has done in your life which is your personal story and the testimony for others to hear. Thank you, Trinity Methodist Church Youth Committee, and all those who made the effort in organising the best camp ever. Shout out to Christabel and the brother and sisters who acted quickly in response to our basic needs through camp and even still today. Thank you, all the campers of AMYC 2019 who had supported in any way for the brothers of Apostlebird in their losses. And for all who read this far, thank you for your patient and understanding. I hope we can meet in person. 

Apostlebird’s flame was never put out. Its embers have ignited my heart and continues to burn inside. AMYC has been lit and my heart burns with a passion to speak truth of God. Arise dry bones, take breath for the glory of the Lord. He is coming.

Paul Jung is a member of Gospel Methodist Church in Perth, WA. He is currently the Vice President of his youth fellowship and studying part time in Master of Architecture at UWA after completing a Graduate Diploma of Divinity. He hopes to encourage the youth to look towards eternity with God through this testimony.