The hotel fell; the church remained
Courtesy of Mike Pursell
The flames reach Believers Church.
On Monday, February 25, 2019, Mike Pursell was at home when his phone rang. It was a friend calling to tell him that he had seen smoke rising near the area where the Church of the Madeira Believers was. Pursell, who is the associate pastor at the church, wasn’t alarmed at first, but when his friend gave him a second call, he decided to check it out.
As the pastor and his son, Caleb, walked down Yosemite Avenue, he got the surprise of his life. Indeed, there was a fire near his church, and it was huge. Yosemite got stuck at I Street, so Pursell parked his car and started running as fast as he could towards the fire.
When he reached E Street, he witnessed a sight he would never forget. The fire consumed the historic building at the corner of Yosemite and E Street that had once been the old Yosemite Hotel, and that was not all. Flames licked atop his church, which was connected to the old hotel building.
Out of breath, Pursell ran past the fire to the front of his church. He wanted to recover as much as he could before hell devoured his place of worship. At that point, however, the police intervened and directed him behind the railing of the Chamber of Commerce building across E Street. From there he stood to watch the inevitable. The Church of the Madeira Believers was connected to the old hotel building. They shared a wall. The south wall of the church was actually part of the north wall of the old hotel.
From his vantage point on the west side of E Street, Mike called his father, John Pursell, the senior pastor of Believers Church, and within moments he was joined by several members of the congregation.
As they watched the flames destroy the building opposite, they knew that in a few minutes, with the wind blowing the fire north, their church would be no more.
Sick at heart, they began to pray that God would somehow save their place of worship. Meanwhile, Mike used his phone as a camera and began filming the fire and live-streaming it on Facebook. Within moments, news of the tragedy and threat to the Church of the Believers was being broadcast around the world, accompanied by calls for divine intervention.
What happened next was a phenomenal outpouring of prayer. Believers along E Street were praying. Other congregations in Madeira prayed. Soon Christians from other states were praying, and as the fire continued, prayers were rising from places as far away as Spain.
As hundreds – perhaps thousands – joined in prayer for the preservation of Believers Church, Mike’s cell phone began to receive dozens of calls and texts expressing his solidarity with the local congregation as she was calling on Providence to do the impossible – to spare their church. Now, it was in the hands of God.
As Mike stood there, he watched in disbelief as flames could be seen shooting atop the church. He stayed with his spiritual brothers and sisters as the fire finished its work. They saw the walls of the hotel crumble, making it difficult to see precisely what had happened to their church. Finally, after a five-hour vigil, a firefighter waved Mike and his father across the street. He told them, “You won’t believe this, but the only damage your church has suffered is a little water and smoke damage. He told the Pursells it was a “miracle”. They accepted wholeheartedly.
Mike stood there for a moment staring at the south wall of his church – the wall that had also been the north wall of the old hotel. The wall that had been part of the two buildings formed a dividing line. On the south side of the wall, complete destruction prevailed. On the north side, everything was holding up. God had saved His church.
Recently, Mike Pursell told The Tribune, “I just want to give God all the glory (for) protecting our building with his Miracle working power. And also the community of Madera, all the people who reached out and prayed for our church to be saved and the brave firefighter who worked very hard to protect not only our building but also the buildings next to us. Thank you City of Madera.”