Photo: Flooding in Calgary is extensive, causing billions in projected damages. (Photo provided by Trevor Rysavy)
When Brad Huebert went to bed last Thursday, June 20, he wasn’t expecting to wake up to the worst flood in Calgary’s recorded history. When he did, he immediately began to pray
“My first prayer was ‘Should we be doing something?’” says the Dalhousie Community Church pastor. “And of course the answer was ‘Yes, but what?’”
It was only five minutes later that Huebert received a call from The Mustard Seed, a ministry centre based in downtown Calgary that provides affordable housing for homeless people. The centre was being evacuated and many residents were in need of emergency accommodations.
Huebert agreed to house 30 Seed residents in his church “overnight,” yet suspected he was committing to far more than a single night. As he began informing church staff and members of the arrangement, the responses amazed him.
“People started to call and volunteer … food started arriving. The way I’ve been describing it I was running around like a deer in headlights as people who are practical thinkers and doers just did what they do best,” says Huebert.
The 30 displaced men slept in the church gym and ate in the foyer. Volunteers from the church provided food, did security, and offered professional medical help. One night, the group even watched an NHL finals game on the big screen in the sanctuary.
“They’ve been saying, ‘Hey, can we stay here?” says Huebert.
By allowing the men refuge at Dalhousie, the group was able to avoid the overflowing emergency shelters in other parts of the city. Over the weekend, other Seed residents were actually collected from the city shelters and sent to the church to prevent them slipping back into their previous lifestyles.
Fortunately, The Mustard Seed’s building was not reached by the floodwaters, and Huebert expects residents will be able to return home on Thursday, June 27. At that point, the church will switch to providing relief to other Calgarians waiting for cleanup help from agencies such as Mennonite Disaster Service (MDS).
“We’ve had too much food and too many volunteers, and [it’s been] an absolute blessing,” says Huebert.
A Community Responds
Located in south Calgary, almost in the flood valley itself, SunWest Christian Fellowship also found itself on the front lines of disaster response.
“Our first response was [to help] Teen Challenge,” says McKenzie Campus pastor Drew Johnson. “Their facility was right on the banks of the river and was in danger of being flooded so they had to evacuate all the teen challenge members and faculty. And so we housed them for the weekend … we had about 15 men and teenagers that were using our facility.”
Once again, church members provided food, sleeping bags, and cots for the displaced men. A gym across the street allowed the men to shower and work out for free, while local restaurants provided several complimentary meals.
A number of families within the church were hosted by other church members after their homes were threatened by the rising waters, yet only one residence was significantly damaged. SunWest will be working with Samaritan’s Purse and MDS in “cleaning out homes, mucking out basements, [and] tearing out drywall” in the weeks to come as rebuilding starts in earnest.
Another SunWest pastor (and former police officer), Kevin McInnes, has been spearheading an initiative to help High River residents evacuated to the adjacent town of Blackie. McInnes has been leading 10–12 volunteers at a time in four-hour security and hospitality shifts at the town’s recreational facility.
Johnson feels strongly that the generous donations and volunteering have come out of the church’s love “for our community and for the people. We’ve been talking a lot in our church that our faith life isn’t just in our heads, it has to come out in our hands and our feet. So when a crisis hits, opportunity rises up. We just felt that as a church we wanted to be on the front lines to minister to the needs of people who have been affected by this crisis.”
Willy Reimer, executive director of the Canadian Conference of MB Churches and lead pastor at SunWest, says that although the floodwaters are receding, Mennonite Brethren are invited to pray for the affected areas and for wisdom in the coming cleanup.
More than 100,000 people were displaced by the weekend’s floods, which caused billions in projected damages. As residents look to reconstruct lives and homes, both Dalhousie and SunWest have promised to continue to spread love to the city of Calgary.
Paul Esau is a communications intern with CCMBC and the MB Herald.