"They are struggling to rebuild their lives, find a new home, and deal with the emotional trauma they have experienced. They are also turning to God for strength and direction in their lives,” said Barb Bracko, World Renew DRS volunteer. “Sometimes a tragedy can become a stepping stone to greater faith.”
Bracko and other World Renew DRS volunteers met with the young mother and many other Fort McMurray residents in October and November 2016. In May 2016, wildfires destroyed roughly 2,400 structures including homes and 1.5 million acres of land in Alberta.
Bracko shared several other stories where the hope of Christ shone through the darkest ashes in Fort McMurray:
- I met one couple who described the fire that destroyed their home and all of their belongings as a blessing because it has drawn them closer to the Lord and strengthened their trust in Him. They said that God has provided everything they need since the fire. They have faith that He will provide what they need in the future. The couple’s friends offered them their basement suite, rent-free, while they recover and their church will be donating bedroom furniture, a sofa, and a table and chairs when they find their own place. They lost all their earthly possessions, but they have gained the “peace that passes all understanding” (Phil 4:7). This couple has a young son who is also learning to trust God. Of all the things they lost, he missed his bike. One evening he prayed, “God, I know we lost everything and we had too much stuff, but I miss my bike.” The next morning, someone stopped by their house with a bike. We know that God does not always respond to our prayers immediately or answer our prayers in exactly the way we’d like, but He cares about every concern we have.
- One of the striking features about the population of Fort McMurray is its diversity. There are people from every continent who came to find work in what has been called “Canada’s boom town.” With such great diversity, discord between ethnic and religious groups could grow quickly. But after the fire forced the entire city to evacuate, people are more unified than ever before. They said, “We don’t shake hands in Fort McMurray. We hug.” These residents are an example for all of Canada and other countries that are welcoming some of the 65 million refugees, or one in every 113 people, in the world today. In a time of need, we are all called to “love our neighbors as ourselves” (Matt 22:39).
- Another couple who came to the World Renew walk-in center was struggling to start their life over after the fire destroyed their home. When our team followed up with them a few days later the hu sband said that when he and his wife prayed with our volunteers who interviewed them, he realized “This is what I’m missing. I have forgotten about God.” The man has been meeting with his pastor since then. We may forget about God, but He never forgets about us. “I will never forget you. See, upon the palms of my hands I have written your name” (Is 49:15-16).
By meeting with World Renew DRS, the needs of these individuals and families have been brought to the attention of an organization called “NGOs Supporting Uninsured, Underinsured Recovery”, or NSUUR, so their needs can be met. World Renew is a member of the NSUUR working group, which focuses on repairing and rebuilding homes for uninsured and underinsured families in the Fort McMurray area.
World Renew DRS volunteers meet with disaster survivors to help communities like Fort McMurray make sure that those who need help recovering are not forgotten. Determining who needs help with rebuilding is a key step in the reconstruction process and provides a foundation for World Renew and other NSUUR member organizations to make plans for home reconstruction. It is also a way that the hope of Christ shines through the ashes of people’s lives after a disaster.
Header photo: World Renew DRS volunteers in Fort McMurray. Clockwise from the far left: Tina and Herm Boks, Harvey and Dorothy Buit, Len and Barb Bracko, Esther and Glenn Buck, Bruce and Christine deBoer.