Dear pastors, missionaries, chaplains and friends,
Steve here....Last week I was traveling through Alberta and Saskatchewan on a Western tour of our churches. We dropped in to Bonnyville Baptist Church in Bonnyville, Alberta and saw something extraordinary.
Pastors Dave McClain and Ben Smith, church staff and members and community volunteers have been caring for the hundreds of Fort McMurray evacuees that have wound up in Bonnyville these past few weeks. In fact, the church has become the central hub of all relief services been given to evacuees in the region.
I had the opportunity to speak with several of those who have been receiving assistance from the church while I was there. The outpouring of support and care displayed by this church has been an extraordinary witness both to the evacuees and the broader Bonnyville community that is watching.
One young mother of two children told us of how she lost her home to the fire. She spoke so highly of the care, love and support she had received from our church in Bonnyville and even mentioned her desire to move to this community and church because of the support given to her. I also met Roger and Jane who attend our Fellowship Church in Fort McMurray, and had been enjoying the care provided by their sister church in Bonnyville while waiting to return home.
They were so grateful and were looking forward to getting back to their home in Fort McMurray and to be part of our NorthLife Fellowship Baptist Church family's plans to minister to the city!
I asked Pastor Dave to share a little about what has been going on during the past few weeks as the church family has ministered to thousands of Fort McMurray evacuees:
Imagine you have just been told that you have a half an hour to leave town because a fire is threatening to destroy everything around you – including your house. You cannot go home, you cannot fill up with gas and you cannot stop to even get a change of clothes. Just go – and do it now!
This is the real-life story for tens of thousands of people from Ft. McMurray, Alberta. They had to drive through the heart of the fire in bumper-to-bumper traffic with no idea of where they were going. The lucky ones who had enough gas wound up in Edmonton where assistance was available. Others had to sleep on cots in the closest community centers, sleep off the side of the road or even abandon their vehicle and catch a transport bus to who-knows-where.
The town of Bonnyville became a destination for over a thousand evacuees – and Bonnyville Baptist Church was the first of many organizations in the area to respond. The church immediately got word out that we were collecting needed items for the large crowds. In the rush, many weren’t able to even grab toothbrushes or a change of socks. The next day we were contacted by the town Mayor and provincial relief agencies who told us they had two semi-trailers filled with supplies. The high school principal offered the school gym for storage while items continued to be distributed from the church. Our church’s quick response to the crisis put us ahead of the official agencies and prompted the Province to make us the official distribution hub for the whole Lakeland area.
Ben Smith, an Associate Pastor at the church, coordinated the hundreds of volunteers, the collection and storage of items, and their distribution. Within two weeks seven semi-trailers of urgently needed items were distributed and the church coordinated free housing for up to 300 people. We served hundreds of meals and coordinated activities (bouncy castles and games) for the displaced kids. Dozens of local businesses assisted us by providing shelving, gift cards, food, underwear, and numerous other things.
The hundreds of stories we have heard in the last weeks are heartbreaking. Grown men and women alike are often in tears as they share their frightening account of what they experienced. Yet we are convinced God has placed our church in this setting and at this time to use this tragic event to show the love of Christ to the evacuees and the Bonnyville community that is watching us. It has been incredible to see God’s love in action and the bridges it has created are unprecedented.
As these people start returning home the needs will be great there as well. NorthLife Church in Ft. McMurray is already planning to assist those returning to a town whose food, clothing and services have been severely disrupted. Many who have lost their homes will need places to stay and support for basic living needs. NorthLife is working with the Fellowship National office to help these people readjust to an uncertain future. I am confident that NorthLife will experience the same opportunities for building bridges and sharing Christ’s love that we have had in Bonnyville. I invite you to take part in helping by donating to the Fellowship National Ft. McMurray Wildfire Relief appeal.
You'll note that Pastor Dave encourages us to give to the current Fellowship "Alberta Wildfire Appeal”. I would also echo that challenge and encourage everyone to send a gift so that NorthLife Fellowship Baptist Church in Fort McMurray, might be able to minister effectively and generously to their community. The Fort McMurray evacuees began to return home this past weekend. Our donations are needed now. Much planning has occurred which will start to be executed in the days and weeks ahead. Thank you for giving generously.
I recently heard from the pastoral staff of NorthLife, reporting that their church members have been meeting Sunday mornings in locations in Edmonton and Calgary. Approximately 50-75 members have been seeking to meet for encouragement and prayer.
Please keep praying for Pastor Les Somers and his team as they prepare to minister to the community in Fort McMurray. Also pray for the financial needs of the church — imagine not receiving the regular weekly offerings for a month in your local church while looking forward to reaching the great needs the church family and surrounding community.
Our Fellowship churches and donors have given $120,496 to date. Thank you!
To find out more about the Fellowship’s Alberta Wildfire Appeal or to donate, click HERE.
God bless you as you pray and give.
Have a blessed week,