Northern Ministries Amid This Past Summer’s Forest Fires
As reported in the news, very dry conditions in early July across northern and western Canada led to widespread wildfires. In Saskatchewan over 13,000 people were displaced – the biggest evacuation in the province’s history – with close to 50 communities partially or fully evacuated for several weeks, and more than 10 times the annual average land burnt.
Smoky Summer Programs
How did the fires affect NCEM ministries? We’re thankful that most of our Bible camps were able to carry on as scheduled.
At Pine Ridge Bible Camp (near Beauval, SK), just one volunteer worker who lived in an evacuated community was delayed a week. Unfortunately there were a number of campers scheduled for the first week who could not attend because they had been evacuated to locations further south. However, some of them were able to come later in the summer. By the time of Pine Ridge’s teen camp in August, evacuees had returned.
Our out-tripping camp, Higher Challenge, was forced to change its Churchill River camp (in northern Saskatchewan) to one in the Alberta Rockies.
The summer program most affected was an annual outreach in the La Ronge (SK) area, initiated by associate missionaries, Paul & Pat Giles, from Colorado. The team of volunteers, mostly from the US, spent a week in northern Saskatchewan before being forced to look instead for ministry among evacuees in cities furthern south.
Albert & Barb Heal’s planned outreach trip to the NWT was postponed till October because of the fires.
Forced From Home
Along with the rest of their community, associate missionaries at Pinehouse Lake (SK), Carl & Naomi Epp, were forced out for several weeks.
The Epps are very thankful that their house, situated in a more vulnerable part of the village, was not harmed. Carl & Naomi had already planned a ministry visit to Oxford House (MB), their former station, and the rest of their time was spent with family in Saskatoon. With the electricity off in Pinehouse, like all their neighbours the Epps lost some refrigerated and frozen food.
Montreal Lake Fire
Of communities where NCEM members reside, Montreal Lake Cree Nation, situated about 100 km north of Prince Albert, was affected the most.
Hundreds of residents had to evacuate on very short notice. Things looked most desperate on July 3 when fires clearly overwhelmed available resources, and even emergency personnel and fire fighters were ordered out. Several homes were destroyed.
Associate NCEMers, Cliff & Liza Bird, live and serve at Montreal Lake, pastoring a local church associated with Christian & Missionary Alliance.
With Christian friends in the Prince Albert area needing information so they could pray and help more effectively, Cliff organized an evening meeting at Prince Albert Alliance Church. On this and on a later occasion at P.A. Alliance, Cliff told how they had seen God’s hand in this frightening situation.
Through The Flames
The Lord had been working in the hearts of teens out on a canoe camp, Cliff reported. At their last campsite several young people were baptized in front of their peers. Then, out on the lake, the group could see several fires burning close to their community.
“As we left our campsite we noticed lightning strike the place we had just been! A day or so later people witnessed the fire rolling on top of the trees, heading to our church on the edge of the village. Instead of engulfing our church, it jumped over it. It was almost as if God was saying, ‘No, not here!’ ”
The gathering at P.A. Alliance included photos of the destruction. Buddy Bird, a Montreal Lake Fellowship member, gave a firsthand report of fighting the blaze and of opportunities to witness for Christ to fellow fire fighters. Chief Edward Henderson shared his concerns. All these men seemed to appreciate very much the prayers offered for them as leaders to a displaced community, and for further protection for their community.
Three Briercrest College students – Josh Dufresne, Rachel Lees, and Brittany Murray – had planned to spend their entire summer at Montreal Lake. The fire changed their location for awhile, but they carried on their ministries among Montreal Lake residents staying in Prince Albert at evacuation centres.
A highlight of the information/prayer meeting led by Cliff was hearing several Montreal Lake teens tell how Christ had touched their lives on their camp-out and during the evacuation.
“There are more new believers at Montreal Lake,” Cliff reported, “and God is at work.”
(from Issue #533). Note: some of the locations and involvements of our missionaries may have changed since the original publishing of this article.