The hotel fell; the church remained
Courtesy of Mike Pursell
Flames reach across to Believers Church.
On Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, Mike Pursell was at home when his phone rang. It was a friend calling to tell him that he saw smoke coming up near the area where The Believers Church of Madera was located. Pursell, who is the associate pastor of the church, was not alarmed at first, but when his friend gave him a second call, he decided to check it out.
As the pastor and his son, Caleb, drove down Yosemite Avenue he got the surprise of his life. Indeed, there was a fire in the vicinity of his church, and it was huge. Yosemite was blocked off at I Street, so Pursell parked his car and started to run as fast as he could toward the conflagration.
When he reached E Street, he witnessed a sight he would never forget. The fire was consuming the historic building on the corner of Yosemite and E Street that had once been the old Yosemite Hotel, and that was not all. Flames were licking at the top of his church, which was connected to old hotel building.
Breathlessly, Pursell ran past the fire to the front of his church. He wanted to retrieve as much as he could before the inferno ate up his place of worship. At that point, however, the police intervened and directed him behind the railing of the Chamber of Commerce building on the other side of E Street. From there, he stood to watch the inevitable. The Believers Church of Madera was connected to the old hotel building. They shared a wall. The south wall of the church was actually part of the north wall of the old hotel.
From his vantage point on the west side of E Street, Mike called his dad, John Pursell, the senior pastor of Believers Church, and within moments he was joined by several members of the congregation.
As they stood watching the flames destroy the building across the street, they knew that in just a few minutes, with the wind propelling the fire north, their church would be no more.
Sick at heart, they began to pray that somehow God would save their place of worship. Meanwhile, Mike used his phone as a camera and began to film the blaze and put it on Facebook live. Within moments, word of the tragedy and the threat to Believers Church was being broadcast to the world along with pleas for Divine intervention.
What happened next was a phenomenal outpouring of prayer. Believers along E Street prayed. Other congregations in Madera prayed. Soon, Christians from other states were praying, and as the fire continued, prayers went up from places as far away as Spain.
As hundreds — perhaps thousands — joined in praying for the preservation of Believers Church, Mike’s cell phone began receiving scores of calls and text messages expressing solidarity with the local congregation as it called on Providence to do the impossible — spare their church. Now it was in God’s hands.
As Mike stood there, he watched in disbelief as the flames could be seen shooting across the top of the church. He remained with his spiritual brothers and sisters as the fire completed its work. They saw the walls of the hotel come down, making it difficult to see precisely what had happened to their church. Finally after a five-hour vigil, a fireman waved Mike and his dad to come across the street. He told them, “you guys are not going to believe this, but the only damage your church building has is a little water and smoke damage.” He told the Pursells that it was a “miracle.” They wholeheartedly agreed.
Mike stood there for a moment looking at the southern wall of his church — the wall that also had been the northern wall of the old hotel. The wall that had been part of both buildings stood as a line of demarcation. On the south side of the wall, complete destruction prevailed. On the north side all stood firm. God had saved His church.
Recently Mike Pursell told The Tribune, “I just want to give God all the glory (for) protecting our building with his Miracle working power. And also the Madera Community, all the people that reached out to us and prayed for our church building to be saved and the brave fireman that worked really hard to protect not only our building but the buildings next to us. Thank you City of Madera.”