Through Fire and Water

screenshot taken from the video report by WLKY Chopper HD


It still feels like a dream.

It was Friday, May 14, 2021. My wife Yoyo and I got up early in the morning, arrived at 6AM at Norton Hospital. An hour later, I was lying on bed for surgery. The surgeon removed a cyst from my neck, quite a few lipomas from my abdomen, and two more from both of my legs. Anesthesia was necessary for the procedure. Before being discharged from the hospital, I received a document, titled “AFTER VISIT SUMMARY.” The instructions for my “Next Steps” are: 1. Pick up the pain relief medication; 2. Remain under the care or observation of a responsible adult until tomorrow; 3. No alcohol in 48 hours; 4. No driving in 48 hours; 5. No legal document signing and no important decisions for at least 24 hours. In addition to that, I was orally instructed not to lift heavy things, such as a gallon of milk.

screenshot taken from the MyChart app. The original paper document lost in fire.

Surely, the wounds from the surgery were painful. But, at least, I could rest. It was a peaceful day. When I saw Logos Bible Software was giving $20 coupon code to its users, I shared this exciting news with the seminary friends and the classes for which I serve as the Teaching Assistant. I also recommended them to buy my supervisor Dr. Garrett’s latest book if they don’t have an item in their shopping list (BTW, the coupon code is still available through May 26). Everything was in place. Yes. The wounds still hurt. I had not seen the pain medication Yoyo picked up for me just a moment ago. I could tolerate the pain. Maybe I’ll take it if I can’t sleep at night, I thought. A few friends had replied that the coupon code worked for them. I was content with the “fruit” of my “labor.”



At 6:39 PM, I was lying in bed, with the pain on my neck, my abdomen, and my legs. Yoyo was preparing dinner. I received a call from brother Micah. Seconds later, the “Next Steps” instructions I received from the hospital meant nothing to me. At this moment, I don’t remember a single word of my conversation with Micah on the phone. Certainly, he was warning me about the fire. What I can remember is: I got up immediately from the bed, went to the living room, opened the door to the balcony, looked to the right, and behold, there was a big smoke coming from the balcony of the apartment next to mine! A passenger started to shout at me from her car on Grinstead Drive: “Get out! Get out!” (A few hours later, I praised God for having unlocked the door to the balcony, because firemen were able to get in to my living room easily.)

I went to the kitchen and told Yoyo to get out. She turned off the stoves before leaving the kitchen (a smart move). Apparently, my brain was not functioning well (and I will blame the general anesthesia for that). Asking Yoyo to leave the apartment was my last important and sound decision (talking about “no important decisions” in 24 hours!). I thought we were going to stay outside for maybe about 10-20 minutes and then we would go back to our apartment! Yoyo grabbed her wallet and cell phone. I changed my clothes and took only my cell phone with me. That was it. No wallet, no car key, no computer, no passport…

After that, we could only watch the fire burning before our eyes, until it was finally put out by the firemen. My living room was right next to the apartment that was on fire. It was comforting to see that firemen had entered my living room. But when we saw fire come out of the roof of the bedroom side, Yoyo and I were terrified. In the 13:41 long video shot from the helicopter, at 12:25, you can see me run toward a fireman, as if I had no surgery in the morning, and point toward the fire that came out of the roof of the bedroom side. Thankfully, after a few seconds, that fire was out, and we saw saving waters instead of fire.

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Now, I must share the grace that has been shown to us. First of all, thank God, no one was hurt. Life is more precious than anything else. Also, we came to be equipped to served the Lord; we are not ready to see Him yet. The firemen are our big heroes. They acted promptly and professionally, risking their lives to save others’ properties. Because of them, my bedroom was untouched, and my study room had negligible water damage. The living room was thoroughly “baptized,” but it was absolutely necessary to stop the fire from doing more damages.

The Cross and the Clock after the fire
Before the fire

A picture taken by brother Martin Li from my living room after the fire is theologically profound. On the wall, there hangs a clock (at 8:26 PM), which Yoyo just brought home from the Southern Exchange a few days ago. The firemen beat the time to save my apartment. There also hangs the cross that was made and given to us by a brother from the Sunday school. The firemen made a hole under the cross, presumably, in order to put out the fire in our neighbor’s apartment. Behind the wall, our neighbor’s apartment had been completely destroyed by the fire.

iPad in the draining dish rack

Our hearts were deeply touched when we found Yoyo’s iPad, which had escaped our previous searches, was later found on Sunday afternoon, quietly lying in the draining dish rack, with no sign of the incident, covered with a cutting board. This was the work of one of the firemen. (Yoyo was listening to an audio book when she was cooking in the kitchen, so the iPad was in the kitchen, but it was by no means in the draining dish rack!)

I will list a few more of others who have been so kind to us. Campus police came. They took the night watches to prevent looting during the night. The RAs promptly contacted the housing office. Caleb, the Director of Housing Office came immediately. Dr. Mohler (the president of the seminary), Dr. Hall (the provost), Dr. Trentham (the dean of students) and others all arrived asap. Caleb has been communicating with the affected families since then. We’ve been offered rooms at Legacy Hotel and food for every meal. After the firemen had put out the fire and made sure it was safe inside, we were allowed to enter our apartments and fetch necessary belongings. Many brothers came to help us move. They and others have contacted us and also invited us for meals. Brother Aaron told our supervisor Dr. Garrett. Dr. Garrett immediately informed the church and then contacted me. Some church members from the Sunday school also contacted me and offered help. Pastor Chip talked to us after the worship service on Sunday and offered prayer and help. The Sunday school after the worship service also showed eagerness to help. Other friends have also reached out to us and offered help. There are many others that are not mentioned, and many many more offer prayer and help behind the scenes. Our loss was so little, but we have been overwhelmed by the love that has been lavished on us. We feel totally undeserved. We are perfectly aware that this love flows from the love of God. God is indeed glorified in all of these!

It’s time to move forward, and I have no doubt that His mercy is new every morning.