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Nevada fire chief has helped make ‘impossible’ things happen

Father Phiri Abraham, center, appears with several friends after receiving the boxes of Bibles and hymnals that came for their congregation all the way from Iowa. (Photo Submitted)
Father Phiri Abraham, center, appears with several friends after receiving the boxes of Bibles and hymnals that came for their congregation all the way from Iowa. (Photo Submitted)

Nevada’s new fire chief is a guy with a “nothing is impossible” attitude.

Ray Reynolds, whose official title with the city of Nevada is “director of fire and EMS,” recently saw a whole lot of collaboration and other “being in the right place at the right time” moments come together to result in the delivery of much-needed Bibles and hymnals to a church in Katete, Africa.

Reynolds said it all started when he and a group of other fire professionals were invited by a doctor in Iowa City to go to the village of Katete, which is in the lower third of Zambia, and help teach fire prevention to the people. Because of the large dependence on fire for things like cooking, villagers in Africa suffer some of the worst kinds of fire-related injuries, Reynolds explained. So doctors have been sent to Africa to help teach about treating the injuries, and firefighters have gone along to help teach how to prevent fire-related injuries.

Prior to coming to Nevada this year, Reynolds had traveled to Africa awhile back to be part of the fire prevention mission, and during his trip to the village of Katete, he had the opportunity to be a visitor in a church. “To be in that country and to hear the harmony they sing … the music is incredible there. It’s nothing like when we sing. There are clearly people harmonizing; it’s just hard to describe,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds left the country inspired, but also left after his first trip with a mission — to find a fire truck for the community of Katete.

He connected with a number of people, and this past May, Reynolds was able to drive a fire truck, that had come from the North Pole of Alaska, into the village of Katete. When you ask him how that happened, Reynolds tells a story of talking to the right person, who knew someone at a refinery in Alaska, who had a fire truck, and then making connections with a number of people, some by chance, to get the truck shipped to Africa.

But that amazing triumph isn’t what this story is about.

When Reynolds was back in Katete delivering that fire truck — a gesture that simply amazed the villagers and their leaders, who told Ray that “people promise us stuff, but they don’t deliver” — it was then that Reynolds paid another visit to the church with the great music and noticed something. He noticed that their Bibles were tattered and torn, and their hymnals were a few pieces of paper that were falling apart.

“I thought — I just got done shipping a fire truck to Africa. I’m pretty sure I could get Bibles and hymnals for them.” He just wasn’t sure how.

It was at a busy time - he was in the middle of his move to Nevada after taking the fire chief position here. His wife was still living at their Indianola home, and he was traveling back and forth a lot. But in Reynolds’ world, there’s always a chance that things can work out.

As luck would have it, Reynolds got called over to the Nevada Public Library one day to help fix the big flashlight that sits on a charger in the library basement. The basement is where the library stores books that have been donated for the book sales. Reynolds’ eyes were drawn to a stack of brown books that looked sort of “church-like.”

Library Director Beth Williams informed him that they were hymnals, donated for a book sale, but they had never been purchased by anyone. Reynolds asked about whether he could have the books to send to Africa, and Williams was happy to oblige.

“We boxed them up and I took them to our house in Indianola and my wife, Kim, re-glued the binders to make sure they were all good. And then my local pastor (from Christian Union Church) in Indianola agreed to order a case of Bibles for me to donate,” Reynolds said.

Then Reynolds contacted a friend, one whose husband works as a pilot for Fed Ex. She agreed to work with Fed Ex to help ship the boxes of hymnals and Bibles, a venture that can be very expensive.

On July 28, Reynolds said, the boxes showed up in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia.

Reynolds said he got nervous when the people at Lusuka Fed Ex weren’t making delivery to the intended recipients happen. “They wanted my friend, who had shipped them, to come pick them up.” Reynolds said there are problems with communication in Zambia. So he sent an email to the church pastor, Father Abraham, who called the Fed Ex office, which agreed to put the books on a bus to Chipata, which was 55 miles from the church. Father Abraham, who is wheelchair-bound, needed some assistance, which he received from the St. Francis Hospital, next to the church. They sent some staff to Chipata to pick up the boxes.

In a message emailed from Father Abraham to Reynolds, Abraham thanked the Iowa man for his support. “The Bibles and hymnals will really go a long way. We really don’t know how to appreciate you people. May God bless you more and more.”

“The message isn’t really about me,” Reynolds emphasized. “It’s about caring about human beings. And from my perspective, when you make a promise, you keep it.”

Reynolds believes some of the way he feels about helping others comes from being a longtime firefighter and fire professional. “For firefighters, it’s a bond. Your word is everything.”

And being able to help the people of an African village to gain a fire truck, and the people of an African church to get much-needed books, “it was good for the soul,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds plans to return to the African village again some day. He plans to help with a nationwide initiative to teach fire prevention, a lofty idea — but in Reynold’s opinion, certainly not impossible.