FIRST PERSON – Does God Play with Toy Cars?

Written By Eric Nielsen

FIRST PERSON – Does God Play with Toy Cars?

In the summer of 2022, the Oak Fire in Mariposa County burned approximately 20,000 acres and destroyed nearly 200 structures. CSBCDR responded, and teams were assembled. I was able to serve on a Personal Property Recovery (PPR) team in which we would search for items in homes destroyed by the wildfire.   For me personally, the fire PPR jobs are the hardest and are the most spirit-taxing jobs I’ve done.   In most cases, the entire home, property, and contents are completely destroyed. We know this going in, and ultimately, so does the property owner.   We are the hands and feet of Jesus, and the physical work is multipurpose.    A shovel, a rake, a sift screen, or any other tool we bring onto the site has its primary function but is actually most useful as a conversation starter and hope-giver. Stories emerge from the ash as we work the property.   A homeowner will share a little bit of their life with each item recovered.   It’s in these shares that I usually see some closure and a bit of hope for the future.     

When my team arrived at our second job of the day, we met a couple that had lost their home. They were there along with their adult daughter and grandson. We made contact and prayed.   We asked and were told what we could be looking for, and we went to work. One important item that we were asked to locate was an obsidian spearhead. I had success on previous deployments finding arrowheads and knew that the volcanic glass can survive the intense heat of the fire. 

I made small talk with Will, the young teenage grandson. He was really interested in finding the spearhead for his grandpa.   He and I found the general location, and we started sifting some debris. We took turns shoveling and clearing the screen. Within approximately 20 minutes, Will spotted the spearhead and smiled.   He was so proud, handing the artifact to his grandpa. The team continued with our projects, both sifting and engaging in conversation with the family. 

Our minds can be conditioned to respond to our senses.   Smells, tastes, touches, sights and hearing can all have emotions and memories tied to them.   I didn’t even need to lift my head to know that someone, presumably Will, had started playing with a remote-controlled car.   The sound of RC toys has built positive memories throughout my life.  

My role in this deployment instantly changed with the sound of that car.

I once again engaged with Will, and he showed me his skills.   It wasn’t long before he offered me the controller, and I used the youthfulness of my aging soul to compete with a generation that has grown up with electronics in their hands.   That outcome is for another day, but it did lead me into conversations about common interests, and I was able to encourage him in his hobbies and in his future engineering goals.   We spent the next 30 minutes playing, … I mean fellowshipping, … and I watched God play with a toy car.

I spoke with Will’s mother and got permission to offer some RC gear to Will.   When I arrived home from deployment, I collected boxes of hobby gear and models that had been collecting dust in my garage.   Arrangements were made, and through a surprise mutual friend, a delivery was made to Will. 

It has been approximately six months since this deployment ended, and I’ve thought about Will a lot. So many times, we make contacts on deployments, but we never hear the rest of their story. I do know that collectively, our names continue the story of those we serve.    My individual name may be forgotten over time, but through our service, His will not.   That is what DR is truly about. 

Opening the snail mail today, I found all of the usual suspects. I pushed the bills and ads aside to find a hand-addressed envelope. As I opened it, I saw Jesus in the words of a thank you card, signed by young Will.  

I now have another memory tied to the sound of a remote-controlled car. It’s the memory of a smiling grandson handing his smiling grandpa a piece of their family history.

Thank you, Jesus, and thank you, Will.

About the Author

Eric Nielsen
Volunteer, Disaster Relief

Eric Nielsen has been a California Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteer for four years. He lives in Tracy, California, and serves at South Winds Church as a leader in their Celebrate Recovery ministry. In addition to leading Disaster Relief’s Personal Property Recovery ministry, Eric has also been trained in Chainsaw Operations and Chaplaincy.

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