Michael Ansted and his wife had moved to a small country town by the sea in New Zealand, where they built a home for them and their six children (they have seven now). “We shared twenty-eight acres with another family so there was plenty of space,” he says. “One evening our children decided to camp out under some pines about two hundred yards from the house.” The adults went down and after clearing the ground, they lit a small fire to bake potatoes. “We ate, and sang a few songs,” Michael recalls. “Then we doused the fire, and made sure it was out.”
Michael was glad that the children enjoyed some innocent fun that evening, because the next morning they had to make a somber journey. “A friend’s six-year-old daughter had died in a tent fire a few days before, and we were all going to the funeral,” he explains. The following morning they set out on the twenty-mile trip, bouncing over rutted country roads. By the time they had gone three miles, however, Michael was beginning to feel…odd. “I felt prodded to turn around, and go home,” he says. “I paid no attention to it—-we had to be at the funeral!---but the urge became stronger, and eventually I just couldn’t ignore it anymore.” He told his wife what he was feeling.
“I think you should turn back,” she told him.
“But it’s bizarre—there’s no reason…” he argued.
“Maybe not,” she pointed out, “but perhaps it’s better to be safe.” She and he had both learned over the years that God works in mysterious ways.
Safe! They were safe NOW, Michael told himself. But he turned the car around and started home. The children were perplexed and getting restless, and the extra five miles backtracking would probably make them late for the funeral. Yet his heart was pounding with the effort to control the unreasonable urge. Get home, get home... Finally, they pulled into the driveway. Michael hugged them all, turned the car keys over to his wife, and watched as they drove out again. Then he carefully checked the house and the yard. Everything normal. Everything fine. The strange urge was gone now, and he felt ridiculous. Perhaps he should take a nap.
But the crackle had been so real! “I decided to go out and check the property again,” he said. Nothing. Then as he was about to return to the house, he remembered the previous night’s campsite. “Making my way along the ridge, I saw a wisp of smoke,” he says. “I ran back and filled a bucket and returned to find a steady plume of smoke issuing from the ground where our fire had been. We had not realized that we had lit the fire on a mixture of earth and pine needles. The fire had penetrated these and and was burning underground!”
But this was a quiet fire, hidden, with no crackling wood and smoke to attract attention. Shocked, Michael realized that--with the family gone for the day--everything would have gone unnoticed, until the heat generated had set a large area ablaze. An area dry and eager to burn, given a chance. With limited fire resources, he realized, some thousand acres could have gone up in flames, including his new home. And if the fire was very slow, his whole family might have been lost.
Michael ran back and forth, filling numerous buckets, until the area was finally secure. Then he sat down to rest, and to think. He had set out on a journey, but had been told to go back. He had heard the noise of fire, where there was no burning. Had it been his guardian angel who’d alerted him? Or the spirit of the little girl, already sending gifts from heaven? Michael would never know, but he gave thanks to the loving God Who had arranged it all.