On August 9 my wife and I were walking out of a movie theater when I got a text from a friend asking if our house was OK. We instantly knew there had been a flood in Manitou Springs, Colorado. The Waldo Canyon fire from the year before made the soil in the nearby mountains hydrophobic so rainwater cannot penetrate into the ground which means it heads straight down the canyon and into our town. When we arrived at the entrance to town the main roads were blocked by police, but being "Manitoids", we know the back streets, since our house is not in the flood-plain we knew we were safe. Arriving home, we were surprised by what we saw, heavy rains directly over the burn scar came rushing down Williams Canyon and into town with unimaginable force. The overwhelming and powerful rush of water, mud, and debris turned roads into rapids, filling streets, breaking apart homes, leaving piles of mud and ash, many feet deep, in homes and businesses. This was the third and most devastating flood of the summer. In July several homes were lost when flood- waters came through them, this time another home was washed away, one man lost his life on Highway 24, the women in the shattered home was taken off to the hospital, and 2 others were missing for a few days, found later safe and sound. Late that night we walked up through the affected area, past cars stacked on top of each other and laying upside down in yards and creeks. Everywhere you looked there was mud. Homes, yards, streets were filled deep with mud. Remnants of the washed away house lay strewn along the path of the water, mud, and rocks. A hot water heater on the sidewalk, a refrigerator with an unopened box of Blue Bonnet butter balanced on a fence, a bathtub in the park. Tree branches, trunks, and boulders shoved into the basement windows of a church, and the faint smell of natural gas in the air. Roads were unrecognizable as they had been turned into rocky riverbeds. The force of the water coming down was still hard to imagine. We could tell this was going to take weeks to cleanup and our first thought was that insurance and others would show up and take care of the mess. Back at our house the destruction amounted to a very nicely watered lawn.
The next morning I decided I should at least spend one day helping people dig out. I reluctantly put on my grubbiest of clothes, grabbed my shovel and a hat and walked into town. Hundreds had already been shoveling in the downtown area so I dug in and helped finish the job amidst muddy townspeople and reporters - who, though wearing hip boots and work clothes, were very careful not to get any mud on themselves. In an amazingly short amount of time that area was cleared and I was "invited" to help the bucket brigade in the basement of a local shop. I spent the next two days dealing with mud -- carrying buckets, shoveling, pushing wheelbarrows, and looking for others to join us when our numbers dwindled.
Several local churches sent volunteers to help with the cleanup efforts. Sometimes the best church services are the ones that take place with a shovel and a bucket, so I spent the next 13 straight days "in church". The Red Cross and Salvation Army, and local restaurants showed up every day with free water and food for "muddy people". After finishing that first basement, I checked in with another shop, owned by our neighbors, and asked what they needed. Most of the shops in our little tourist town are small and flood insurance is not affordable so the community and volunteers are the only way they can stay alive. After another 5 days organizing volunteers and cleaning out shop basements I walked down to check on an elderly woman who's house has been in her family for 6 generations. Her 100-year old bridge connecting her home to the street was washed away. She had pictures of her grandfather standing on that bridge with her father when he was just 5-years old. Her yard and barn were filled with mud and debris so we dug in.
I made deeper friendships with business people and neighbors that I had only known in passing. I became friends with town officials and council members. Mud is a great equalizer! I didn't know who they were when we were slinging mud shoulder to shoulder, only that they were part of my community and we had to get this done. There is a certain kind of Godliness one senses upon seeing so many people, believers or not, who come together, whether they were knee deep in mud, coordinating supplies and food, or organizing fund-raisers.
One of the "perks" I have in YWAM is that while my normal job description has to do with video production, I am able to take time for things like this. It still falls well within the parameters of "missions work" so I'm not really taking time off to help out and I wasn't just helping disaster victims in some far off country that wasn't my own. This time these were my friends, my neighbors, my community. It reminded me of that scripture in Jeremiah where God says to Israel, "Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf; for in its welfare you will have welfare."
My first thought at seeing all the damage in our little town was that others would do the cleanup. I didn't really want to be bothered but as I began to involve myself in just some of the cleanup effort that took place, I began to genuinely care about the small business owners and residence who had so little resources to do the work by themselves. Through being involved with the local community, and as a result of these new friendships, I have had several conversations about why I do what I do. It has sparked conversations about faith and I've discovered others who are interested in missions work.
Since the flood on August 9th, the sirens have sounded almost every time it rains and we've had a couple heavy rains that threatened to undo all the cleanup efforts. Shop owners are nervous about another flood threatening their livelihood and now with these new friendships I join with them in concern as we wait out the rest of the rainy season, but in the midst of that concern is a deeper love and respect for the community around me, my neighbors, my friends.
Despite the devastation and hard, dirty work, there is something about all of this that has caused me to see God anew and my life has changed in very subtle in-explainable ways. I arrive home, muscles sore, drenched to the bone, and caked in mud and I feel like I am part of something bigger than myself but it's not just my community. It's a subtly deeper experience with God, a deeper understanding of Him because I've somehow experienced a little of His unfathomable love for the people of this little town. I've also discovered something else. I can handle the mud, shoveling, heavy buckets and constant wet but one thing I still can't handle, wet socks! I HATE wet socks!
Jon Matas has been with Youth With A Mission for 30 years and has traveled to over 60 countries. He and his wife Cheri and daughters Hailey and Kylie live in Manitou Springs, Colorado, one of the towns hit with flash flooding.