The farmers who lived and worked on the sides of the volcano sensed the heaving of the mountain. They felt the trembling breaths beneath their feet and saw the exhalation puffs of dust. The government did not call for an evacuation, but the farmers sensed the danger. They organized groups of pick-up trucks and drove away from their homes and their farms and found safety at a camp. Eventually, government officials realized that danger was imminent, and they also called for an evacuation. Just a short time later, maybe an hour after the order was given, the volcano exploded, expelling rocks and hot cinders and ash onto the farms below. Hot mud and lava flowed from the sides of the volcano. Had the farmers waited for the official order to evacuate, they would not have escaped.
The farmers and their families took refuge at a camp. It was owned by the Catholic Church and used for retreats at one time. Now it was home.
We visited with our sister pastor who was providing psycho-social counseling to the families and who wanted us to see the artwork which the children and youth had created in response to their experiences with the volcano. A few brought out wooden crosses -- wooden crosses with simple, painted scenes of the exploding volcano, the ash covering the houses, the sparks and smoke in the sky. Beneath the volcano, the children had printed the words, "I am also a creation of God."
The volcano lives, trembles, puffs, burns and blows as a part of God's creation. It is a part of the earth and it creates new earth. God made it, and it is good.
The children talked about the difference between fearing creation, and respecting creation. They talked about what it was like when they had to leave home. They showed us where they slept and where they played and where their mothers cooked for them.
At the time of our visit, the families had been living as refugees for about 3 months. We visited for a couple of hours, a short visit for listening, for learning, for expressing compassion and solidarity. A short visit in which faces were etched into our memories, and hugs into our hearts. Now, more than six years after the eruption, I wonder what has become of the families who we met at the camp. Many of them could not return to their farms because the fields are covered in rocks and boulders. Because these families fled prior to the official government notice of evacuation, they were not eligible for resettlement assistance. The churches were working together to help the families to rebuild or to start fresh in new locations.
It's hard to imagine that the children whom we met are teens, and teens are now adults. Are they studying? Are they working? Are they still living on the skirts of Santa Ana? Do the crosses they painted hang on their walls as reminders of their time in the camp, reminders that the volcano is not to be feared, but to be respected? Do they know that their faces are etched into our memories and their hugs into our hearts?
Santa Ana fell asleep again in 2007. I hope she sleeps for a good long time. But if she wakes, I hope that the farmers and their families will pause to feel her trembles and hot breath and will help one another to get safely away.