Who would have thought that Linda and I would be asked to go to Slave Lake for the C&MA relief effort? God knew! Linda and I had the privilege of spending 10 days in total in 2 different time frames coming along side the Slave Lake Alliance church. We arrived 3 days before the town people were allowed in. Having never have been there before, we were not quite sure where along highway 2 it was located. But as we drove over the red fire retardant coating the highways and trees dropped from water bombers and smelled that old smoky smell that all firefighters know, we knew were getting close. The devastation as we entered the town left us speechless. That sensation did not leave us while we were there as we listened over and over to the individual stories of the people affected. To hear a story, all we had to do in passing was ask how the person was doing. Without fail, we stood there 20-30 minutes as we heard their story of escape, their feelings of desperation and their sense of hopelessness as they saw their homes and town burning around them.
The local Alliance church building was spared so as we partnered with the Disaster Response unit of Samaritan’s purse, this became our base of operations. This included twice daily briefings by the provincial emergency operations crew that included police, fire and town officials as well as some NGO representation. Approx. 30-50 people in a room making decisions on how best to save the town and how to bring life back to normal so that the people could return.
But as we worked with the community members in our response, we quickly realized that it will be many months, maybe even years before “normal” would be the norm. Once the people returned (those with undamaged houses), they began the hard work of cleaning up, removing fridges/freezers that had spoiled and rotted food from 2 weeks without electricity. The grieving process started as they saw the state of their homes and of their town. People feeling guilt and anger as their home stood undamaged in the middle of all the destruction while others felt guilt and anger as they looked and stood in the cinders of their home at the undamaged houses around them.
The Alliance church had been praying for an opening into the community. Pastor Ottenbreit said afterwards, that the door could not get wider than this. Seven homes within the Alliance congregation were destroyed. Everyone in the church, everyone in the town had difficulties with internalizing what had happened and how to respond as individuals and as a community. Coping skills are saturated and worn out. The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team responded. These are chaplains trained in trauma counseling and critical incidence debriefing. Seventeen volunteers from Alliance churches across Alberta volunteered their time and emotional energy to come and serve the people of Slave Lake for 2-4 days. They received basic chaplain training and we sent them out to the hurting people. The stories we heard! But the exhilaration people felt as they saw God at work using them as the “hands and feet of Jesus” was indescribable. These volunteers went out to where the people were – in the coffee shops, in the campgrounds, in the donation sorting facility…wherever. The town has a long way to go. I ask that you continue to pray for the people of Slave Lake. Also pray for the Alliance church as they have made significant inroads in the community and town leadership for Christ.
We did not know that this was going to be part of our 3 months in Canada. But we are thankful that we got to be part of it for many reasons. The relationships we formed will be life-lasting. The God-experiences we were part of were incredibly faith-building. We have less than three weeks to go before we head back to Costa Rica. We said goodbye to Jordan and Briana this weekend as they headed off to be camp counselors for the summer. We are hoping to see them once or twice more before we go. I fly off to Winnipeg to be an observer to the Canadian Food Grains Bank board meetings this week. This will give Linda to rest and catch her breath after a whirlwind few weeks of speaking in churches, back and forth from Slave Lake. I have also been able to fit in some cardiologist appointments. It’s amazing how God can orchestrate our schedules.
We have 3 more churches to have meetings with or give presentations at. I don’t think we have a day free until we go due to family times and “things to do”. We have been richly blessed by the new relationships we have formed and by others that have been strengthened.
We ask you to uphold us in prayer for a few things
– safety in traveling
– closure as we leave Canada for another 2 years
– for the raising of $6000 for our ministry vehicle
– for continued learning of Spanish as we reintegrate back in to Spanish culture
– as we move forward in ministry initiatives focusing on transformational community development
– continues giving to the Global Advance Fund which funds International Workers