As church leaders from fire-ravaged Fort McMurray, AB gathered for a Samaritan’s Purse-funded appreciation lunch, a visiting pastor noted how the Christian disaster relief and development organization has improved its response to Canadian disasters.
On May 3, 2016 Fort McMurray, Alberta was evacuated due to a massive wildfire that engulfed the city and region of 80,000. Over 2,400 buildings were destroyed in the fire. Residents have been returning since the evacuation order was lifted June 1. On July 6, the Alberta government announced the fire was under control. Samaritan’s Purse sent staff and volunteers to the area, to meet the physical needs of residents while sharing the love of Jesus.
“Samaritan’s Purse has come a long way in learning how to respond to these types of situations,” said Pastor Tracy Ottenbreitt of Slave Lake Alliance Church. His church partnered with Samaritan’s Purse after Slave Lake was severely damaged by a 2011 wildfire.
“This is the third major [disaster] incident in Alberta and the fact they’re coordinating with churches is crucial-not just for churches, but for the community as a whole.”
Tracy was among four Slave Lake and High River pastors and a grief/trauma expert from Alberta Health Services who were brought to Fort McMurray for the pastors’ luncheon.
The pastors shared stories from their communities (High River was badly damaged by a 2013 flood) and encouraged Fort McMurray church leaders, whose community faces a long road to recovery.
“I’m just soaking up all this information and taking it back to my ministerial and sharing it with them,” said Tracy. “This is information we didn’t have five years ago and it’s exciting to have it now. I still don’t think it’s too late. There’s a lot of things to pass on to help people [in Slave Lake] understand what they’re still feeling five years later.
“I really think Samaritan’s Purse’s expertise is something that, as a church, you wouldn’t want to do without, especially in a crisis situation. To be able to learn from them and grow with them, I can’t imagine not being a part of that.”
Help Samaritan’s Purse strengthen the impact of local churches in communities recovering in the aftermath of disasters. As caring Christians are trained and empowered to walk alongside individuals and families to find solutions to complex needs, God opens doors to share the Gospel.